Complex PTSD Awareness

C-PTSD Awareness
Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Trauma

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Self-Health Series

One of the factors of PTSD is that some people seem to have severe cases while others do not — that some soldiers were more vulnerable to extreme trauma and stress than others.

As an explanation for some of these complications it has been suggested and researched that there is a form of PTSD that is called DESNOS [Disorders of Extreme Stress Not Otherwise Specified]. Another term is C-PTSD or Complex-PTSD. ~  Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D


Relatively Recent Distinction & Debate

Many traumatic events that result in PTSD are of time-delimited duration — for example, short term military combat exposure, rape or other violent crimes, earthquakes and other natural disasters, fire, etc.  However, some individuals experience chronic trauma that continues or repeats for months or years at a time.

There is currently a debate in the Mental Health community that centers around the proposed need for an additional diagnosis. Proponents assert that the current PTSD diagnosis does not fully capture the core characteristics of a more complex form – symptoms of the severe psychological harm that occurs with prolonged, repeated trauma.

Let’s DO It

One of the longest-standing proponents is Dr. Judith Herman, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Harvard University Medical School. She is well respected for her unique understanding of trauma and its victims, and has repeatedly suggested that a new diagnosis of Complex PTSD [C-PTSD] is needed to distinguish and detail the symptoms of the result of exposure to long-term trauma.

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PTSD Overview – Awareness Post

June is PTSD Awareness Month
PTSD Signs and Symptoms

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Self-Health Series

“Emotions are very good at activating thoughts,
but thoughts are not very good at controlling emotions.

~  Joseph LeDoux

Responding in the present to threats from the past

Life itself required the development of the ability to detect and respond to danger – so our nervous system evolved to greatly increase the chances that we will remain alive in the presence of threats to safety and security.

When our lives are threatened, a survival response automatically kicks in — before the brain circuits that control our conscious awareness have had time to interpret that physiological response occurring “under the radar.” Initially, there is no emotion attached to our automatic response to threat.  Fear is a cognitive construct.

Our individual perceptions of the extent of the danger we just witnessed or experienced personally is what adds velocity to the development of fearful emotions, even if our feeling response follows only a moment behind.

Some of us are able to process those perfectly appropriate fearful responses and move forward. Others of us, for a great many different reasons, are not.

Many of those who are not able to process and move forward are likely to develop one or more of the anxiety disorders, while others will develop a particular type of anxiety disorder doctors call PTSD — Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Related articles:
When Fear Becomes Entrenched & Chronic
Understanding Fear and Anxiety

An Equal Opportunity Destroyer

While we hear most about the challenges of PTSD in soldiers, it is not limited to those returning from combat.

Individuals have been diagnosed with PTSD as the result of a great many different traumas: accidents, assaults, natural disasters, serious illnesses and more. It can develop in the wake of almost any traumatic event. (Situations in which a person feels intense fear, helplessness, or horror are considered traumatic.)

Trauma is especially common in women; 50% – five out of every ten women – will experience a traumatic event at some point during their lifetime, according to the The National Center for PTSD, a division of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

According to VA research and experience, approximately eight million Americans will experience PTSD in a given year, including both civilian and military populations.  That number is quite likely to be low, since many people never seek treatment for PTSD, or even admit to themselves that PTSD is what they are experiencing.

Related Post: Interesting PTSD Statistics

According to The National Center for Biotechnology Information, individuals likely to develop PTSD include:

  • Victims of violent crime (including victims of physical and sexual assaults, sexual abuse, as well as witnesses of murders, riots, terrorist attacks);
  • Members of professions where violence is likely, experienced, or witnessed often or regularly, especially first-responders (for example, anyone in the armed forces, policemen and women, journalists in certain niches, prison workers, fire, ambulance and emergency personnel), including those who are no longer in service, by the way;
  • Victims of war, torture, state-sanctioned violence or terrorism, and refugees;
  • Survivors of serious accidents and/or natural disasters (tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, floods, etc.);
  • Women following traumatic childbirth, individuals diagnosed with a life-threatening illnesses;
  • Anything resulting in a traumatic brain injury (TBI), leaving you struggling with the ongoing trauma of trying to live a life without the cognitive or physical capabilities you thought you would always be able to count on.

Sufferers may also develop further, secondary psychological disorders as complications of PTSD.  At its base, however, we are talking about individuals stuck in a particular type of FEAR response.
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PROGRESS, not Perfection

The Long Road Back:
Learning patience – Recovering Resilience

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Self-Health & Walking a Mile in Another’s Shoes Series

A Little Background click picture to visit source click picture to visit source

“The journey toward resilience is the great moral quest of our age.”
~ Andrew Zolli, co-author of
Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back.

Bouncing back myself

Regular readers know already that, between Christmas and New Years, I was mugged at gunpoint getting out of my van in front of my house, and that the thugs shattered my dominant hand. 

That left me pretty much helpless – and unable to work – until the cast came off in the second week of March. 

