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Beyond Trauma: Uncovering the Continuous Patterns of PTSD

Misconceptions lead people to think post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) only happens to soldiers or after a traumatic event. In reality, anyone can develop PTSD, and symptoms can manifest immediately, after years, and even reemerge. Moreover, perceptions about trauma and PTSD often focus on trauma rooted in one traumatic event, like a car accident. However, trauma is complex and can be rooted in continuous patterns of PTSD caused by multiple events or chronic trauma. Therefore, increasing awareness of less commonly discussed patterns of PTSD can help you understand the specific roots of your challenges.

At The Guest House, we believe in providing trauma-specific care through a holistic lens to address your specific needs. Traumatic events are distressing, but continuous patterns of PTSD add another layer of difficulty to functioning in your daily life. In other words, continuous patterns of PTSD can impede your ability to function in every part of your life. The distress of patterns of PTSD can manifest as self-defeating thinking and behavior patterns like substance use disorder (SUD) and other co-occurring difficulties. Thus, we are committed to providing personalized care to help you identify how continuous patterns of PTSD have impacted your present life.

Now, you may question how to recognize if you are experiencing symptoms of PTSD. What does PTSD look like, and how does it disrupt your life? How do you recognize the difference between PTSD and complex patterns of PTSD?

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Developing an understanding of PTSD that is not muddled by myths in the media can support a deeper self-understanding. More awareness of causes and symptoms can provide insight into how patterns of PTSD can be rooted in your life. According to MedlinePlus, PTSD is a mental health disorder that can develop after being exposed to a traumatic event. The stress and fear that follow a traumatic event can disrupt your fight or flight response.

With PTSD, you continue to feel an overwhelming amount of distress even when the trauma is long over. Moreover, the traumatic events that inform PTSD are often life-threatening, shocking, and/or terrifying. Combat, car accidents, physical assault, sexual assault, and natural disasters like fires and storms are common traumatic events.

While singular or short-term traumatic events can harm your mental well-being, they are not the only roots of PTSD. The difficulties and impact of continuous patterns of PTSD are often overlooked as a factor in recovery challenges. Thus, deepening your understanding of chronic trauma can support long-term healing from complex trauma. With more awareness, you can learn how to recognize the patterns of PTSD to build the right tools for your recovery journey.

Addressing Continuous Patterns of PTSD in Chronic Trauma

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), rather than experiencing one traumatic event or a short-term series of events, many people experience chronic trauma. Chronic trauma can be prolonged and repeated over the course of months or years of your life. The continuous and/or repeated nature of chronic trauma can have a profound negative impact on your mental health. Much like PTSD, complex trauma can lead to behavioral, emotional, cognitive, physical, and interpersonal difficulties.

One challenge in addressing patterns of PTSD is the assumption that trauma only takes place in the past. As the American Psychological Association (APA) states in “Continuous Traumatic Stress,” the patterns of PTSD symptoms are often perceived as maladaptive false alarms brought on by past experiences. For instance, for years, there has been a deep association between complex trauma and childhood trauma, especially sexual trauma. While adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can be a cause of complex trauma, chronic trauma is not purely rooted in the past. 

Complex trauma is more deeply tied to chronic trauma in adulthood, like long-term intimate partner violence (IPV). Therefore, the thought that continuous patterns of PTSD are based on past traumatic experiences builds a narrow recovery program. Many recovery programs only focus on dismantling false alarm responses because it is assumed that your current environment is safe. Yet, chronic trauma reflects situations where you are physically and/or emotionally held captive by the perpetrator of your trauma.

Listed below are some examples of traumatic experiences that perpetuate continuous patterns of PTSD:

  • Concentration camps
  • Prisoner of War camps
  • Internment camps
  • Long-term hostage situations
  • Kidnapping/abduction
  • Slavery
  • Prostitution brothels
  • Sex trafficking
  • Long-term IPV
    • Physical, physiological, and or sexual harm
  • Organized child exploitation rings
  • Long-term child abuse, neglect, and or abandonment
    • Physical, sexual, and emotional harm

Looking at the patterns of PTSD in chronic trauma highlights the importance of addressing the parts of the whole. Recognizing the distinctive signs and symptoms of chronic trauma as the continuous patterns of PTSD can be beneficial. With more knowledge, you have space to address the complexities of exposure to past, present, and potential future trauma.

Difference Between PTSD and Complex PTSD

Addressing the differences between short-term and chronic trauma showcases the need for personalized support for patterns of PTSD. The major differences between PTSD and complex PTSD are the length and the types of symptoms found in each disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), short-term trauma symptoms can emerge three months after a traumatic event.

