Complex post-traumatic stress disorder changes one’s life yet finding care from a mental health professional who treats it is rare. Since CPTSD is not yet in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the few therapists who offer services for CPTSD are limited in their billing.
But all hope is not lost. There are places online to visit to read up on and get treatment for complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
What Have You Learned?
No one should ever look at their complex trauma and be grateful for it, and no one has the right to tell you to do so. Stating that it would be like asking someone to be thankful because they had cancer or some other horrific disease. The statement is insensitive and wrong.
However, many therapists will ask you what did you learn from your experiences? Did you learn resilience? Did you learn compassion? Did you learn how strong you indeed are? What did you learn?
By asking these profound questions that no one else can answer, you process trauma and can focus on healing.
By therapists asking someone to reflect on what they have learned from their traumatic past, they are helping you to heal. Therapists do this by bringing you into the present to look back at history. The trauma belongs in the past, but it can only recede and stay there if we acknowledge it. By asking a series of appropriate questions, therapists help you to heal.
Reclaiming Hope After Complex Trauma
Hope after complex trauma is vital to healing. Hope involves taking time to reflect on how much you have grown, especially since first working on trauma-related behaviors. Hope is necessary to finding a therapist who is right for you because you must not give up the search.
Hope involves making meaning out of your suffering, and this requires taking responsibility for your life in the now. This act must include your thoughts, as well as your actions.
If you find you are constantly living in stinking thinking (negative thinking about yourself and your life), challenge yourself to change these pessimistic thoughts. Focus instead on what you have accomplished. Just going to therapy and working on trauma-related issues is a huge accomplishment. Do not sell yourself short.
At first, forward movement may be slow, but as you build your confidence and tolerance with yourself, you will find yourself having increased joy in life. There are four components to healing from complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and we shall explore them together.
1. Becoming Aware. Awareness of not only where you have been in the past but also where you are in the now is critical. One needs to remain in the present and allow the awareness of what happened so long ago to come to you naturally. Do not force it and always allow yourself to acknowledge that the past is gone, and you are safe now.
2. Knowing when to fight and when not to is critical to healing. Not all battles with your past need fought, and at certain times, such as when you are depressed, is it possible. Allow yourself the pleasure of choosing your battles.
3. Allow yourself to think about and feel your emotions. While this sounds terrifying to many, by denying them, emotions may rule your life. When you pull out an emotion or one comes to the surface on its own, please do not push it away. Allow the tears to come because they will eventually stop.
4. Having Faith. Have trust that your life is moving in the correct direction and will continue to do so. Acknowledge how hard you have fought and the battles you have won. Allow yourself to feel joy, freedom, and happiness. Doing so is not being a traitor to your past; it is embracing it and winning over it.
Using a Strengths-Based Approach to Heal
Living in a dysfunctional family, especially one that causes complex post-traumatic stress disorder, leaves one focused on pain and problems. To heal, it is best to begin focusing on your strengths and abilities and positive qualities instead.
Sit down with some paper or a journal and write down the answer to the following questions written by Dr. Arielle Schwartz and quoted from her website.
- “What positive qualities best describe you? For example, you might explore how you are caring, a good friend to others, have a good sense of humor, behave fairly, or enjoy spending time learning new things.
- Take a moment to reflect upon your growth. What are the positive changes that you have created in your life as a result of your commitment to healing? Maybe, you have realized your capacity to be brave, determined, or mentally tough.
- What hopes or visions do you have for your future? What new qualities would you like to expand and grow? What goals would you like to set for yourself? What do you need to support you to be successful?
- What actions can you take to make a difference in the outcome of your life now? What helps you to feel empowered to shape your future in a positive direction?”
All of these questions focus on where you are now and the good qualities you have instead of the negative parts of your life.
There are dozens of helpful websites that deal with complex post-traumatic stress disorder. These sites offer insights, hope, and some have “find a therapist page.”
- CPTSD Foundation
- Out of the Storm
- Pete Walker
- National Child Traumatic Stress Network
- Healing from Complex PTSD
- Trauma Recovery Support
- PTSD United States Veterans Administration/Government Website
- International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies
- The Hanna Institute
- The Blue Knot Foundation
- Beauty After Bruises
- Dr. Arielle Schwart
If you are looking for more information, free worksheets, and handouts, the following site is worth checking out.
All these sites cover complex trauma and complex post-traumatic stress disorder well and offer great information.
Living life as a survivor who has formed CPTSD is challenging. Not only is the diagnosis hard to live with but one must face that either there is no help available or that the little help they do find is too expensive.
However, advocating for oneself is the best way to handle these challenges. Actively seeking out a therapist who is at least trauma-aware increases the chances of receiving treatment that is close to that for CPTSD.
Above all else, never give up looking and searching for the help you deserve. You are worth it.
“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” — Shel Silverstein
“If you’re reading this…
Congratulations, you’re alive.
If that’s not something to smile about,
then I don’t know what is.” — Chad Sugg