Trauma can affect a person’s emotional, physical, and psychological well-being in various ways. Because the trauma experienced may be unique to an individual, their response to a traumatic event is also unique and may include: flashbacks; trouble sleeping; avoidance of people or places that may trigger an emotional reaction; dread; an overall feeling of numbness; difficulty sleeping/nightmares; anxiety; self-destructive behavior; difficulty concentrating; aggression; or, difficulty with memory and cognition (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
While the DSM-V (2013) recognizes these symptoms as associated with PTSD, some may go on to develop more severe symptoms associated with CPTSD which has been identified as a syndrome specific to survivors of chronic, repeated trauma (child abuse, narcissistic abuse, captivity). An important consideration in healing from CPTSD is to engage in the practice of self-care.
Self-care is more than simple acts of getting enough sleep, especially when symptoms of CPTSD are affecting the quality of your life. Here are several tips to help ensure that your self-care is centered on helping you heal and re-engage in life.
Awareness. Becoming aware of what your body is telling you is important in learning to create a self-care program that is geared to your specific needs. For example, recognizing if you’re feeling run-down, unusually tired, anxious, or depressed can help you with changing your sleep schedule, or taking a break when needed. Awareness can include recognizing if you’re experiencing symptoms such as mental fog, exhaustion, physical limitations, or basically anything that negatively impacts your daily life. By becoming more aware of your mind/body/emotions connection, you can empower yourself in your self-care.
Pro Tip: Keep a journal on tap so you can jot down your thoughts, feelings, or body sensations as you’re having them, along with the time of day, and what you’re doing.
Meditation. Because intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and anxiety are commonly experienced with CPTSD, meditation can be an excellent way to help self-calm and to redirect your energy. Research suggests that meditation and mindfulness techniques are often safe practices and can be especially useful in conjunction with therapeutic intervention (Cloitre, et al., 2011).
Social Support. Social support may include close friends, family, significant other, or a trusted counselor or therapist who can help provide emotional support for you along your self-care journey. Social isolation is commonly reported in those with CPTSD because many often struggle with public places, noise, or emotional triggers. Because symptoms can be challenging for those battling CPTSD, having someone to talk to for encouragement, guidance, or just a shoulder to lean on is important in helping with healing.
Consistency. Consistency is about sticking to a routine, which should include daily tasks such as getting quality sleep each night, personal hygiene, eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, and keeping a schedule of daily chores. Those coping with the effects of CPTSD often struggle with simple tasks such as getting out of bed because of the emotional and physical exhaustion that often accompanies them. Having a daily schedule is important for helping in healing and re-engaging back in life.
Pro Tip: Jot down a daily schedule starting with simple tasks (showering, making your bed) and consider building one new task daily, or each week as recommended by your support team.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Cloitre, M., et al. (2011). Treatment of complex PTSD: Results of the ISTSS expert clinician survey on best practices. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 24(6), 615-627.
Herman, J. L. (1992). Complex PTSD: A syndrome in survivors of prolonged and repeated trauma. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 5(3), 377-391.
Simon, N., et al. (2019). Associations between perceived social support, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex PTSD (CPTSD): Implications for treatment. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 10, 1 – 11.
Dr. Annie Tanasugarn is a Psychologist, Board Certified Behavior Analyst, relationship expert and educator who specializes in educating others on relationship empowerment, self-awareness, goal setting, and creating healthy habits that are specific to a person’s individual needs. She provides a safe space for reflection that fosters insight and self-discovery and has extensively researched behavior, personality, PTSD and CPTSD. Dr. Tanasugarn has over 2 decades in the field of psychology and Behavior Analysis and has additionally spent over a decade in field of Autism, which is close to her heart.