Although symptoms of PTSD can emerge later, they are more often a physical and psychological stress response to recent exposure to trauma in your life. With PTSD, you continue to experience a fight or flight response to the trauma long after the danger has passed.

Shared Patterns of PTSD

Listed below are the four major types of short-term PTSD symptoms:

#1. Re-experiencing symptoms: Experiencing triggers that remind you of the trauma results in feeling the fear and stress associated with the trauma again

  • Flashbacks in which you relive the trauma
    • Some of the physical symptoms can include sweating and a racing heart
  • Nightmares of the trauma
  • Recurring memories of the trauma
  • Distressing thoughts
  • Physical symptoms of stress

#2. Avoidance symptoms: You avoid situations and people that trigger memories of your trauma to avoid feeling distressing physical and psychological symptoms

  • You isolate yourself from places, events, and objects that remind you of the trauma
    • If you were in a car accident, you may avoid driving, riding in a car, or going to specific places
  • Trying to avoid thoughts and feelings that remind you of the traumatic event
    • You may try to stay busy by filling your schedule with activities to avoid thinking about the trauma

#3. Arousal and reactivity symptoms: You are jumpy and always on high alert for potential threats to your well-being, even when you are not actively in danger

  • Easily startled by people, objects, and sound
  • You feel you are always on edge or on guard
  • Increased difficulties concentrating
  • Feeling more irritated and angry
  • More prone to angry outbursts
  • Difficulties sleeping
    • Unable to fall asleep or stay asleep
  • Eating issues
    • Overeating or not eating enough
  • Increased engagement in risky, reckless, or destructive behaviors

#4. Cognitive and mood symptoms: Exposure to trauma leads to dramatic negative changes in your thoughts and beliefs

  • These negative changes impact the way you think about yourself, others, and the world
    • Increased difficulty remembering important things after the traumatic event
      • Unable to remember key features of the trauma
    • Negative thoughts about yourself and the world
      • For example, you may assume you are going to die, so there is no point in making plans or setting life goals
    • Pronounced feelings of guilt, anger, shame, and fear
    • Experiencing exaggerated feelings of blame toward yourself or others for the traumatic event
    • Loss of interest in the things you once enjoyed
    • Difficulty feeling and showing positive emotions
      • Happiness
      • Satisfaction
      • Meaningfulness
    • Feeling socially isolated from others
    • Difficulty concentrating

In addition to these symptoms, individuals may also experience co-occurring mental health disorders and conditions, such as:

  • Major depressive disorder (MDD)
  • One or more other anxiety disorders
  • Substance use disorder (SUD)
    • Alcohol misuse
    • Prescription and or illicit drug misuse

Patterns of PTSD: Differing Short-Term and Chronic Trauma Symptoms

Although everyone’s symptoms of PTSD are different, many of the features of re-experiencing, avoidance, arousal and reactivity, and cognitive and mood symptoms occur in most individuals. Symptoms must last longer than one month and interfere with daily functioning to meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis. Much like short-term trauma, many of the same symptoms are found in chronic trauma. As the VA notes, some of the similarities in symptoms between short-term and long-term trauma include:

  • Behavioral challenges
    • Increased aggression
    • Impulsivity
    • Substance misuse
    • Co-occurring SUD
    • Risky sexual behaviors
    • Other self-destructive behaviors
  • Emotional difficulties
    • Feelings of rage
    • Co-occurring depression and or panic
  • Cognitive difficulties
    • Dissociation
    • Profound changes in personal identity
  • Interpersonal challenges
    • Chaotic relationships
    • Increased relationship conflict
  • Somatization
    • Experiencing physical symptoms with no clear physical cause
      • Results in frequent visits to the E.R., clinics, and/or primary care physicians
        • Body aches and pains
        • Headaches
        • Digestive issues
          • Nausea
          • Vomiting
          • Cramping
          • Constipation
          • Diarrhea
        • Fatigue
        • Chronic pain

While continuous patterns of PTSD include symptoms like aggression, changes in belief systems, and co-occurring disorders, there are some additional symptoms you may experience. As the VA states, some other common symptoms in the patterns of PTSD for chronic victimization include:

  • Changes in emotional regulation
    • Persistent feelings of sadness
    • Explosive or inhibited anger
    • Suicidal thoughts
  • Alterations in consciousness
    • Forgetting traumatic events
    • Reliving traumatic events
    • Disassociation
      • Experiencing episodes in which you feel detached from your mental processes or body
  • Changes in your self-perception
    • Feelings of helplessness
    • Experiencing feelings of shame
    • Feeling guilty
    • Difficulties with stigma
    • Feeling like you are completely different than other people
      • The belief that others can’t understand you or your experiences

