coping with complex trauma

As CPTSD occurs usually from long term abuse usually in childhood, we see a lot of individuals struggle with how to cope on a day to day basis.

  Safe coping skills are taught to us when we are young children, from parents or caregivers. Research has shown that the first 1000 days are the most important for a child in order to forge internal pathways within the brain. A trauma during this time can lead to life changing effects for the child. 

A child who has fallen off their bike, for example; is calmed and soothed by their caregiver who speaks gently to them and calms them down. The child thus learns in this situation that bad feeling such as this can be coped with and worked through. If the child is met with hostility and shame, this will transcribe in to their mind that they as a person need to change, that showing negative emotion is a bad thing and to keep silent about any uncomfortable feelings they may have. This can turn a child in to an uncertain, nervous and even angry person with no coping strategies.

When a child's distress is met by anger, disgust, ridicule or even abuse, it can make asking for help an even more difficult feeling to control. This child isn't helped to learn safe ways of coping and bringing distressing and negative feelings under control.

This then follows us through to adulthood. If we have not learned to cope safely, we begin to undertake unsafe coping habits which can cause even more negative compounding of these already formed pathways from childhood. As soon as an adult then begins to feel stressed or anxious, it is as if the emotions take over and become overwhelming. The impact of trauma or abuse on a child can result in uncontrollable and unpredictable thoughts, feelings, moods and behaviours. Our mood and relationship can become difficult to manage and the adult may find themselves on a roller coaster of emotions and difficulties and struggling to get off. 

coping strategies often become our mind and bodies ability to step of the roller coaster and back on to a more manageable and controllable level.

Coping strategies tend to fall in to two categories, helpful and unhelpful. 

Unhelpful coping strategies can be helpful in the short term but are not healthy long term solutions. Using unhealthy coping mechanisms can lead to more difficulties.

It is imperative for recovery to have an awareness of not only what coping strategies we use, but what is helpful and unhelpful and also more importantly it is important for the trauma survivor to have an understanding of why they have been programmed to respond in this way.

For many individuals who have survived prolonged abuse during childhood, it is common to self blame and hate. That hate for ourselves and our body creates risk taking behaviours such as smoking, risky sexual activities and lack of self care. It can be hard when we hate the body we live in to treat it with respect, but this is a fundamental step to recovery. The knowledge that as adults we react due to how we have been taught is empowering for a victim of trauma that resonates in childhood, it takes the self blame portion and softens it allowing the individual to work through coping strategies without blame and discomfort.