This series of articles in September has focused primarily on advocating and supporting someone who has suicidal ideations or has attempted to die by suicide.

As September is National Suicide Awareness Month, we shall continue to address the causes and treatment available to those who are suicidal and their families and friends.

In this article, we shall examine together the link between complex trauma and suicidal ideation, examining closely what both are and how to help someone you love and yourself.

Complex Trauma

Complex trauma events have been defined as chronic, interpersonal traumas that begin early in life (Cook, Blaustein, Spinazzola, & van der Kolk, 2003) (Wamser-Nanney & Vandenberg, 2013).

Perhaps an easier to understand explanation is as follows:

“Complex trauma describes both children’s exposure to multiple traumatic events—often of an invasive, interpersonal nature—and the wide-ranging, long-term effects of this exposure. These events are severe and pervasive, such as abuse or profound neglect. They usually occur early in life and can disrupt many aspects of the child’s development and the formation of a sense of self. Since these events often occur with a caregiver, they interfere with the child’s ability to form a secure attachment. Many aspects of a child’s healthy physical and mental development rely on this primary source of safety and stability (

Most of us know someone who has experienced complex trauma, people in our lives who have been injured in childhood by the very people who were supposed to care and love them. Early childhood trauma refers to the traumatic experiences of children between the ages of 0-6 (these ages are not set in stone). Children that young cannot verbalize their reactions to threatening events even though many people believe they can protect themselves and “grow out of it.”

Some of these events may be:

  • Sexual abuse
  • Narcissistic abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Witnessing domestic violence
  • Natural disasters
  • Accidents
  • Living in a war zone
  • Medically painful procedures
  • The loss of a parent/caregiver

Known as adverse childhood experiences, some children who experience them can grow into adults who are plagued by suicidal ideation.

Complex Trauma and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Complex trauma is the basis of complex post-traumatic stress disorder, a problem where people who have survived childhood maltreatment have the following symptoms:

  • Losing memories of trauma or reliving them
  • Difficulty regulating emotions that often manifest as rage
  • Depression
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Feeling detached from oneself
  • Feeling different from others
  • Feeling ashamed
  • Feeling guilty
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Seeking our or becoming a rescuer
  • Feeling afraid for no apparent reason
  • Having a feeling of always on the alert
  • Becoming obsessed with revenge on the perpetrator
  • Feeling a loss of spiritual attachment and either ignoring or depending upon religion for self-worth
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

Survivors who deal with complex post-traumatic stress disorder often struggle with chronic suicidal ideation and have experienced repeated suicide attempts. Still, other survivors may have passive suicidality where they do not take their medication, eat, drink sufficient fluids, or self-care items.

Many people living with the after-effects of complex trauma will have periods of no suicidal ideation only to have it come back again later. Because of the tremendous pain involved with dealing with complex trauma, survivors must have a “way out” of the pain and may consider suicide a “safety net,” a way of escape.

Supporting Someone Who Has Experienced Childhood Trauma and is Suicidal

Watching a friend or loved one suffer the aftermath of childhood trauma is hard to do. You wish to help them, and your support is imperative as research has shown that leaning on a loved one has multiple benefits for trauma survivors (Littleton 2010.) While being available for a person experiencing the leftovers from a traumatic childhood seems trivial, it is critical to their recovery.

There are multiple ways to support survivors of childhood maltreatment, including the following examples.

Realize that trauma can resurface repeatedly. To some, it may seem that someone who has survived child abuse should be capable of walking away from their past and live in the now. However, since brain changes occurred when the trauma occurred, it is nearly impossible for emotional flashbacks and reactions to memories of what happened not to resurface.

The way to aid someone who is experiencing resurfaced traumatic memories is to listen without judgment or suggestions. Do not try to “fix” the person; just listen to what they are saying and hold them when needed (see below).

Ask Before Holding a Survivor. Although you may feel the need to hug or hold a survivor who is suffering the side-effects of complex trauma, survivors sometimes don’t like being touched, and you could inadvertently cause the situation to become worse.

Survivors who experienced traumatic childhoods may equate touch with pain and will shy away from physical contact. Don’t feel rejected but celebrate the fact that the survivor in your life trusted you enough to say they do not want a hug.