Since I work for myself there is no regular paycheck if I can’t do the work, so it’s been a scary time.

Only once my cast came off, about 75 days later, am I finally able to really concentrate on jumping through all the hoops necessary to put things back together – a DAUNTING idea! (See When Fear Becomes Entrenched & Chronic for just HOW daunting!)

Not only do I need to recover my sense of safety and security in my world and get back to work, I need to recover my STUFF!

  • The band of thugs made away with my purse, containing my make-up and favorite hairbrush, my brand new iPhone, the keys to house, car and storage space, and a-whole-lot-more, and my wallet (with all forms of identification, the plastic cards one uses for money these days, and all the merchant cards one shows to buy much of anything anymore).
  • They also grabbed my tote containing a number of things, the most devastating to my ongoing functioning being my datebook and address book.
  • It ALL needs to be replaced – starting with figuring out who and what I call to DO that – along with everything that expired while I was incapacitated (like my car insurance and tags, for example), and making sure all my regular bills are paid through the end of March.

If you’re one of my few neurotypical readers, you’re probably not envying my process, but my ADDers (etc) r-e-a-l-l-y get what a terrifying process that is!!

Spending a few weeks with my friends in Little Rock has been very healing, and getting back at least partial use of my dominant hand has made a huge difference.

Yet, I still have a long way to go before I will be able to say that I have climbed out of the hole I found myself in rather unexpectedly, almost three intermidable months ago.

I feel SO far behind, wondering if I will EVER be able to catch up!!

Since I promised to let you know what I am doing to continue to heal and how its going, I’ll check in every week or so with an article that will be a bit like a diary of my progress, coupled with any related insights, thoughts or ideas about executive functioning as I step back from the PTSD edge.

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When Fear Becomes Entrenched & Chronic

Chronic Anxiety & PTSD
Understanding Fear & Anxiety – Part 2

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Self-Health Series

When what happened leaves marks

broken-legIf you broke your leg, you’d go get it set, right?

Whether it was a little break or something catastrophic that required an operation and pins, you would feel “entitled” to go for professional help and would have no doubt that you needed it, right?

While you were in a cast, you’d probably have the good sense not to try to walk on that broken leg. Most of the people around you would be able to understand without explanation that you needed crutches to get around.  Right? It would go without saying that you had to take it easy while you healed.

EVEN if you broke your leg doing something stupid that was entirely your own fault, you would probably feel very little shame about having a broken leg – a little embarrassed, perhaps, but you’d still allow yourself to get what you needed to heal.

YET, when the problem is mental, we tend to try to soldier on alone. 

  • Maybe we think things are not “bad enough” that we are entitled to professional help.
  • Maybe the stigma still associated with the term “mental illness” stops us cold.
  • We probably find ourselves struggling with the concern that others might believe we are weak or over-reacting if we can’t seem to pull things back together alone.
  • Perhaps we have collapsed psychological difficulties with “crazy,” and we certainly don’t want to believe we are crazy!

The only thing that is CRAZY is denying ourselves the help it would take to manage whatever it is that we are struggling with so that we can get back to being our own best selves – and most of us are a little bit crazy in that way.  I know I am, in any case.

In one masterful stroke of unconscious black and white thinking, we label ourselves powerless when we are unable to continue on without help, struggling against impossible situations sometimes, as things continue to worsen — if we’re lucky.

  • Because when things continue to get worse, it will eventually become obvious that we are clearly not okay.
  • We’ll eventually reach a place where it will be impossible to deny ourselves the help we need to heal.
  • If we’re not lucky, we are able to continue living life at half mast: limp-along lives that could be SO much healthier and happier.
  • If we’re not lucky, our mental reserves will be worn out by limping along, and we are likely to reach a place where it seems as if our dominant emotion is anger, or we will slide into chronic, low-level depression – or worse.

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Understanding Fear & Anxiety

Moving Beyond the Fears
and Anxieties that Keep us STUCK (Part 1)

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Self-Health Series

FEAR: The primal emotion most studied in neuroscience


The study of fear has consumed many hundreds of researchers for decades. The events following 9/11 and the war in Iraq has only bolstered this field of research. 

Finding new molecules that erase traumatic memories (or enable soldiers to keep from feeling fear) are research priorities in the United States.

~ Dream Life of Rats: Pure Science Specials (season one, episode six;
originally aired on 5/29/2013)


Platitudes Begone!

Troll the internet – or browse the shelves of your local library – and you will find a blue-million self-help offerings with advice to help you conquer “fear.” The majority of them hold out the promise that they can teach you to “feel the fear and do it anyway” or “stop fearing change to change your fear,” and other related blather. 

These ways of working may help with lack of activation or with task anxiety but they will rarely make much of a dent in fear.

They’re lightweights, those offerings – their authors really don’t understand the extent to which many people experience FEAR. Most of them are, metaphorically, pushing anti-heartburn remedies to help with heart attacks. They’re talking about situationally-induced moments of anxiety that our self-help culture mislabels “fear.”

