Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a term that researchers developed to explain the pathology that results from ongoing and prolonged exposure to trauma.1 Individuals suffering from complex trauma present different symptomatology in comparison to those with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is because, in addition to the typical symptoms of PTSD, individuals with C-PTSD may also develop mood and behavioral disorders. They can develop physical health conditions as a result of chronic stress. Substance abuse is also high among survivors of abuse. (Substance abuse may offer a mechanism for controlling anxiety and other mental health symptoms.)
The symptoms and history of individuals with complex trauma can cause a great deal of difficulty with interpersonal relationships.2
C-PTSD and Relationships
One of the core issues associated with ongoing trauma is difficulty in regulating emotions.3 Trauma survivors often have trouble controlling the intensity and duration of negative emotions. Outbursts of anger, high levels of worry or ongoing negative mood can place significant stress on interpersonal and work relationships.4
Interpersonal relationships are an important part of life. Healthy relationships provide the emotional support we need to get through daily challenges. When we are going through more formidable events such as major life transitions, a stable and supportive connection with others gives us the strength we need to face challenges. Our relationships are key to experiencing a greater quality of life and good health.
Individuals suffering from complex trauma often have difficulties in relationships. One of the reasons for this is that, in many cases, the source of past trauma was a trusted adult. Children can often fall prey to authority figures such as coaches, teachers, or religious leaders. Repeated neglect or abuse by a parent, or by an adult who was close to the child or the child’s family, can create long-lasting damage to the ability to form relationships or establishing trust later in life.5
A lack of trust can devastate a romantic connection. Fear of being harmed or betrayed can put up barriers between two people that are difficult to overcome. This situation creates substantial stress for both partners. If the difficulties are a result of complex trauma symptoms and not a result of an unhealthy relationship, it would be beneficial to seek help not only for the healing of the sufferer but for the health of the relationship which, in itself, can provide assistance with healing.
Finding a Way Forward
Working with a therapist who specializes in complex trauma can be helpful. The unique symptomatology of complex trauma and how it affects many areas of life need to be understood in order to develop and move forward with an appropriate treatment strategy.
For clients in relationships, it is often helpful for both to attend therapy. Therapy can provide an opportunity to open up the lines of communication and facilitate a greater understanding of the root of anxiety and other difficult symptoms.
- Sochting, I., Corrado, R., Cohen, I. M., Ley, R. G., & Brasfield, C. (2007). Traumatic pasts in Canadian Aboriginal people: Further support for a complex trauma conceptualization?. British Columbia Medical Journal, 49(6), 320.
- Bellamy, S., & Hardy, C. (2015). Understanding Post-traumatic stress disorder in Canadian Aboriginal Peoples. Fact Sheet for the National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health. Retrieved from https://www.ccnsa-nccah.ca/docs/emerging/RPT-Post-TraumaticStressDisorder-Bellamy-Hardy-EN.pdf
- Hébert, M., Langevin, R., & Oussaïd, E. (2018). Cumulative childhood trauma, emotion regulation, dissociation, and behavior problems in school-aged sexual abuse victims. Journal of affective disorders, 225, 306-312.
- Huh, H. J., Kim, S. Y., Yu, J. J., & Chae, J. H. (2014). Childhood trauma and adult interpersonal relationship problems in patients with depression and anxiety disorders. Annals of general psychiatry, 13(1), 26.
- Briere, J. & Elliot, D.M. (2003). Prevalence and psychological sequelae of self-reported childhood physical and sexual abuse in a general population sample of men and women. Child Abuse & Neglect, 27, 1205-1222.