“I think if I had been diagnosed correctly at the beginning with a greater understanding of complex trauma and post traumatic stress I would have been able to have been more functional in society, able to secure work and have my children feel more secure.”
Many of us have experienced threatening or traumatic situations at some time in our lives. Some people—like defence members, first responders and refugees may face repeated traumatic situations. Repeated events like these can happen to others as well.
Complex trauma occurs when someone faces a traumatic situation they can't escape from, over and over, or over a long period of time. Examples include child abuse or neglect, ongoing domestic violence, torture, and being a refugee.
Trauma carries more risks of serious and ongoing mental health issues if it happens repeatedly, especially if it occurs as a child. But the good news is that with the right support it is possible to recover from trauma, including its complex forms.
Some people even find positive changes in their attitude to life and their relationships (posttraumatic growth) as they recover from effects of trauma. Life may seem even more precious, and if we have people who we love and trust, they may be even more special.
Taking action for change
Recovery from trauma is not about willpower or trying to 'forget the past'. It is about teaching your body to reduce ‘fight, flight or freeze’, and learn new ways to deal with the trauma—ways that can make you feel free to grow and live more fully.
Each person’s experience is different, and people may have different paths to recovery. For some who experience one trauma it may be like a sprint through some hurdles. If you have had more severe or repeated experiences it may sometimes feel like climbing a sandhill—two steps up, and a slip back. Recovery may seem slow…and if you have experienced complex trauma, you may find it hard to manage because your strong emotions may feel overwhelming. Reaching out to seek support may be especially difficult.
Be gentle and patient with yourself. Looking after yourself can be a challenge. Take small steps and try to seek help and support when you need it. Focusing on how far you have come will help you keep going.
Some ideas on how to get started are in the previous sections. You can find resources below.
If you decide you need professional support, there are also apps and programs that have trained therapists to a guide you through an online course. There are also phone, chat, email services and crisis liens that offer counselling.
You can find more information and resources for supporting someone else here.
I was diagnosed with PTSD at the age of 14. I wasn't given any information about what it meant or how to help myself. It was only later that I learned more about the condition and how I could recover. It was really amazing to find out there was a way to deal with how I felt.
As someone that lives everyday with the memories and physical scars of child abuse/neglect I do draw comfort from knowing there is support out there for people like myself, and a time when our hurtful memories are acknowledged without question.
My psychologist described PTSD like a bottle: when I start, my bottle's pretty much empty, and every job is represented by a drip of water in that bottle. And my bottle had just overflowed, hence why I just couldn't manage anything.
Helping someone affected by past or current trauma
- Learn more about trauma, the effects it can have, and how people recover from different types of trauma.
- Help them feel safe. If others have hurt them, they may be reluctant to trust you, and may push you away if they feel threatened.
- Recognise that they have undergone overwhelming experiences and are doing their best to cope. Notice their effort, and any ways that things seem to be getting better.
- If they want to talk, take time to listen without passing judgment…but understand if they don’t want to discuss the trauma at the moment. If they just want to chat about something else, that can be helpful too.
- Ask what they need and how you can help.
- If you are in a close relationship with the person, it’s especially important to be patient and let them know that things can get better. They may sometimes be irritable or just want to be by themselves. Be patient—they are dealing with a lot.
- Support them if they decide to use a digital tool and/or seek professional help.
- Accept that progress will take time.
- Look after yourself as well. Check out resources in our meaningful life pages for ways to do that.
You might find online and phone-based mental health resources helpful. Some suggestions are below. You can find more with our Search tool.