What is Complex Trauma?

Experiencing trauma at any age can take a toll on your mental health. But it is the repeated experience of trauma in early childhood and beyond that has been labelled, ‘complex trauma’. This trauma can be the result of a range of things such as domestic violence, parental drug and alcohol abuse, neglect or physical abuse, and even critical, dominating or overinvolved parenting. This can begin in the earliest stages of life, when parents who are often suffering from unresolved trauma or stress lack the appropriate skills and emotional regulation to adequately meet the developmental needs of the child.

Signs you may be suffering from Complex Trauma

People usually react to a threat or danger with biological, cognitive and behavioural responses that influence your thinking and behaviour. When the threat or danger has passed, your body’s neurochemistry should return to normal. In post-traumatic stress disorder, your neurochemical responses outlive the threat and stop your internal systems from returning to normal.

When you’ve been exposed to repeated traumatic events early in life, your body’s ability to return to normal is inhibited. You will feel like you’re constantly anticipating or responding to danger or threat.

You may display symptoms such as:

  • Poor concentration
  • Poor attention
  • Poor decision-making
  • Poor judgement
  • Being highly reactive and respond to perceived but non-existent threats
  • Being aggressive, taking flight or freezing

Complex trauma combines a range of social, emotional, behavioural and interpersonal difficulties that can last a lifetime.

Without help, complex trauma can be a vicious cycle

Unfortunately, if complex trauma is not recognised or treated, the cycle of abuse at an early age will continue. Children who have experienced complex trauma (without help) often grow up to have their own family difficulties. They are likely to have financial, substance abuse or mental health issues. Or they may be unequipped to be a parent due to their own childhood experiences.

There are effective models of care to respond to the effects of complex trauma

Research suggests that for children and young people who have experienced complex trauma, effective treatment lies in the day-to-day experiences they have with other people. These interactions help them repair, recover and develop healthier relationships.

Of course, it’s always best to prevent issues before they arise. In Australia, we have programs to teach parents skills to be a better parent and provide their children with a good start in life. These programs also assist the parent (who suffers from complex trauma) how to manage their own emotions and provide a safe home environment.

Over to you

If you are struggling with your home life, perhaps you are suffering from complex trauma. Think about your childhood. Do you have any of the above symptoms? If you’d like to talk, please contact me and we’ll make an appointment.

And if you’ve liked this article and feel it could help someone you know, please feel free to share it.

Photo by Leon Biss on Unsplash