What is C-PTSD?

By Jenn Rockefeller

Even though many have heard of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), not many may have heard of C-PTSD. What is C-PTSD and how does it differ from PTSD? And why do domestic violence survivors suffer from C-PTSD?

What is C-PTSD? 

Healthline defines Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) as “repeated trauma over months or years, rather than a single event.”

But how and why is C-PTSD different from PTSD?

The differences 

The one main difference between PTSD and C-PTSD is that PTSD is typically related to a singular traumatic event. As Mayo Clinic explains, PTSD is triggered by a terrifying event that brings upon flashbacks, nightmares and other symptoms.

Another difference that Healthline points out is that C-PTSD has additional symptoms to the ones that PTSD is known for. Such symptoms include:

  • Lack of emotional regulation
  • Changes in consciousness
  • Negative self-perception
  • Difficulty with relationships
  • Distorted perception of the abuser
  • Loss of systems of meanings

Domestic violence survivors and C-PTSD 

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs suggests that those who experience and endure long-term domestic violence situations are most likely to develop C-PTSD due to being consistently exposed to trauma on a regular basis. “During long-term traumas, the victim is generally held in a protracted state of captivity, physically or emotionally,” the site states.

In a January 2020 article on Thought Catalog, Shahida Arabi wrote, “Complex PTSD, which develops due to chronic, ongoing trauma, is more likely to occur due to long-term domestic violence or childhood sexual and/or physical or emotional abuse.”

It is this ongoing trauma from domestic violence that can cause victims and survivors to experience significant damage to relationships and their quality of life. The reason that this ongoing abuse can cause damage to a survivor’s quality of life is because the abuser had such power and control over the survivor for so long that it could very well result in serious psychological harm.

Due to the ongoing trauma, many victims and survivors often feel like they died inside. It’s like they forget who they are. They were stripped of all that they knew. They lost themselves in that trauma. It would take intense therapy to reverse that and rediscover who they are.

Healing and recovery 

It is possible to heal and recover from C-PTSD. It will take time though, as you cannot heal from something like this overnight. It can only be done with the help of a well-informed and highly trained therapist. There are several treatment methods available, but the use of any of these must be done under the guidance of the therapist.

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can be used in an individual setting or group therapy. Some forms of psychotherapy include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – a type of psychotherapy that helps change thought patterns to improve mood and behavior. Learn more about CBT via this Healthline article.
  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET) – a type of specialized therapy that gradually exposes you to the traumas you faced. You can learn more about PET through this American Psychological Association article.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – a type of therapy that has you focus on one traumatic memory while simultaneously focusing on an external stimuli. Read more about EMDR in an article that Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence published in August 2018.

In addition to talk therapy, medications have been known to help treat PTSD and C-PTSD symptoms. These medications can be used in conjunction with other forms of treatment. But please speak with your doctor to see if incorporating medication into your treatment plan is right for you.

As a reminder, the healing process will not be easy. It will likely be fraught with many ups and downs while you move through the process. But please know that it is possible to heal. Healing from trauma will take time. During this time, be gentle with yourself and allow yourself the time to heal.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.

Heart Health Risks from Domestic Violence

By Jessica M. Corvo

February is American Heart Health Month. Trauma-related cardiovascular issues are more common than previously thought. Domestic violence can cause emotional and physical trauma, both can wreak havoc on the heart.

For over a decade, heart disease and cancer have competed for the top spot as a leading cause of death in the USA. “Heart disease causes 1 in 4 deaths. The term ‘heart disease’ refers to several types of heart conditions…” the CDC continues, “You can greatly reduce your risk of heart disease through lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medicine.”

Survivors of domestic violence who prioritize their recovery and health are less likely to experience heart complications later in life. This article explores the connection between domestic violence and heart health whilst sharing tips for healthy heart habits.

