Re-evaluating if I had PTSD or Complex-PTSD

[Originally posted 11/29/13 at 1:34pm.  Re-done and re-posted.]

I have pondered whether or not my reaction to how I was psychologically abused and raged at by Richard and Tracy, and then how I later reacted to being threatened and stalked when my abusers found my blog last year, was truly PTSD.

In 2010 and 2011, when I was reading about abuse and trying to understand what had just happened to me, I read all sorts of websites which called it either PTSD or Complex-PTSD, said this was a common reaction to dealing with a narcissist, and connected it with verbal and psychological abuse, not just physical abuse, combat, or other life-or-death situations.

But then I found other websites which said these websites are wrong and it’s not the same thing.  Well–whatever the case, it was definitely an anxiety and stress issue, and had the same symptoms as PTSD: hypervigilance (watching for them on the street or at church), constantly remembering, fear, things like that.  Whatever it’s called, it is real.

These sites explain the new changes to PTSD in the DSM-V: DSM-V Criteria for PTSD and DSM-5 Changes: PTSD, Trauma & Stress-Related Disorders.

When I review these changes, I see that I definitely fit criteria B through H.  (I don’t want to rehash it, but details are in the links at the bottom of each post, and in my blog posts on this subject, especially the early ones.)  But what about A:

The person was exposed to: death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence, as follows: (one required)

  1. Direct exposure.
  2. Witnessing, in person.
  3. Indirectly, by learning that a close relative or close friend was exposed to trauma. If the event involved actual or threatened death, it must have been violent or accidental.
  4. Repeated or extreme indirect exposure to aversive details of the event(s), usually in the course of professional duties (e.g., first responders, collecting body parts; professionals repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse). This does not include indirect non-professional exposure through electronic media, television, movies, or pictures.

So I thought back….

1. Richard threatened my husband with physical violence if he described how Richard had been mistreating me lately.  Richard later used physical intimidation and verbal violence to force my husband into compliance when my husband tried to sort things out with him the day we ended the friendship.

2. I feared physical harm could be done to me by either Richard or Tracy, because I knew that Richard once planned to assault (sounded like murder) an apartment manager for evicting him.  I also knew he used to be a thug for the Mafia.

I knew the apartment manager had no clue her life was in danger, because he said nothing to her about it.  (Tracy told him not to, or else he would have done it.)

If you doubt that I felt in danger when these people began stalking me online and at church, you need only read this post to see how I felt I was in physical danger.

3. I also feared physical harm because Richard told me that Tracy “almost killed” me one night while she lived in my house.

Hearing this from him meant that for the following year, while we were still friends, my mind kept going to this in horror, playing how it might have happened if she had not stopped herself.  I’d see kids on That 70s Show hitting each other, and start imagining it happening to me, the pain, the horror, the shock and surprise, the risk of death.

4. Tracy was at risk of death because Richard told me she’d been hitting and punching him, and he didn’t hit back, but if she ever hit his face, he would fight back.  I feared that she would hit him in the face and he would kill her because of his huge size.

5. Richard’s daughter was at risk of death when he choked her until she passed out.  Just a little bit longer, and she would have died.  I felt great attachment and love for their children.

6. On a lesser scale, but also scary, was witnessing and being told about other domestic violence and emotional abuse going on in their household.  (See here and here.)  Tracy was also taller and much larger than I was, so I was both emotionally and physically afraid of her.

Once I even told Richard I was scared of her, yet he kept insisting that I be friends with her, chat normally with her, confide in her, etc. etc.

In fact, I was already so distressed by Tracy’s treatment of me, the kids and Richard when she lived with us in 2007/2008, that after they moved out, I did not like to call Richard when I knew Tracy was not at work, because she might answer.

I actually got so stressed that I often had to psyche myself up before calling him, and then would be nervous and jittery for some time afterwards.  Once, she answered and was so nice to me that I thought in great relief, Finally!  She won’t be mean to me anymore!–only to soon learn that it was actually the babysitter.

At least once, in 2010 and possibly in 2009, I even told Richard that I preferred to let him call me, rather than me calling him, because I didn’t want to annoy her; then he said, “Go ahead!  Annoy her!”

