Complex Trauma is psychological damage (which may sometimes include physical damage) inflicted on a person repeatedly over time. It tends to be most severe when it is inflicted during childhood and teen years. This form of chronic trauma may include direct or indirect threats to the person’s wellbeing, life, safety, psychological sanity or bodily integrity and security.
Because Complex Trauma is brought about by chronic mistreatment by others, often someone close, sufferers have usually experienced some form of humiliation and loss of trust, making their decision to come to counselling difficult and tentative. Examples of this form of trauma are child abuse, sexual abuse, physical violence, verbal abuse, neglect or deprivation.
Complex trauma is a reaction of brain, body, and emotions to traumatic experiences – whereby the brain’s usual processing mechanisms simply cannot process the implications of some experience, resulting in a mental/emotional “log-jam” (trauma).
These experiences can overwhelm the person’s sense of being able to cope with many aspects of everyday life.
How can Counselling help Complex Trauma?
Safety comes first. Before anything else, the psychologist must establish a relationship with the sufferer where the person feels safe to start telling aspects of their story, sometimes saving harder parts to tell until later sessions, once safety has been established.
The trauma survivor needs to know they will be given respect and have a voice in how, what, and when certain aspects of their experience is covered.
Some traumatic memories may be too painful to return to, for a very long time, perhaps never. In the meantime, much ground can be made by establishing trust, and a sense of being able to bring order and meaning back into one’s world – to begin to feel empowered as a person to make things happen in one’s own world.
Trauma is psychological and often physical damage inflicted on a person by extremely stressful experiences – so much so that it can overwhelm the person’s sense of being able to cope with everyday life. Trauma is a subjective phenomenon, not an objective thing. What may overwhelm and traumatize one person may not have the same effect on another.
Traumatic experiences usually (but not always) include some form of direct threat to a person’s life, safety, psychological sanity or bodily integrity and security.
Whether a person becomes traumatized by such an experience depends on many factors, including the situation at the time and whether understanding support was available or not, and whether there was an opportunity for the person to tell others who could compassionately acknowledge what the survivor had been through.
Some experiences of trauma include:
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Often powerful one-off experiences like accidents, floods, bushfires, crimes, witnessing violent deaths, such as war veterans. Or repeated chronic experiences such as child abuse, neglect, physical violence at home, or intentionally inflicted deprivation. Read more…
Whereas PTSD tends to be mainly acute, severe, and often one-off shocking experiences, Complex Trauma by comparison, is constant, chronic mistreatment by others, which can result in a person feeling permanently insecure and unsafe in general in their daily life. Read more…
Often children or young people in particular are sworn to silence by the abuser, with threats of what might happen (breaking up the family) if they tell. Read more…
Using power to control others in a demeaning fashion, and deny them a voice, and their rights in the workplace. Read more…
Domestic Violence may include either physical or verbal violence (or both) used in the home to control others, assert power and denigrate the others’ rights. The victims of Domestic Violence may sometimes develop Complex Trauma or PTSD symptoms(see above), depending on the severity and circumstances of this type of violence.