Anne Sophie Cornelius: Completely Passed-out Totally Sad Disaster – My Story with C-PTSD

Anne Sophie shares her story of abuse and its subsequent effects, learning about C-PTSD, and her methods for coping. Trigger warning: abuse

The first time I heard of C-PTSD was on outofthefog, a website supporting those affected by abusive relationships and personality disorders.

I had just overcome a big depression and realised it was the result of being emotionally abused by a family member since childhood. With a passion for psychology and desire to know more about how abuse can affect a person’s life, I began researching the signs often associated with it. I recognised almost 100 signs or techniques of abuse from my own experience.

I knew there were consequences to such an ordeal as I have dealt with chronic low self-esteem, fear of making mistakes, and codependency in relationships with emotionally unavailable partners – often triggering anxiety and crying spells as a result.

I was looking to gain a better understanding of my symptoms. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) did not really fit as I did not have flashbacks or any of the other classic symptoms. For a while I thought I had bipolar disorder as quite a few of the associated symptoms resonated with me, like the fear of abandonment and the chronic emptiness and low self-esteem. But it still felt like it didn’t quite ring true.

Then I stumbled upon a link about C-PTSD, a complex form of PTSD. After reading through the symptoms and risks of onset, I had a lightbulb moment. This was it! I mentioned it to my therapist who said something along the lines of, “duh, of course you have C-PTSD!”. The rest is history – or at least I wish it was.

Complex PTSD is a relatively unknown and under-researched condition, and is still not recognised in the leading publications concerning mental disorders – the DSM-5 from the American Psychiatric Association and the ICD-10 from the World Health Organization. It is also sometimes misdiagnosed as BPD as many of the symptoms overlap.

While both PTSD and C-PTSD occur after traumatic events, PTSD typically occurs after “short-lived” traumas. C-PTSD, on the other hand, occurs after repeated instances of trauma in which there is a limited chance of escape. C-PTSD is common in cases of childhood abuse, be it sexual, emotional, physical or in cases of long-held captivity. It often distorts the victim’s view of themselves and the world around them.

My C-PTSD came from repeated instances of abuse from a close family member, who belittled, gaslighted, and guilt-tripped me. This could be brought about by simple disagreements, or not complying with their excessive emotional needs. I remember one evening they were being nice to me, before calling me ungrateful, undeserving, and not deserving of their love unless I did exactly what they wanted. Needless to say, my self-esteem and sense of identity took a massive hit because of it.

According to the NHS website, symptoms of C-PTSD include:
● feelings of shame or guilt
● difficulty controlling your emotions
● periods of losing attention and concentration (dissociation)
● physical symptoms – such as headaches, dizziness, chest pains, and stomach aches
● cutting yourself off from friends and family
● relationship difficulties
● destructive or risky behaviour – such as self-harm, alcohol misuse, or drug abuse
● suicidal thoughts

In my case, the most prevalent symptoms are the chronic feelings of shame and guilt, high-running emotions, and relationship difficulties. The destructive behaviour comes
in the form of chronic procrastination – feeling like I can’t achieve my goals or better myself, or that I am not worth the effort. I am emotionally codependent and could get overly attached to unhealthy partners very rapidly. I wanted someone to love me and prove my abuser wrong. Surprisingly, that didn’t work!

How do I cope? Therapy, when I can access it. Otherwise I try to push myself out of my comfort zone and prove to myself that I can succeed in doing things that scare me. My biggest triggers are within relationships, and I am okay if I avoid fights with my partner. When there is a fight, I can spiral downwards very quickly.

I don’t know if I’ll ever fully recover and rid myself of the C-PTSD, but I am taking steps to
keep it manageable and develop healthy coping mechanisms. I also chose to cut out from my life the family member who abused me which is probably the boldest thing I have ever done.

2 Comments

  • Wifeofcptsd

    My husband has complex ptsd and his triggers are me shouting at the kids. I try my best to be a better person to support him but am finding it hard and he is not getting any help. What therapy did u get so i can start there

    • Anne Sophie

      I “just” had therapy where I was talking to my therapist and he would give me healthier coping mechanisms and help me think in different ways. It’s not a magical formula and not a one-size-fits-all type of thing, as everyone is different. Maybe ask your husband how you best can support him and what kind of help he wants to try, if he wants any help. If this is affecting your relationship maybe try couple’s counselling ?

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