This would be considered the most severe form of PTSD. It is directly connected to trauma that occurred and was experienced at an early age in development. The trauma was chronic and ongoing. The trauma would have had a direct impact on brain development as well as the attachment process. The trauma itself involved an individual in a close relationship (i.e.- parent, caregiver, person in a position of authority). This traumatic experience is profoundly disrupting as it can impact the individual’s ability to form healthy relationships across the lifespan.
Those who have fewer traumatic experiences and were able to address the impact of the event either at the time it occurred or sometime later, will be closer to the lower end of the continuum. As the frequency and duration of traumatic events increase, so do the negative impacts and symptoms. When children experience trauma and their caregivers address it shortly after it occurred, the likelihood of developing PTSD is lower.
Complex PTSD is at the far end of the continuum and is characterized by a history of severe, long-term trauma that usually includes exposure to caregivers who were cruel, inconsistent, exploitive, unresponsive or violent. People who have experienced trauma struggle with more chronic self-destructive behaviours like self-harm, substance abuse, and suicidal behaviours.
It is important to be aware that for some people they may experience numerous events on this continuum and therefore the impact of the events become more complex. For example an individual who has grown up in a family where there has been the experience of colonization might also have the experience of family violence. So in the situation where they experience a single event later on in life; the impact of this single event may be different than for someone who didn’t experience the context of family violence or colonization or war.
The effects of being traumatized are very individual, and people who have experienced trauma are impacted physically, emotionally, behaviorally, cognitively, spiritually, neurobiologically and relationally. You may experience aspects in each of these areas or only one or two.