Additional patterns for chronic victimization include:

  • Distorted perception of the perpetrator
    • You may attribute total power to the perpetrator of your trauma
    • Become preoccupied with your relationship with the perpetrator
    • You become preoccupied with seeking revenge
  • Alterations in your relations with others
    • You isolate yourself from others
    • Experiencing feelings of deep loneliness
    • Feeling distrustful of other people
    • Incessantly searching for a rescuer
    • Feeling unable to connect with others
      • Thinking you are damaged, broken, and or unlovable
  • Changes to your system of meanings
    • Loss of sustaining faith
    • Sense of hopelessness
    • Pronounced feelings of despair

In addition, some other difficulties in patterns of PTSD for chronic trauma can also include self-harming behaviors. Thus, increased awareness of the additional symptoms and difficulties in continuous patterns of PTSD can provide insight into how patterns of PTSD have impeded your well-being. Recognizing the patterns of PTSD from chronic trauma allows you to address your specific needs for healing. Through a holistic approach to trauma-specific care, there is space to build on tools that support healing in mind, body, and spirit.

Taking a Holistic Approach to Chronic Patterns of PTSD

Through complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies, a holistic approach to chronic patterns of PTSD can be taken. As noted in Medicine, CAM interventions in holistic care can integrate a variety of techniques and modalities to address your specific needs. With holistic care, there is a wide range of therapies like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises that can be utilized to support your recovery. There is often a high degree of differences in individual patterns of PTSD symptoms that cannot be accounted for in traditional treatment programs. Thus, with individualized treatment, your specific symptoms within the continuous patterns of PTSD can be healed.

There are a variety of therapeutic modalities, including mind-body therapies, that can be incorporated into your treatment plan to help alleviate your symptoms in healthier ways. However, experiential therapies alone are not a cure-all or meant to be used as the only tool in your box for long-term healing. As stated in Acute and Chronic Mental Health Trauma by Joshua Feriante and Naveen P. Sharma, traditional talk and clinical therapy are important parts of a holistic approach to treating the chronic patterns of PTSD.

Building a treatment plan that supports long-term recovery also explores therapies like:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Somatic experiencing
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)

Through a holistic approach to care for chronic patterns of PTSD, you can learn how to identify and dismantle maladaptive thinking and behavior patterns. 

Finding Long-Term Healing from Patterns of PTSD at The Guest House

At The Guest House, we know the burden of trauma can leave you feeling overwhelmed and stuck. Moreover, we know how destructive chronic patterns of PTSD can be not only to your daily function but also to your core perception of yourself. Trauma can erode your sense of self, your relationships, your ability to actively participate in your life, and your ability to build meaningful life goals. The distress of long-term trauma can leave you feeling broken and undeserving of love, support, and healing.

Furthermore, unaddressed chronic patterns of PTSD increase your risk for co-occurring disorders like SUD and other mental health disorders. Chronic patterns of PTSD coupled with co-occurring disorders leave little room to build self-reflection and self-understanding to form healthier choices. A lack of self-awareness of the impact of your symptoms on your well-being and opportunities for healing are impaired. Without awareness and education, there is no space for recognition and self-understanding of your symptoms and needs for long-term recovery.

Therefore, our mission at The Guest House is to work in collaboration with you to uncover and process the roots of your chronic patterns of PTSD. Working together to break down the roots of your long-term trauma gives you the space to start building a treatment plan that supports a healthier you in mind, body, and spirit. Through a holistic approach to care, you have access to trauma-specific care that addresses your specific experiences and needs for healing. 

Your challenges with chronic patterns of PTSD and other co-occurring disorders should not impede your quality of life. Fortunately, holistic care can help you dismantle unhealthy thinking and behavior patterns, allowing you to get to the core of your challenges and treat all of you as a whole person. With support, you can start healing to build a meaningful and fulfilling life in long-term recovery.

Chronic patterns of PTSD can be detrimental to your functioning, relationships, goals, and quality of life. Experiencing prolonged and repeated traumatic events can negatively impair your perception of yourself, others, and the world. However, with support, you can learn how to recognize your symptoms to start building adaptive tools for your long-term well-being. Without self-awareness and self-understanding, it becomes easier to rely on maladaptive coping skills like substance misuse to alleviate and suppress distressing symptoms. Therefore, at The Guest House, we are committed to providing trauma-specific care to help you recognize and address your chronic trauma and heal as a whole person. Call us at (855) 483-7800 to learn how our wide range of therapeutic modalities can support your recovery.