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What is CPTSD?

I've written the following content in a form that my younger self would have benefitted from having access to 15 years ago.

It is the result of my own investigation, research and experiences.

It is here to expand our awareness and to prompt further exploration on our way to healing the brain, central nervous system and related functions as we continue recovery.

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) is a mental health condition that can evolve in adulthood, as a result of experiencing prolonged and ongoing trauma. Childhood Trauma is a typical pre-cursor of CPTSD.

Some key insights to recognise about childhood trauma...

1. In childhood, the feeling of trapped and unable to escape is a driving force that continues into adulthood.

2. Fractured development of trust becomes the foundation for this child that is taken into adulthood.

3. Fractured sense of safety becomes the foundation for this child that is taken into adulthood.

Not feeling safe is the mechanism that triggers most of our not-normal adult reactions.

Not feeling safe has a significant impact on our ability to trust others and to show up as trustworthy for others, Because of how an adult with CPTSD reacts to situations others consider normal, the CPTSD adult is considered to be unreliable, difficult, or some version of this.

4. Self-isolation feels safe and often pursued at the expense of connection. This is a big factor that permeates so much of the adult living with CPTSD.

5. Our beliefs about the world, our self, and other people are set in 'proverbial' stone from age 0 to 5 years old. These legacy programs run the adult without their knowing, unless deliberate intervention takes place.

6. Our physiology is defined in early childhood, specifically from the third trimester of pregnancy through to age 5, using a blueprint from both our environment, and input, from primary Caregivers.

Childhood trauma effects the brain and central nervous system to such a degree that if you were to compare the brain scans of two children, aged 5; one from a healthy loving home, and the other from a traumatised home, they would look fundamentally different.


Some key insights to recognise about CPTSD in adults...

1. Not safe - can't trust

We can experience and observe glimpses of these legacy programs (the programs installed during childhood) when our human feels not-safe, and senses it 'can't trust'.

Often this is observed by a not-normal reaction to a situation healthy people deem to be quite normal.

The adult will react in ways that appear not-normal, and almost always be as surprising to the adult reacting, as those seeing the reaction. This is due to the person's physiology, and the legacy programmes from childhood, still running the person in adulthood.

This is often referred to as 'unresolved trauma'.

2. The past is always present.

The CPTSD adult will struggle with separating the past from the present because of their childhood trauma designed physiology and the legacy programmes installed during ages 0 to 5 years old.

The adult with CPTSD is therefore:

- unable to filter information from the environment accurately, often distorting normal situations into threatening ones.

- likely to struggle with self-perception; self-worth and shame contributing to their not-normal behaviour from time-to-time.

- prone to inflammatory disease, auto-immune disease and a shorter lifespan.


3. CPTSD is unconsciously directing the show.

Both the legacy programmes, and the trauma designed physiology set in childhood, reside outside of our awareness until awareness is brought to them.

4. The adult with CPTSD will struggle with Self-Regulation.

The area of the brain (brain stem) responsible for self-regulating its human is impaired during childhood trauma, preventing optimum function.

Without the innate ability to self-regulate, the adult will engage in coping strategies to ease overwhelm. Coping strategies like; prolonged bed rest, self-isolation, addiction and distraction to name a few.

5. Left brain and right brain resources are required to recover and heal from CPTSD.

The Left brain consumes information to expand self-awareness. So books, workshops and courses go here.

The Right brain participates in activities to soothe and restore the Brain and Central Nervous System. So yoga, breath work, adult colouring books, journalling, physical activity and having fun go here.


How CPTSD expresses in later years, depends on a few variables, including:

  1. type of trauma experienced

  2. how long someone was exposed to this form of trauma

  3. the age trauma occurred

  4. how the person experienced that trauma internally

  5. the support system someone had around them to process that trauma

  6. along with social and cultural influences

So, while CPTSD is quite different for everyone, there is common ground that we can explore to support the progress of recovery. There's a blog post over here on CPTSD resources for recovery >>

It is important to note that a professional mental health diagnosis should be made by a qualified clinician, as many of these symptoms can also be present in other mental health conditions.


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