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Complex post-traumatic stress disorder

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) is a mental health condition that affects people who have been exposed to repeated or prolonged traumatic events, such as abuse, violence, torture, or slavery. CPTSD can cause severe and persistent symptoms, such as emotional dysregulation, negative self-image, impaired relationships, and dissociation. CPTSD is often associated with feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, and hopelessness.

However, some people with CPTSD may also experience a phenomenon called self-transcendence, which is the expansion of personal boundaries and the connection with something greater than oneself. self-transcendence can involve spiritual, existential, or cosmic aspects of life. It can help people cope with trauma and find meaning and purpose in their suffering. self-transcendence can also enhance wellbeing, creativity, and altruism.

In this article, we will explore the relationship between CPTSD and self-transcendence. We will examine the possible causes, mechanisms, and outcomes of self-transcendence in people who have experienced complex trauma. We will also discuss the implications for clinical practice and future research on this topic.

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What is CPTSD?

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) is a mental disorder that can develop after experiencing or witnessing repeated or prolonged traumatic events, such as abuse, violence, torture, or slavery. People with CPTSD may have some of the same symptoms as those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as flashbacks, nightmares, and hypervigilance, but they also have additional symptoms that affect their emotions, relationships, and sense of self. These symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty regulating emotions, such as feeling angry, ashamed, guilty, or hopeless
  • Feeling disconnected from others, or having trouble trusting or feeling close to them
  • Feeling worthless, damaged, or different from other people
  • Experiencing dissociation, such as feeling detached from oneself or reality
  • Having physical symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, chest pains, or stomach aches
  • Having suicidal thoughts or behaviours

CPTSD is often caused by trauma that occurred at an early age, lasted for a long time, involved someone close or trusted, or was inescapable. The trauma may have disrupted the person’s development and sense of identity. CPTSD can affect anyone who has experienced complex trauma, but it is more common among survivors of childhood abuse or neglect.

CPTSD can be treated with various types of therapy, such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). These therapies aim to help the person process the trauma, reduce the distressing symptoms, and develop coping skills and resilience. Medication may also be prescribed to help with some of the symptoms. Treatment for CPTSD may take longer than treatment for PTSD, and it may require ongoing support and care.

Theories about the functions of CPTSD

There are different theories for the functions of C-PTSD. One theory is that C-PTSD is a maladaptive coping mechanism that helps survivors avoid or escape from the overwhelming distress caused by trauma. By dissociating from their emotions and memories, survivors may protect themselves from further harm or re-traumatization.

Another theory is that C-PTSD is a result of impaired attachment and identity development due to chronic trauma. Survivors may develop a negative self-concept and a distrust of others, which affects their ability to form healthy and secure relationships.

A third theory is that C-PTSD is a manifestation of structural dissociation, which is a theory that explains how the personality splits into different parts in response to trauma. Survivors may have an apparently normal part (ANP) that functions in daily life, and one or more emotional parts (EPs) that contain the traumatic memories and emotions. The ANP and EPs may be disconnected or in conflict with each other, leading to symptoms of C-PTSD. Related to this theory, the split-brain theory suggests that trauma causes a split between the left-brain and right-brain functions.

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Complex post-traumatic stress disorder and self-transcendence

self-transcendence is a personality trait that reflects a person’s ability to go beyond their ego boundaries and connect with something greater than themselves, such as nature, spirituality, or humanity. self-transcendence has been associated with positive psychological outcomes, such as wellbeing, meaning in life, and resilience.

The relationship between complex PTSD and self-transcendence is not well understood, but some studies have suggested that self-transcendence may play a role in the recovery process of trauma survivors. For example, one study found that self-transcendence was positively correlated with post-traumatic growth (the positive psychological changes that can occur after a traumatic event) among women who experienced childhood sexual abuse. Another study found that self-transcendence mediated the effect of trauma exposure on psychological distress and quality of life among refugees.

These findings imply that self-transcendence may help trauma survivors cope with the negative effects of complex PTSD by providing them with a sense of purpose, meaning, and connection. However, more research is needed to explore the mechanisms and moderators of this relationship, as well as the potential benefits and risks of fostering self-transcendence in trauma therapy. Furthermore, it is important to consider the cultural and individual differences in the expression and interpretation of self-transcendence among trauma survivors.

Implications for clinical practice and research

One of the implications for clinical practice is the need for comprehensive and tailored interventions that address both the PTSD and the self-organization symptoms of C-PTSD. According to the literature, effective treatments for C-PTSD should include components such as safety, psycho-education, emotion regulation, trauma processing, identity integration, and relational skills. Additionally, clinicians should be aware of the potential challenges and risks of working with C-PTSD patients, such as high dropout rates, complex comorbidities, attachment difficulties, and vicarious traumatization.

Another implication for future research is the need for more empirical evidence on the prevalence, aetiology, assessment, and treatment of C-PTSD across different populations and settings. For example, more studies are needed to examine the role of self-transcendence in C-PTSD. self-transcendence is a personality trait that reflects a sense of connection with something larger than oneself, such as nature, spirituality, or humanity. Some studies have suggested that self-transcendence may be a protective factor or a coping resource for trauma survivors, while others have indicated that it may be a vulnerability factor or a maladaptive response to trauma. Therefore, more research is needed to clarify the relationship between self-transcendence and C-PTSD and to explore how self-transcendence can be integrated into therapeutic interventions for C-PTSD.

Complex PTSD has been adopted as a new diagnosis in the ICD-11. The disorder has a 1–8% population prevalence and up to 50% prevalence in mental health facilities. Individuals with complex PTSD typically have sustained or multiple exposures to trauma, often at a young age or by someone close to them who they trusted. The treatment of complex PTSD requires multicomponent therapies that start with a focus on safety, psycho-education, and patient-provider collaboration, and include self-regulatory strategies and trauma-focused interventions.

Further reading

If you would like to learn more about complex PTSD and its relation to self-transcendence, you can check out the following weblinks for further reading:

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder – The Lancet

Complex PTSDpost-traumatic stress disorder – NHS

What is complex PTSD? – Mind

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