A Survivor’s Story: Trauma vs Complex Trauma

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One of the survivors we serve at Healing Action recently wrote a compelling article about the difference between trauma and complex trauma. She shares from her own experiences and highlights the lasting impacts of trauma. Read her blog post below: 

Trigger Warning: PTSD, trauma and neglect

Trauma vs Complex Trauma

I think it is essential first to explain what complex trauma means and how it differs from everyday trauma. Complex trauma is a repetitive stress injury to the brain. It is caused by repeated and prolonged traumatic experiences during the developmental years. In comparison, trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. The main difference between trauma and complex trauma is the number of times these disturbances have occurred in one’s life. Also, typically for someone with complex trauma, the distressing experiences started when they were very young children or, in many cases, in infancy.

That is what I have. I have been diagnosed with complex trauma, PTSD, and a slew of other conditions. However, from the outside looking in, I looked like your average child. The trauma I experienced was not like the things you see on TV or read in books. I always had clothes and food and a roof over my head. That is what made it hard to recognize the abuse I endured my entire childhood. I spent most of my life thinking that only children who get beat, raped, or starved are traumatized.

I did not start to realize how neglected I was as a child until I had a child of my own, especially when I started going to trauma therapy. One day it just clicked, why don’t I have the relationship with my mother that my child and I have. My mother tried her best to be a good mom, and she still tries her best. But unfortunately, she was not given unconditional love or caring parents, and she is unable to share something she has never had. There is also the fact that she is also unwilling to do the work it takes to take a long, good look in the mirror. While growing up, she never told me I was bright or pretty or deserved all good things in life; instead, I could have done better, that I need to lose weight, and that I was not good enough. So, those messages were ingrained into my brain since before I could remember or even talk.

This neglect and trauma from my childhood started to show up in my life because I got into tons of trouble in school until I found drugs at the age of 15. That is when I stopped going to school. I then spent the next decade of my life trying to numb the pain of not being accepted by my mother. I went to jail at least 50 times and to prison once. I did and said things that did not go with my morals or beliefs. I sold myself for years. Everything had a price, and the only thing I cared about and the only reason I was living was for more money to feed my addictions. I tried committing suicide at least 15 times. I thought I was a lost cause for several years and that I would die a drug-addicted prostitute from either overdose or a John or my pimp. I knew there was the help that I needed, but I did not want it. I wanted to die because I was already dead inside.

Please come back in two weeks to hear more from me. I will be discussing how I got out and have stayed out of the life I had lived for over a decade. Also, how I somehow adult as a mother and full-time employee with complex trauma and PTSD.