How Does Complex Trauma Present in Adults

Most people have a basic understanding of trauma. You’ve undoubtedly heard of PTSD and experiences in childhood and adulthood that could lead to trauma symptoms. However, fewer people have either heard of or fully understand complex trauma. The two differ in that complex trauma is something that repeatedly happens over time. Therefore, it’s often referred to as “relationship trauma.” It’s not just one instance that you witness or experience. Rather, it’s something that has happened again and again.

When considering complex trauma, children first come to mind. Child abuse (whether verbal or physical) is one of the most common forms of this type of trauma. However, whether you experienced something as a child or adult, the effects of your complex trauma might not fully manifest themselves until you reach adulthood.

With that in mind, it’s essential to know how complex trauma presents in adults. Let’s take a closer look.

What Are Examples of Complex Trauma?

It’s easy to ignore certain symptoms if you “brush off” the idea of complex trauma. Maybe you don’t want to admit you went through anything. Maybe you’ve repressed those memories. Or, perhaps, you think your situation wasn’t traumatic enough to warrant any symptoms. That’s rarely the case.

There are many examples of complex trauma, including: 

  • Sexual abuse
  • Torture
  • Neglect or abandonment
  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Medical trauma
  • Human trafficking

While it’s never easy to think about these things, no matter how long ago they happened, recognizing that you went through something is often the first step toward healing. When you’re ready to admit that you’ve gone through complex trauma, you’ll start to learn more about the symptoms you might be experiencing. 

What Are the Signs of Complex Trauma in Adults?

Everyone processes and deals with trauma differently. Some people won’t present symptoms for years, while others will struggle with things like staying focused or maintaining healthy relationships without truly realizing why. However, there are some common underlying symptoms that regularly affect adults with complex trauma. They include: 

  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anger

Adults with complex trauma problems might also have difficulty controlling their emotions, and they might have a hard time connecting with others. Obviously, that can take its toll on all of your relationships, including familial, friendships, and romantic partners.

If you’re dealing with complex PTSD, you might even struggle with vivid, extreme flashbacks. This can cause you to experience the same emotions that were present whenever you experienced the trauma. 

What Can You Do?

As an adult, complex trauma can have a hugely negative impact on your life. It can diminish your overall quality of life, damage your relationships, and even cause your mental well-being to decline. Once you’ve admitted that you might be struggling or starting to recognize more symptoms, it’s time to reach out for help. Even if you experienced consistent trauma years ago, it’s never too late to get the guidance you deserve to overcome your symptoms and move forward.

Complex trauma isn’t something you can treat on your own. While it’s important to practice self-care, learn relaxation techniques, and lean on a support system, those healthy habits typically won’t be enough to help you process your trauma and work through it. 

If you’re dealing with the lasting effects of complex trauma, don’t hesitate to reach out for help as soon as possible. Therapy is often the best way to deal with it and overcome it. With the help of a mental health professional, you can learn to process your trauma in healthy ways and develop strong coping mechanisms to manage your symptoms as you move forward with your life. 

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