Have you been in a toxic relationship with a narcissist? If so, you might have also be at risk for complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Most people have heard of PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. A disorder often diagnosed in soldiers, PTSD happens, on the most basic level, when someone has difficulty recovering after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event, such as the horrors often reported from the battlefield. It may also happen when someone witnesses a murder, has a car accident or experiences another type of short-term or single event trauma. But not everyone knows about C-PTSD, or Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. C-PTSD is often seen in abuse survivors, and it is sometimes referred to as Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome in the online narcissistic abuse recovery community.
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What is Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
While C-PTSD is closely related to PTSD, it refers to a reaction to longer-term trauma that can take place repeatedly or continuously over the course of weeks, months or years.
Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a serious mental health condition affecting a large percentage of victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse and other types of ongoing trauma. Symptoms for C-PTSD are similar to PTSD but also include other symptoms that can lead to significant impairment in relationships and your quality of life.
This disorder can take years to treat and many professionals aren’t familiar with its symptoms or misdiagnose it. They may even victim-blame if they aren’t familiar with the subtle tricks of a narcissist. Unfortunately, it can be a lifelong condition, but it can be managed with mindfulness and behavior modification, among other therapies and modalities.
What are the Symptoms of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
According to the Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders, the symptoms of complex post-traumatic stress disorder are as follows:
- Rage displayed through violence, destruction of property, or theft
- Depression, denial, fear of abandonment, thoughts of suicide, anger issues
- Low self-esteem, panic attacks, self-loathing
- Perfectionism, blaming others instead of dealing with a situation, selective memory
- Loss of faith in humanity, distrust, isolation, inability to form close personal relationships
- Shame, guilt, focusing on wanting revenge
- Flashbacks, memory repression, dissociation
- Eating disorders, substance abuse, alcoholism, promiscuity
- Chronic pain
- Cardiovascular problems
- Gastrointestinal problems.
As a survivor of narcissistic abuse, you may also experience dissociation, which is a separation of normally related mental processes. Dissociation manifests as brain fog, or feeling disconnected from reality. Sometimes developed as a trauma response, it offers a victim a way to “get away” in their mind. Dissociation can in extreme cases lead to multiple personality disorder or dissociative identity disorder.
Another common symptom for survivors of narcissistic abuse is the avoidance of certain social situations, including a feeling of not wanting to leave the house You might also find yourself prone to triggers and flashbacks to your abuse, among other things.
How is Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) Treated?
There are a number of different treatments available for people with C-PTSD, and no one treatment will work for everyone. Each situation and each person is different. We do find that survivors are best served by therapists who have had similar experiences (and who therefore have a deeper understanding of their situations). Coaches can also be effective when they’ve shared similar experiences and have had appropriate training adn there aren’t other mental health issues. Additionally, coaching can be an ideal complement or followup to an ongoing therapy relationship.
- Traditional “Talk Therapy” – Talking it through for C-PTSD patients is sometimes the best way to treat the disorder. Counselors and psychotherapists that are specially trained in PTSD treatment can usually help the person find closure for the traumatic incident that has caused such a lifestyle change.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – This type of therapy helps a C-PTSD patient realize that events that took place weren’t his fault and helps alleviate feelings of guilt. A therapist listens to the PTSD patient describe the traumatic event(s) in detail and then helps the person understand the incident and why it happened.
- Coaching – When the person suffering from C-PTSD is otherwise mentally stable, a good narcissistic abuse recovery coach can help them discover the answers they seek and learn new coping techniques for dealing with the issues that come along with it. This can work together with or independently from traditional therapies.