What Is Complex Trauma And Why It Can't Be Resolved In One Session • Angelica Horvatic

What Is Complex Trauma And Why It Can’t Be Resolved In One Session

A few years ago, I introduced a type of trauma healing modality known as the Completion process to a client of mine. She was convinced beyond doubt that this was the ideal treatment for her.

After all, this treatment was perfect for healing childhood trauma and had the capability to transform her life for good. And to say the least, she was totally excited about the idea. I too was equally elated to be her savior.

However, things did not work out as planned. Of course, we did have an intense and amazing session that took several hours, which made her feel much better later. But her life didn’t instantly transform and she was very disappointed by the turn of events.

Because of these frustrations, she lost hope and fell deeper into depression. At one point, I remember her blaming herself by uttering the following words: “Something must badly wrong with me since this Healing Power Bomb doesn’t’ work on me”.

I admit I was partly to blame; I could have prevented all of that. Rather than trying to remedy her condition instantly or promising to deliver miracles that would get rid of her childhood trauma in one instance. I should have focused my energies on educating her on what the process of healing complex trauma entailed.

 Time DOESN’T heal our wounds. Complex Trauma takes TIME and HARD WORK to heal.

 

And regardless of how wonderful or powerful the Completion Process or other trauma treatment methods are, they NEVER work instantly.

 

What is COMPLEX TRAUMA?

One of the thought leaders in the area of traumatology, Judith Herman, describes complex trauma as “the existence of a complex form of posttraumatic disorder in survivors of prolonged, repeated trauma”.

 

 

Complex trauma isn’t just a single horrible event – it’s a horrible LIFE.

Complex trauma occurs when a person is harmed multiple times and repeatedly by other humans, particularly their caregivers. The chronic harm occurs at childhood, a stage in life when an individual is most vulnerable.

The people who are supposed to care and ensure the safety of kids are the ones causing repeated harm…How can kids bond with their parents or guardians if they continue to damage them over and over again?

Picture this, instead of letting kids develop and grow in a safe, loving and nurturing environment; they are left soaked in trauma. This causes kids to lose a sense of self from the beginning. Not to mention, they are forced to deal with these issues on their own.

Complex trauma affects people in a variety of ways. Kids dealing with this condition normally have negative thoughts, beliefs and emotions about themselves and the world that surrounds them.  Because they are uncomfortable in their own skin all the time, they live a life of constant stress and anguish.

These young people find difficulty forming a healthy relationship or imagining a brighter future. Sadly, the negative experiences, which happened in childhood aren’t easily forgotten many years down the line.

Moreover, most kids dealing with complex trauma actually don’t know why they behave the way they do. For such people, it’s normal to feel hopeless, stuck, unhappy lost or unsafe regardless of where they are in life.

 

Most kids with complex trauma are filled with never ending guilt and shame. They don’t believe in themselves and feel as if everything they do or touch is wrong.

And the worst thing about chronic and frequent trauma for a kid is not the pain caused by frequent abuse but just knowing that there’s no way to escape from this scenario for the rest of their lives. They don’t get a chance to live in a safe, peaceful and loving environment where they can get back some emotional stability.

Also, nobody acknowledges the pain they are going through. Instead, they’re shamed and punished for showing and pouring out negative emotions. Instead, they’re shamed and punished for showing and pouring out negative emotions. And without addressing the root of the problem, lots of kids go through life unhappy and dissatisfied. And the worst thing is going through life without being aware that you are suffering from complex trauma.

 

People suffering from complex trauma may have layers of trauma. For example, in a lot of cases, you’ll find war veterans with PTSD, also dealing with the serious trauma they experienced as kids. For example, some of these heroes grew up in a home where the father was alcoholic and abusive. As a result, these people are traumatized many times in the course of their entire existence.

 

For instance, someone suffering from PTSD struggles to forget the traumatic event of the past. More often than not, such persons will have nightmares when they go to sleep or they’ll keep thinking about the unfortunate episode every time.

