Early childhood trauma can lead to future difficulties with relationships. One technique for addressing negative patterns that result from trauma is the NeuroAffective Relational Model (NARM). NARM points to environmental failures as sometimes leading to later problems connecting with a partner. NARM brings nervous system regulation into clinical practice (Heller & LaPierre, 2012). This type of trauma addressed is complex PTSD or C-PTSD. C-PTSD differs from PTSD in that it generally takes place over a more extended period and is not associated with a shock that can be as severe as watching someone die or having intense fears of death (PTSD). PTSD represents more of a mortal threat, but that doesn’t mean complex PTSD cannot be equally as disruptive and disturbing. In addition, those with C-PTSD often have distortions of identity.
Sometimes adaptations made as a child to combat C-PTSD and stay safe can be maladaptive for relationships. Some people with complex PTSD are very poor at attending to their own needs, as perhaps their own needs weren’t seen as important. Others are afraid to show their full love and emotion, for fear of getting hurt. Unfortunately, complex PTSD is often misdiagnosed as personality disorders.
What is the primary biological imperitave for humans? It is to be connected.Dr. Stephen Porges
How Complex Trauma Can Impact Your Relationship
There are many ways in which complex PTSD can impact your relationship. Past sexual trauma can make intimacy difficult. Trauma can make it difficult for the victim to take care of their own needs, thus making them less emotionally available to their partner. Some trauma victims tend to withdraw out of fear rather than display healthy assertiveness. Some with complex trauma may take our their past trauma on those they love the most. Some may show anger that doesn’t seem to match the circumstances. Some may become anxious and fearful by the slightest threat.
Fighting Complex PTSD
Complex trauma can be fought using four steps or “pillars” (Kammer, 2017). These steps are:
- Clarifying the therapeutic contract. We will make sure we have your permission to explore any sensitive topics first.
- Asking exploratory questions. These open-ended questions dig deeper into how certain experiences impact you, what comes up in your mind and body, and how you believe you are influenced by these thoughts and feelings.
- Reinforcing agency. We will reflect on your relationship to your internal and external experiences.
- Reflecting psychobiological shifts. We will point out if we notice shifts in your thoughts and movements.
Complex trauma or complex PTSD is unfortunately not recognized in the American Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-5) but is well recognized internationally. Many suspect that C-PTSD will be included in the next version of the DSM. Complex trauma can also be seen in the aftermath of an affair. Both the betrayed partner and the partner that had an affair can experience PTSD that is long-lasting. Columbus, Ohio counseling at Cardinal Point can help with many relationship needs related to complex PTSD. Talking about traumatic experiences with your partner has been shown to be more helpful than doing it alone (in many cases). Some with extreme trauma may need to be referred to a NARM trauma expert who can help you with mind-body somatic processing.
Heller, L., & LaPierre, A. (2012). Healing developmental trauma: How early trauma affects self-regulation, self-image, and the capacity for relationship. North Atlantic Books.
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