Coping with Complex PTSD triggers requires strength, commitment and bravery.
Imagine: A disturbing memory pops into your mind while you are trying to focus on work. Or a body sensation distracts you, turning a pleasant conversation with a friend into a chore. Or your body reacts with fear or anger to loved ones, even when your head knows they are trustworthy.
That’s because one of the most troubling parts of having Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) is the struggle with disruptive symptoms.
But before we go further into that, let’s start from scratch.
What is Complex PTSD?
If you are interested in understanding Complex PTSD, the first thing to know is that it is a psychological disorder. Both men and women can develop it when they have been exposed to repeated, prolonged interpersonal abuse. It’s a variation of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and it shares many of the same symptoms.
These traumas typically occur in contexts in which the person has little control. For example, many of the Complex PTSD clients whom I’ve treated grew up in homes with domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse. Other grew up in chaotic, frightening environments with parents who struggled with severe mental illness or addiction. Some grew up in extreme neglect. Regardless of the specifics, they all learned early to be on guard and ready for danger at any moment.
Because of the nature of how C-PTSD shapes a child’s developing brain and nervous system, effective treatment of this emotional disorder requires specialized training, clinical experience and advanced training in trauma treatment methods. If fact, it’s sadly common that patients with C-PTSD, go in circles in traditional kinds of therapy. Clients commonly complain to me that they made little to no progress with their CPTSD symptoms in previous therapy.
What are Complex PTSD Triggers?
One of the hallmarks of Post Traumatic stress disorder is the presence of intrusive symptoms. Common PTSD symptoms are:
- Memory flashbacks
- Physical or emotional reactivity to triggers
That’s not all. Clients with PTSD also commonly experience:
- Sleep problems
- Heightened startle reactions
- Dissociative symptoms including alterations in memory and profound feelings of detachment
- Emotional numbing
A trigger is an event or situation that stimulates a trauma symptom. For example, Marion ( not her real name) saw me for Complex PTSD treatment. During the course of her trauma therapy, we used both neurofeedback therapy and EMDR. While she ultimately benefited enormously, working in these modalities were not without their challenges.
Neurofeedback therapy required my gently placing sensors on her head. And due to her history growing up with a violent mother, this took her some time to get used to. In the beginning, her heart raced and her hands trembled when I would approach her. When we began EMDR treatment for her Complex PTSD, her hypervigilant fear spiked whenever she would begin a session, as she felt highly vulnerable not being able to focus some of her attention on the office door.
Fortunately, Marion was blessed with a stubborn determination. She patiently worked with herself and me and gave herself plenty of time to get used to all the triggers that arose for her in trauma therapy.
An added burden that many C-PTSD clients bear, is that their bodies have learned to expect relationships to be dangerous. So that means that complex trauma therapy itself can become a lot more complicated.
Cultivating Resilience: 5 Steps To Help Cope With Triggers
- Know what your triggers are. Knowing what situations are likely to trigger you can help increase your sense of control.
- Have a specific plan to regulate yourself. Once you know what your Complex PTSD triggers are. Come up with coping plan. Think about what exactly you can do to regulate yourself.
- Tell your loved ones. Let the important people in your life know what you are doing and ask for their support. For example, one of my clients is a yoga teacher. She told her boyfriend and her parents that when she is triggered, she is going to step out for 15 minutes while she practices asanas and calming breathing techniques. So they don’t worry, she also agreed to return in 15 minutes, even if it’s only to tell them she needs more time.
- Use your tools. Once you come up with a specific tool, then it becomes a matter of practice. Implement your calming techniques.
- Get into therapy with a Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) specialist. They can guide your towards full recovery. Remember, if you have complex PTSD, traditional forms of therapy are likely to be inadequate.
Men and women with Complex PTSD do recover. And your chances improve greatly when you work with a complex ptsd therapist. With the right tools and the right guidance, you can too. Please visit my trauma page, if you would like to learn more about how I can help you with Complex PTSD.