Complex Trauma
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Complex Trauma

What is a complex trauma

Complex trauma is a type of trauma that occurs repeatedly, cumulatively and even increases over time. In a family context, a conspicuous example of complex trauma is ongoing (physical or sexual) violence against family members. Complex trauma can also develop as the result of war, captivity, uprooting, refugeeness and human trafficking. Complex trauma can also be the result of a chronic illness that requires intensive and frequently painful medical intervention.

The Difference between Trauma And Complex

Usually, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.) is the result of exposure to a single traumatic event, for example, a terrorist attack or single event in war. Complex trauma consists of multiple traumatic events, of the same type, which the victim experiences over a period of time. The effect of these traumatic events on the person is cumulative.

Phenomena Unique to Complex Trauma

Complex trauma influences deep layers of the personality. Some of the phenomena parallel those that appear in "regular" P.T.S.D. but some do not. In general, people who have experienced complex trauma tend to act in ways that endanger themselves –not only do they have difficulty controlling urges and emotions, they have trouble remaining in therapy.

Specific characteristics of complex trauma are:

Changes in the ability to control emotions and urges, including difficulty controlling anger and the urge for self-harm. This category also includes the behaviors that the victim uses in an attempt to control what his feelings, such as using drugs and alcohol or behaviors that repeat the trauma.
Changes in awareness and attention, including removing entire events from memory, situations in which the victim feels disconnected from his familiar self-identity or temporarily forgets his daily schedule.
Changes in self-image, such as a chronic feelings of guilt or embarrassment. People who experience trauma over a long period of time tend to internalize the attitude towards them as part of their own feeling of self-worth are likely to feel "flawed" or shattered beyond repair.
Changes in the victim’s concept of the aggressor, including internalizing the aggressor’s belief system. Victims are likely to feel that they deserve the injury or that the people who harmed them are somehow special.
Changes in relationships with others, including difficulty in trusting other people or feeling intimacy towards them.
Somatization (physical complaints or pains without any physiological finding) and medical problems: Sometimes, the physical responses are directly related to the type of trauma that was experienced.

Is the treatment of complex trauma different

Yes. Since the difficulties affect the deepest level of the personality –belief system, self-image and control of emotions and urges – treatment does not focus directly or solely on the trauma but rather on the entire person. For this reason, and because the victim has trouble maintaining a therapeutic alliance with therapist, treatment lasts longer than therapy focused on trauma.


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