This constant force and then being blamed for Tracy’s verbal abuse on 7/1/10, is like a rabbit being forced to befriend a crocodile, then being screamed at and accused of deserving, of bringing on, the crocodile’s retaliation for not befriending it.

It doesn’t even have to be me, but someone close to me, but I was at risk as well.  So this fits Criterion A.  So I feel confident that I had PTSD in 2010, and that it was refreshed in 2012 when they began stalking me.

I did not seek treatment in 2010 because I had neither money nor health insurance, and because by that point, I was afraid to trust anyone with my full story–even a psychologist.  The mind screw had been such that I no longer felt capable of determining who could be trusted.

The blog posts were a result of feeling unable to trust anyone, but still needing to get it all out.  Now, I don’t believe I need treatment any longer, because the blog posts, and connecting on other blogs with others who have been affected by abuse, narcissists, and various forms of trauma, have been extremely helpful.

It has also helped to discuss things with once-mutual friend Todd, who was treated the same way by the same narcs.  It has helped to no longer see Richard or Tracy anywhere around town since January, when I used to see them all the time.  (Now I only see them reading my blog.)

It has also helped tremendously to discover that Tracy is now going to college on the other side of the state.  This means their physical presence has vanished from my life, making them no longer a threat.

Some ways that are often suggested for PTSD patients to cope with this illness include learning more about the disorder as well as talking to friends, family, professionals, and PTSD survivors for support. Joining a support group may be helpful. —How Can People Cope With PTSD?

 

Likewise, a journal or blog gives you an outlet to express your fears, feelings and memories. If you don’t like to write, you could speak your journal entries into a digital voice recorder.

Online, you could record videos (youtube has a private option if you prefer it) or voice journals (soundcloud gives some free space for recordings).

Look into the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) too. In theory, EFT works similarly to EMDR therapy (see below), but you can do it yourself. EFT is also called “tapping” and there are plenty of free videos and information articles online…..

Mental symptoms of PTSD, like intrusive memories and flashbacks, can be difficult, but not impossible, to deal with on your own. –Kellie Jo Holly, Dealing with PTSD Symptoms

For a long time, I was severely affected emotionally.  It was so bad that for a long time, I wanted to die.  I have been this severely depressed in the past, and knew to just ride it through rather than attempting suicide, but I still wanted to get hit by a car.

Things have gotten much better over time, however.

Though if I had received a death threat, or been physically abused, I definitely would have needed professional help–and would have felt more trusting, because physical violence is far easier to call abuse and wrong.

Emotional, verbal and psychological abuse is harder to prove, not just to others but to yourself.

I forget where I just read about narcs using an “element of truth” to make you feel you deserved your punishment, but that is definitely part of it, so you’re afraid to tell anyone because you fear they’ll blame you, too.  I have had that happen before, so I was gun-shy about telling anybody else.

It commonly happens when people try to speak up about abuse: men being abused, girls being raped, psychological abuse, and people tell them, “You shouldn’t have done that,” or “You shouldn’t have gone there,” or “There are two sides to every story.”

It happened to me once already, when I poured out my frustrations to a forum in 2008, so I feared it would happen again.

Related content linked below, shows how PTSD and Complex-PTSD are often described on the Web to survivors of emotional abuse, and why we often believe we have that, whether it’s accurate or not.

You’ll see that not just abuse victims, but even trained psychologists, consider emotional trauma a possible cause of PTSD or Complex-PTSD.

Since I’m not a psychologist, I can’t say for sure one way or another.  All I know for sure is my own experience and how real the fear was, along with all the other PTSD-like symptoms I suffered from.

I also know that there is a debate raging over whether or not Complex-PTSD exists, and that some people have been diagnosed with it anyway.

But our reactions, fear and thought patterns are real, whether the “diagnosis” fits or not.  They should be respected and recognized as valid responses to abuse, whether they technically qualify as PTSD or not.

Overcoming CPTSD

It’s widely accepted that PTSD can result from a single, major, life-threatening event, as defined in DSM-IV.

