What is Complex Trauma?

Complex Trauma Definition from Dr. Judith Herman

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

A history of subjection to totalitarian control over a prolonged period (months to years ).  Examples include hostages, prisoners of war, concentration-camp survivors, and survivors of some religious cults.  Examples also include those subjected to domestic battering, childhood physical or sexual abuse, and organized sexual exploitation.

  • Alterations in affect regulation, including
  • Persistent dysphoria
  • Chronic suicidal preoccupation
  • Self-injury
  • Explosive or extremely inhibited anger ( may alternate )
  • Compulsive or extremely inhibited sexuality ( may alternate)
  • Alterations in consciousness, including
  • Amnesia or hyper-amnesia for traumatic events
  • Transient dissociative episodes
  • Depersonalization/derealisation
  • Reliving experiences, either in the form of intrusive PTSD symptoms or in the form of ruminative preoccupation.
  • Alterations in self-perception, including
  • Sense of helplessness or paralysis of initiative
  • Shame, guilt, and self-blame
  • Sense of defilement or stigma
  • Sense of complete difference from others ( may include sense of specialness, utter aloneness, belief no other person can understand, or nonhuman identity.)
  • Alterations in perception of perpetrator, including
  • Preoccupation with relationship with perpetrator,includes preoccupation with revenge.
  • Acceptance of belief system or rationalizations of perpetrator
  • Alterations in relations with others, including
  • Isolation and withdrawal
  • Disruption in intimate relationships
  • Repeated search for rescuer ( may alternate with isolation and withdrawal)
  • Persistent distrust
  • Repeated failures of self-protection
  • Alterations in systems of meaning
  • Loss of sustaining faith
  • Sense of hopelessness and despair

Copied from Trauma and Recovery: The aftermath of violence – from domestic abuse to political terror by Judith Herman