This makes life uncomfortable for such people. Besides, they often feel and believe that the fateful incidence will happen again. PTSD affects kids, athletes, soldiers, parents, firemen etc. Ultimately, any person who has experienced trauma can suffer from this condition. Fortunately, it’s possible for people to recover from this condition so long as they commit to seeking therapy.

 

Single incidence like a car accident, gun or street violence cannot be categorized as complex trauma. Complex trauma involves multiple incidences of physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, emotional neglect, separation, abandonment, rejection, and betrayal in one’s childhood.

Adopted, orphans or children in foster homes tend to have complex (developmental) trauma.

Symptoms of complex trauma include: low self-confidence, experiencing powerlessness, guilt, shame, anxiety, depression, insomnia, suppressed emotions, panic attacks, having difficulty building relationships, etc.

If a person experiences symptoms such as flawed reasoning, the inability to feel safe (physically and emotionally), insecurity, constant distress, persistent emotional pain, and suffering, etc. Those symptoms’ may have resulted from their foundational experiences. In short, developmental trauma has a deep psychological effect on one’s brain, adrenal glands, etc. These people require healing and resolution to their issues.

How Most People Cope with Complex Trauma

Did you know that our bodies have an alarm system that helps us identify danger or threats? Well, I’m sure you know or have probably heard about this fact.  People living with complex trauma tend to have very sensitive alarm systems than the average person.

Unfortunately, they also tend to suffer from false alarms more often than not. Fear is a huge trigger that set false alarms ringing all the time. Sometimes these people are unable to distinguish between real or perceived danger.

For instance, because of chronic mistreatment and neglect, these people develop a natural mechanism to deal with disappointment and harm. They become good at knowing how other people feel, knowing how to ignore their feelings or knowing how to get into a fight to defend their personal space.

Even though these reactions can help people cope with complex trauma, they can cause problems when they become a habit. For example, it can be counterproductive for a person dealing complex trauma to fight everyone they don’t agree with or when they are provoked.

Instead, there are plenty of better ways to cope with stressful situations than fighting or ignoring one’s feelings. It’s possible to be intentional with what you do. Learning a skill or a hobby is one of the ways you can correctly cope with symptoms of complex trauma.

When you engage in activities you enjoy, your mind automatically focuses on the task or activity at hand.   But this coping mechanism won’t get rid of the trauma you experienced as a child, even though it can help a person cope with trauma temporarily. Such a strategy won’t necessarily work on all people considering people are different.

How to Reverse Complex Trauma

Those experiencing complex trauma often feel that nobody cares about them or that their problems are too huge to solve. This makes them very defensive in the way they deal with people.

But this doesn’t mean such people cannot lead normal lives again. Getting professional help from adults who understand what complex trauma is essential. Equally, sharing experiences with other people dealing with the same problem can go a long way in helping one to cope with the condition.

Complex Trauma Therapy Options

There plenty of therapy options designed to treat complex trauma. Most therapies involve counselor meeting the patient face to face. Sometimes, the therapist may request to meet the whole family just to understand what a given person is going through. Completion process is one of the few trusted methods therapist use to treat complex trauma.

Along with therapy, here are some of the steps you can take to recover from complex trauma completely.

Increasing safety

One of the ways you can increase your chances of combating complex trauma is to feel safe. This means staying in an environment where you are unlikely to be harmed physically. In addition, safety also means living in an environment where your emotions aren’t taken for granted

In essence, it means living with people who won’t say or do hurtful things which could destabilize your emotions. In short, you have better chances of recovering from complex trauma if you feel safer (emotionally and physically). Just remember, that things can get better regardless of how the situation looks in the present. Your priority should be to find a place you can feel safe physically, emotionally and mentally.

Control your feelings

Complex trauma causes people to feel numb, scared, angry, tense, checked-out, etc. Learning to manage your feelings or emotions is something that can be learned.

When you put your emotion into check, leading a normal life becomes possible. However, it’s important to note that learning to control your feelings takes time. So you should be patient as you learn the process of keeping your emotions under control.

Build healthy relationships

Those with complex trauma don’t trust people easily. This makes it difficult for them to form relationships with other people. These people were hurt and betrayed by the people they trusted. And rightly so, they learned how to cope without others. However, it’s possible to learn to trust other people when you enroll in therapy.