Watch for Suicide Risk Factors.  People who survived complex traumatic events are at risk for developing suicidal ideation and actions. However, there are risk factors, including:

  • Severe mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety disorders
  • Access to lethal means such as firearms and drugs
  • Prolonged stress such as bullying, unemployment, or problems in a relationship\
  • Exposure to another person’s suicide
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Family history of suicide
  • History of childhood abuse, neglect, or other trauma

Watch for Suicide Warning Signs. Survivors of complex trauma may exhibit warning signs that tell their friends or loved ones that they are contemplating dying by suicide. These warning signs include:

  • The person talks about killing themselves, feeling hopeless, having no reason to live, that they would be better off dead, or of unbearable pain.
  • Their behavior may change where they increase their use of alcohol or drugs, withdrawing from activities, isolate themselves, or give away prized possessions.
  • The person may exhibit signs of depression, anxiety, irritability, loss of interest, shame, anger, or a sudden mood improvement.

If you notice these warning signs and know they have risk factors, do not hesitate to talk to them directly about your suspicions. Talking about suicide WILL NOT cause the person you love to die by their own hand; indeed, you might open a conversation that saves that person’s life.

Know Where to Turn


When someone is suicidal or knows someone exhibiting signs of suicidal ideation, they need to turn to experts for help.

The first line of defense is your family doctor. Tell them that you are concerned about your loved one or yourself and be honest about suicidal ideations. Your physician will get you the help you need right away, sometimes resorting to entering you into the hospital for observation. While going to the hospital is not ideal, doing so will keep you or your loved one alive while the doctors attempt medications to decrease the anxiety or depression causing the problem.

Your second line of defense is knowing organizations that can help.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Call or Chat Online). This resource is available 24/7 at the following number:

1-800-273-8255 (TALK)

Contact them whenever you feel worried about someone who may be contemplating dying by suicide.

Crisis Text Line. In our age, more and more people opt to text instead of talking on the phone. The Crisis Text Line is available 24/7, and you can reach them by texting “GO” to 741741.

Ending Our Time Together

Complex trauma is challenging to live within one’s life. The healing process is long and painful, leading some survivors to think they do not wish to live. Advocates can do things to help, and many involve self-education about both complex trauma and suicidal behavior.

By simply being there and listening to what the survivor in your life has to say, you can help them defeat the voices in their mind from the past that are haunting their soul.

Be sure to take good care of yourself while helping your survivor by knowing yourself, your needs, and how to get what you need. Self-advocate to keep yourself from becoming burned out or ill so that you can be there when your loved one needs you without sacrificing yourself.

Please, consider sharing this post on your social media accounts or with family and friends. It could change a life today.

“Don’t compromise yourself. You’re all you’ve got.” Janis Joplin

“Be bold enough to use your voice, brave enough to listen to your heart, and strong enough to live the life you’ve always imagined.” Author Unknown


Littleton, H. L. (2010). The impact of social support and negative disclosure reactions on sexual assault victims: A cross-sectional and longitudinal investigation. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation11(2), 210-227.

Wamser‐Nanney, R., & Vandenberg, B. R. (2013). Empirical support for the definition of a complex trauma event in children and adolescents. Journal of traumatic stress26(6), 671-678.


CPTSD Foundation Awareness Wristbands

Official CPTSD Foundation wristbands to show the world you support awareness, research, and healing from complex trauma.

The official CPTSD Foundation wristbands were designed by our Executive Director, Athena Moberg, to promote healing and awareness benefits all survivors. We hope you’ll consider purchasing one for yourself and perhaps one for a family member, friend, or other safe people who could help raise awareness for complex trauma research and healing.

Each purchase of $12 helps fund our scholarship program, which provides access to our programs and resources to survivors in need.

As always, if you or a loved one live in the despair and isolation that comes with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, please, come to us for help. CPTSD Foundation offers a wide range of services, including:

All our services are reasonably priced, and some are even free. So, to gain more insight into how complex post-traumatic stress disorder is altering your life and how you can overcome it, sign-up; we will be glad to help you.  If you cannot afford to pay, go to to apply for aid. We only wish to serve you.