Complex Trauma is the psychological injury resulting from prolonged or repeated traumatic social or interpersonal experiences. This is often the result of abuse and neglect over a period of time rather than a single or discrete event. Typically, complex trauma exposure results when a child is abused or neglected, but it can also be caused by other kinds of events such as witnessing domestic violence or war. So, this type of trauma usually but not always occurs within a care giving relationship. In today's social and political climate, in which soldiers are continually being deployed to warzones, we can anticipate that many cases of complex trauma are sure to arise.
Children exposed to complex trauma often experience lifelong problems that place them at risk for additional trauma exposure and other difficulties, including psychiatric and addictive disorders, medical illness and family problems. These difficulties may extend from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood.
Complex trauma can go on to affect an individual’s biology, emotional regulation, behavioural control, cognition and self concept. This type of trauma can also present as problems such as attachment, dissociation or behaviour issues. However within therapy, it is the cause that is addressed and worked with, rather than simply working with the presenting symptoms.
Complex trauma is often discussed or known as dissociation. Dissociation is a partial or complete disruption of an individual’s normal conscious psychological functioning, it is a state in which one way or another a person becomes removed from “reality” and the ” here and now”, or a person’s past memories can be dissociated from the consciousness.
A certain amount of dissociation is considered normal, it is often seen as a healthy defence mechanism and it is like most things on a continuum, we all have the ability to daydream, so everyone dissociates from time to time naturally, for example driving to the shops and when arriving thinking that you don’t remember getting there because your mind’s been engaged in two processes at once driving and thinking about something else .
Dissociation in its purest form is a natural response to trauma and it is where the mind distances itself in order for the individual to cope. A more problematic level of dissociation is, for example, someone who carries out a function or activity with no recollection of doing so.
Therapy can help a client who is switching off, zoning out or having amnesiac episodes as these will interfere with everyday life and relationships.