Fight or Flight

When in fight or flight mode, victims of domestic violence respond to fear and stress by releasing hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) into the body. Short term, these hormones are necessary to fuel the body to fight back or escape danger. According to the Mayo Clinic, “adrenaline increases heart rate, elevates blood pressure and boosts energy supplies.” Long term, these hormones are harmful to the heart. Approximately 15 minutes after exposure to stress, cortisol levels increase and stay elevated for hours. Victims in chronic fight or flight mode accumulate high levels of cortisol. High levels of cortisol result in increased blood cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure and triglycerides. These are common risk factors for heart disease.

Healthy heart habit 1: Meditate. Harvard Medical School suggests, “This practice of inward-focused thought and deep breathing has been shown to reduce heart disease risk factors. Anyone can learn to meditate. Just take a few minutes to sit somewhere quiet, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing.” 

Mood

Domestic violence can turn an easy-going, light-hearted and free-spirited person into a self-critical, anxiety fuelled and emotionally depressed person. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 322 million people live with depression. “Women in violent relationships have nearly twice the risk of depression,” suggests behavioral Health Company, Promises. Studies from Johns Hopkins and ONHealth connect depression and heart disease as being common companions. Depression is an important risk factor for heart disease.

Healthy heart habit 2: Exercise. The National Institute of Mental Health suggests movement and exercise as a productive way to stabilize mood and overall health, especially heart health. 

Sleep

SleepFoundation.org states, “Sleep is essential for a healthy heart. People who don’t sleep enough are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease…”

Victims of domestic violence are often sleep deprived. Victims kept in a state of fear, late nights of worrying about their personal safety, among other things, are at higher risk of heart complications. Healthy sleep habits include seven hours of sleep each night. The body requires this time to repair itself. 

Healthy heart habit 3: Power naps. American Academy of Sleep Medicine suggests power naps to support health. In a perfect world, victims and survivors can follow these healthy sleep habits. If this list is overwhelming, try starting with a power nap. Since sleep is when our body systems repair themselves, our heart is relying on us. Let’s make power naps a trend.

Nutrition

Victims of domestic violence oftentimes experience a loss of appetite, lack of creativity or simply lack the desire to eat real food. Loss of appetite limits the ability to fuel the body with adequate nutrients. Lack of creativity limits the ability to create meals of adequate nutrients to fuel the body. I know when I’m not feeling well, my go-to is the easiest meal I can find in the house. Generally speaking, if I do not have pre-prepared food containers, I end up eating ramen out of the pot, a half bag of cookies or sliced bread with anything spreadable. Sometimes, opening and closing the refrigerator door in hopes to find a spreadable magic ingredient is about all the energy I have at that exact moment. When the body does not receive adequate nutrients, it puts stress on multiple systems resulting in putting stress on the heart. The American Heart Association shares insights on processed versus ultra-processed food and why it matters to your health.

Healthy heart habit 4: Food. Eat real food. Survivors can create easy meals on the go. I keep six to eight pre-prepared meals in my freezer. This ensures I am able to eat real food at all times. Need meal prep inspiration? Here is a very useful blog.

Additional Healthy Heart Habits:

  • Talk about it: When visiting your doctor, be sure to tell medical practitioners your situation. If you experienced domestic violence, tell them. If you are still being abused, tell them. Even if they don’t ask, tell them. Your health is important.
  • Laugh: I once heard someone say laughter is the soul having an orgasm. Whether it’s true or not, this idea made me giggle and inspired me to find something to laugh about every single day.
  • Community: surround yourself with people that make you feel good about yourself. Recovery is hard enough. Make sure the people you allow into your space help you and promote healthy habits.
  • Knowledge: Heart Attack & Stroke Symptoms: I’m guilty of jumping down the rabbit hole and being a WebMD PhD. To prevent misdiagnosing myself, please take a look at the American Heart Association symptom checklist. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please consult a medical professional immediately.

Health is wealth. Heart health is wealth. Domestic violence wreaks havoc on our lives in so many ways. Let today be day one when we take control of our health. If you or someone you love is experiencing domestic violence, please share this story. Let’s make heart health a priority.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.