A Guide To The Stages Of Complex PTSD Recovery

Curious about clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Researchers are studying thousands of new treatments and you could be a part of finding a cure while accessing the newest treatments for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What is complex PTSD?

Complex PTSD is a ‘sibling disorder’ to PTSD. The two conditions are very similar, both being caused by a traumatic event that occurs at some point in a person's life.

The main difference is that in complex PTSD, the exposure to the trauma is often prolonged or repetitive. This eventually results in the distortion of one’s core identity, leading to issues such as:

  • Significant emotional dysregulation

  • Negative self-image

  • Disturbance in relationships

Research¹ involving PTSD patients show that a simple PTSD diagnosis is often not enough to properly diagnose a patient's symptoms. This additional diagnosis² of complex PTSD is designed to create a separate definition for patients who may have suffered from long-standing or multiple traumas and need more specific support.

It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between these two conditions. Some studies suggest that a complex PTSD diagnosis is more likely to occur if you had an unsettling childhood or complex issues before the traumatic event occurred.

The stages of recovery

There are multiple stages to recovering from PTSD, and a licensed therapist or psychologist can guide you through these. An important consideration when choosing your therapist is how much experience they have with trauma victims.

Trauma recovery can be a long, complex road with the possibility of taking a toll on you and your loved ones and the therapist if they are not properly prepared. A well-informed, experienced therapist will have the skills to lead you through this process safely and successfully.

Self-acknowledgment and diagnosis

The first steps of recovery begin before treatment has even started.

Self-acknowledgment is the process of recognizing symptoms in yourself that lead to you seeking out a diagnosis. This can be difficult if many of your symptoms have become a normal part of your day-to-day life. Talking to friends or family may help you distinguish which traits are normal and worth mentioning to your medical professional.

The next step is receiving a diagnosis. Your trusted medical professional will work through your symptoms with you before making a suitable treatment plan. Once treatment begins, there are three main stages of a recovery plan:

1. Establishment of safety

This process can take a considerable time, and you should not feel discouraged by this. Everyone is different and moves at their own pace.

The process begins inwardly, establishing safety within your body. Many trauma survivors lose the ability to feel relaxed and in control of themselves.

For example, this could manifest in a fear of sleep because of nightmares. Environmental input matters, too, and often, difficult decisions may have to be made to remove unsafe environmental input to ensure the best possible chance of recovery.

2. Remembrance and mourning

This step involves the safe, structured retelling of the trauma. This is likely to be a difficult, sensitive journey that can only be achieved once the first stage has been completed. This can be scary and upsetting but also empowering and healing.

During this journey, it is important to embrace feelings of grief that may arise. This may be grieving a loss of childhood, trust in others, yourself, or many other things. This stage will not last forever and is an important step in moving forward.

3. Reconnection to ordinary life

The last stage of recovery is reincorporating yourself into the world around you, having processed your trauma.

This may involve:

  • Reconnecting with friends and family

  • Opening up to them in new ways

  • Beginning or re-entering a romantic relationship

  • Engaging in social action

Social action may or may not be directly related to your trauma and can further a feeling of empowerment.

Frequently asked questions

What are signs that I’m recovering?

It is important to remember that there is always the possibility of relapse, but you should see a reduction in most of your PTSD symptoms. This may mean, for instance, that you sleep better, experience fewer flashbacks, or are more comfortable talking about your trauma. This will be different for everyone.

How did I get complex PTSD?

PTSD is one of the only mental health disorders for which the source is identified – a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events that occurred at some point in your life. Genetics and personal history also affect your likelihood of developing complex PTSD.

How do I get help?

Contact your local medical or mental health practice. They can point you in the right direction. Reaching out to a supportive family member or friend would also be a great way to start.

The lowdown

The road to recovery from complex PTSD can be long and difficult, but the benefits you will feel at the end of the journey are worth it. Within each stage are thousands of micro-steps, slowly allowing you to feel more in control and empowered in your life.

Each step is essential to recovery and will provide you with the necessary skills to manage your complex PTSD.

The final stage, reconnection, is sure to feel the most fruitful as you finally return to some aspects of normal life. While your trauma may change you as a person, this process will teach you to harness this change as a positive force and move forward in life using therapeutic techniques to finally free you from the torments of the past.

Curious about clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Researchers are studying thousands of new treatments and you could be a part of finding a cure while accessing the newest treatments for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Discover which clinical trials you are eligible for

Are you curious about clinical trials?
Have you taken medication for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Have you been diagnosed with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

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