Now there is growing awareness that PTSD can also result from an accumulation of many small, individually non-life-threatening incidents. To differentiate the cause, the term “Complex PTSD” is used.

The reason that Complex PTSD is not in DSM-IV is that the definition of PTSD in DSM-IV was derived using only people who had suffered a single major life-threatening incident such as Vietnam veterans and survivors of disasters.

Note: there has recently been a trend amongst some psychiatric professionals to label people suffering Complex PTSD as a exhibiting a personality disorder, especially Borderline Personality Disorder.

This is not the case – PTSD, Complex or otherwise, is a psychiatric injury and nothing to do with personality disorders.

If there is an overlap, then Borderline Personality Disorder should be regarded as a psychiatric injury, not a personality disorder.

If you encounter a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional who wants to label your Complex PTSD as a personality disorder, change to another, more competent professional.

It seems that Complex PTSD can potentially arise from any prolonged period of negative stress in which certain factors are present, which may include any of captivity, lack of means of escape, entrapment, repeated violation of boundaries, betrayal, rejection, bewilderment, confusion, and – crucially – lack of control, loss of control and disempowerment.

It is the overwhelming nature of the events and the inability (helplessness, lack of knowledge, lack of support etc) of the person trying to deal with those events that leads to the development of Complex PTSD.

Situations which might give rise to Complex PTSD include bullying, harassment, abuse, domestic violence, stalking, long-term caring for a disabled relative, unresolved grief, exam stress over a period of years, mounting debt, contact experience, etc.

Those working in regular traumatic situations, eg the emergency services, are also prone to developing Complex PTSD. —Stress Injury to health trauma, PTSD

 

However, PTSD does not only affect soldiers and veterans. PTSD affects anyone who has witnessed or gone through a traumatic experience. Natural disasters, terrorist incidents, any type of serious accident, and physical, sexual, and verbal abuse as a child or in adulthood can all lead to PTSD. —PTSD

 

However, a traumatic experience is required for a diagnosis. Trauma events frequently associated with the development of PTSD include the following:

  • Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse–PTSD

The National Institute of Mental Health defines Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as “an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.”

The definition has been re-defined to include exposure to prolonged exposure to stressful events that cause extreme emotional distress. It only makes sense then that those involved in a high conflict divorce are also in danger of developing the symptoms of PTSD. —Is Your High-Conflict Divorce Causing PTSD?

 

There are a few common aspects to the cause of PTSD. Primarily threats to one’s physical or psychological existence are precipitating factors.

There is frequently a violation of the person’s ideas about the world and of their human rights, putting the person in a state of extreme confusion and insecurity. This is also seen when trusted people or institutions violate, betray or disillusion the person in some unforeseen way.

Psychological trauma may accompany physical trauma or exist independently of it. Trauma can be the result of experiencing, witnessing or being threatened with sexual abuse, bullying or domestic violence.

posttraumatic stress disorder tends to be more frequent when these traumatic events are experienced in childhood. War or other mass violence and natural disasters like earthquakes or floods sometimes lead to psychological trauma.

Long-term exposure to conditions of extreme poverty or to verbal abuse can be traumatic. —PTSD

 

Psychological trauma happens after a single or a repeating event(s), which are perceived by the individual as life threatening experience. In these situations people through a wide range of confusing emotions which impacts people’s ability to successfully respond to future stressors or traumatic situations.

Typical traumatic experiences involve sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, bullying, domestic violence, or witnessing abuse as a child. Catastrophic events such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or even war or other mass violent events can also cause psychological trauma.

In addition, long-term exposure to situations such as extreme poverty or milder forms of abuse, such as verbal abuse, can be traumatic (though verbal abuse can also potentially be traumatic as a single event).

Important losses can translate in psychological trauma as well. Losses can involve losing a love one, or even losing the capacity to function adequately as a result of a mental or physical deterioration due to an accident, unfortunate life event, or a physical illness.

Trauma can also be caused by other events that confront or challenge the person’s familiar ideas about the world and their human rights, putting the person in a state of extreme confusion and insecurity.

This is also seen when people or institutions, depended on for survival, violate or betray the person in some unforeseen way. —Treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Symptoms

 

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