Your counselor will point out that not every person is evil or dishonest. And step by step, you’ll learn to recognize the false alarms created in your mind. In a nutshell, as a complex trauma patient, you can form normal and healthy relationships once they learn t let go of their fears.

Increasing Positive Feelings

As expected, people with complex trauma spend most of their life feeling bad about themselves. As such, these people achieve very little success in life because they don’t get to live their true potential. However, after undergoing therapy, these people become aware of the power of positive thinking and feelings.

They are encouraged to spend their time with people who can influence their lives positively. Positive feelings such as pride, hope, excitement and laughter can help one to forget the difficult times. In the end, it’s possible for people to focus on the positive aspects of life instead of the negatives.

Learning from the past and planning a better future

When people go through bad experiences in life, they learn to cope first and think later. The focus is usually on survival. Unfortunately, having a survival mindset inhibits one’s vision, goals, and dreams. Persons dealing with complex trauma may not be able to pursue any career due to having a negative mindset.

They don’t believe they deserve any good thing in life and end up leading and desperate and lonely existence. However, it’s possible to change all of that. Having therapy sessions with qualified professionals can change their way of thinking. They can start to think and act positively again.

In addition, life experiences matter whether they are good or bad. We are shaped by the things that happen to us as well as those that don’t. For instance, kids growing up in a positive and encouraging environment will certainly have an advantage over those living in negative settings. Complex trauma develops when a kid is repeatedly abused or neglected by the people that are supposed to protect them.

 

A majority of my clients usually ask me to about the number of sessions they need before seeing tangible results in their lives. When answering their questions, I often relate healing to hitting the gym. Can person attain six pack in a single session? I’m sure you agree with me that it’s not possible.

I still remember myself investing 10 months and over 5000 euros in healing work with one of my therapists at the time when I suffered the most. I fondly remember my desire to live and heal. For example one day I said to the therapist:” I will come here every week and do all it takes. It doesn’t matter how long the process will not take nor how much it will cost”.

I was quite young and had the determination to heal. When I flash back, I don’t regret about the time or the resources I put in. Because I feel completely different as a result of the therapy and all the work…I not only love my life today but I also see it as a gift.

It’s possible to recover from complex trauma but one must show seriousness and commitment to the process. Choosing the right person for ongoing sessions is also very crucial.

The number one step is to find the ideal healing modality that fits your needs.

Make sure you research.

Read.

Observe.

Listen.

And feel what’s best for you.

Remember— no person knows what suit you than yourself.

Feel and listen to the message your gut is sending.

Once you identify the best healing modality for you, you can find the right person to guide you with therapy. You want to go for a person you can truly trust.

And don’t stress yourself by thinking you can recover from complex trauma on your own.

It’s crucial to remember that the process of healing from trauma is sensitive because your emotions are at play here. Your connection with a therapist is therefore essential. When choosing a therapist, follow your heart.

Remember, a majority of clients we work with swear by our service not because we are necessarily the best. But because we give our best when they need us.

Lastly, it’s vital to commit to working hard on yourself for at least 6 months or more. Meaning, you should attend treatment sessions continually.

And rather than evaluating yourself after each session, focus on completing your homework and allow healing to occur naturally.

You’ll notice some differences in the way you do things. Even the way you put down your feelings will be different.

Check out what my client recently told me, after continually working with me for six months:

“…I’m not anywhere near as scared to be emotional as I was before I met you. I’m not scared to be myself, and I’m as enthusiastic about life and the future as I’ve ever been. I do see the good in life and I am grateful for so many things. I don’t know if you remember in one of our sessions, you were telling me how great life was, and how grateful you were to be alive. All I could think of was how I didn’t think any of that. I thought the complete opposite of that in fact. And now I understand how you were feeling when you said all those things. And I know that you’re a huge reason I do feel those things too. I do appreciate all that you’ve done, and all you continue to do. “

Let’s not expect to heal from complex trauma instantly.

Instead lets us nurse wounds with love. For us to heal, we need acknowledgment, acceptance patience, validation healing and love.

Let us overcome our mountain!