Complex Trauma: How to Identify Symptoms in Your Own Life

Posted by Counseling Wise on June 24, 2019

Complex trauma still isn’t as widely talked about as other mental health disorders. Though, it’s gaining more acceptance in the mental health field.

But, what’s the difference between this type of trauma and others?

Complex trauma is something that occurs repeatedly. While a soldier might experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from a gunfight or explosion, a child is more likely to experience complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) from repeated abuse over several years.

Another aspect of complex trauma is that it typically involves direct harm. That means it’s less likely you’ll experience it if you’re a witness to something traumatic. Rather, you have to experience it.

Finally, complex trauma often occurs when someone is in their most vulnerable state. That’s why children are at a greater risk of experiencing it.

So, how can you tell if you’re struggling with complex trauma in your own life?

The Emotional Struggles of Complex Trauma

While you’ve probably heard about some of the more common symptoms of trauma and PTSD, complex trauma has additional warning signs to be aware of.

One of the biggest issues people with C-PTSD face is dissociation. It starts out as a defense mechanism.

For example, a child who is beaten might start to dissociate themselves with the situation. This allows them to feel like they aren’t actually a part of it, and instead, they are just “watching” it happen.

Unfortunately, dissociating yourself with the trauma you’ve experienced can leave gaping holes in how much you actually remember. If you have a pattern of dissociating yourself from a certain traumatic event, you might have a harder time revealing details or even remembering all of it. Yet, you’re still holding all of that inside because your body has a memory of its own, per se.

Guilt, Shame, and Internalization

People who have been through complex trauma often feel a lot of guilt. Your self-perception might begin to change, and you can experience a lot of shame as well.

Some people can internalize this so much that they start to be incredibly critical of themselves, the way their aggressor was. Using that same example of an abused child, someone growing up with that experience can start to say the same negative things to themselves as the person abusing them used to say.

This can lead to everything from isolation, a lack of trust, or a repeated cycle. Someone who is used to abuse and starts to feel that they deserved it can easily end up in another abusive relationship as an adult.

Treating Complex Trauma

Complex trauma has earned its name for a reason. Treating it is just as complex. It typically requires several different approaches. This is because where you start out on your road to recovery will likely be vastly different from what you experience along the way.

New symptoms may start to arise as you go through your treatment. You’ll learn to better identify your trauma and triggers, and how to finally work through it.

Treating complex trauma isn’t easy. That’s why many people avoid treatment altogether. But, the longer you do avoid treatment and suffer in silence, the worse the effects of your experience can become.

If you suspect that you’re struggling with the lasting effects of complex trauma or you’re having trouble recognizing the symptoms, please don’t hesitate to contact me as soon as possible. We can start to identify your symptoms and learn how to manage them on a daily basis.

This type of trauma can have a serious impact on your overall quality of life, causing you to feel trapped within your own mind.

You can feel free, and you can find peace—give me a call to take the first step on your journey today.


For more information about PTSD treatment, please take a look at my PTSD Counseling page.

I am here to partner with you to transform your life. If you are ready to partner with me to transform your life, please contact me to set up an appointment or for a free 30 – minute phone consultation.

About the Therapist

Gay A. Hunter, M.Div., LPC-S, is a licensed professional counselor who graduated from Brite Divinity School at TCU. She is committed to partner with you to transform your life. She owns a private practice in Fort Worth, TX. She specializes in online therapy. She is trained in Cognitive Processing Therapy for PTSD and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. To find out more about Gay click here