If you are one of the many who are periodically frozen by anxiety disorders, reeling from a recent and dramatic accident, suffering from flashbacks related to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and other more extreme situations that prompted more extreme emotional responses, pouring through those offerings looking for HELP will only increase your feelings of helplessness, which will very likely increase your feelings of fear.

  • Throwing those simplistic offerings in the garbage is the first step toward real healing.
  • Understanding what’s going on is the second step.
  • Allowing yourself to reach out to professionals who specialize in PTSD or TBI is certainly worth considering seriously, and
  • Patience is the fourth key: giving your nervous system time to heal as you reframe your approach to life and de-condition your fear response.

By the way, if you are among the majority of folks who are currently stopped by one of those “situationally-induced moments of anxiety that our self-help culture mislabels ‘fear,'” the information in this article can help you, too (but you might want to hang on to those other offerings to read later).

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The Impulsivity Rundown™

Widening the gap between Impulse and (re)Action

(from an upcoming book, The Impulsivity Rundown © – all rights reserved)

Impulsiveby Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Part of The Challenges Inventory™ Series

Garden-Variety Impulsivity

Let’s be really clear about the focus of The Impulsivity Rundown™.

While ADD is included among the list of diagnostic Impulse Control Disorders, we’re NOT going to focus on the more extreme end of runaway impulsivity.

Impulsivity that leads to the kind of serious harm where you are likely to spend some time in an Institution, or spend more than a few years on an analyst’s couch, or wind up on a first-name basis with every Police Precinct in your area, is beyond the scope of ADD Coaching or this Series — things like:

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Working with Impulsivity

Peeping at the gap between impulse & action

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Part of The Challenges Inventory™ Series

(from an upcoming book, The Impulsivity Rundown © – all rights reserved)


The Marshmallow Study

No, he didn’t use Peeps, either like the ones in the photo above OR those in the Easter Basket that I couldn’t resist as I drafted this article, but the well-known longevity study of the relationship between self-control and life-success, initiated by Walter Mischel in the late 1960s, is often referred to asthe marshmallow experiment” or the marshmallow study.

Why? Because marshmallows were one of the treats that were used to test the ability of preschoolers to delay immediate gratification in anticipation of a greater reward.

Additional research with the original participants examined how well a preschool ability to delay gratification predicted the development of self-control over the life span.

It also examined how closely self-control related to successful outcomes in a variety of  the venues of life.

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ABOUT Impulsivity

Cartoon of a screaming person falling, dangling by one leg to a tie rope.

Risk, Reward & Impulsivity

Managing the gap between impulse and action

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Part of The Challenges Inventory™ Series

Many professionals agree that “impulsivity” is one of the most confusing of the official terms in the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual updated and published by the American Psychological Association).

The confusion is especially problematic because impulsivity is one of the diagnostic criteria for Attention Deficits.  The biggest source of confusion is linguistic.

The term “impulsivity” is unfortunate.

So many concepts are implied by the root word “impulse” that, even once we identify impulsivity as an area that needs to be managed, it’s really tough to figure out how to do it — or even what’s involved.

The truth is, we are ALL are at the effect of “impulsivity.”  Impulses drive the conscious actions that contribute to much of our forward progress.  Even “instincts” are driven from impulses – the only real difference is that those impulses are below the level of consciousness.

Another biggie among the ADD problems is activation.

What IS activation, if not an impulse.

Murkier and murkier, this examination toward clarification!

Okay, let’s not get into semantic discussions that split hairs. Individuals will be considered “impulsive” only when impulse leads to action without a pause for thought.  That works, right?

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Drawing of a mound of clutter totally obscuring the person whose hand holds aloft the white flag of surrender.Low Stress Tolerance

Sez WHO!?

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Part of The Challenges Inventory™ Series

One of the many things you will read about ADD and ADDers is that we have a tough time dealing with what is referred to as “low stress tolerance.”

While true in one sense, I would like to suggest some alternative explanations for what masquerades as a lower-than-average ability to deal with stress.

Everybody has a problem with stress. Nobody reacts well to it in the long run.

In the articles “filed” in the category with this one, I will explore stress from a number of vantage points, beginning with the clear statement that, in the twenty-first century, stress is endemic – something everyone must find a way to manage.  It is not a problem confined to those with Executive Functioning Disorders.

With the perception of a threat to our well-being, our bodies are designed to respond rapidly and efficiently with what’s termed the “fight or flight” reaction. The survival of our genetic ancestors depended on their biological ability to respond effectively to dangers where strength needed to be marshaled immediately.  

Only those who survived were around to contribute their DNA to the human gene pool, passing down that hair-trigger alertness to danger – what we now call the stress response – to the next generation.

Since the evolution of our biology has not been able to keep pace with the evolution of our technology,  that hair-trigger response to stress has continued to be passed down in our genetic code, even though it is now more likely to contribute to our demise than our salvation.

You and I were born with a neurochemical ability to become flooded with everything we need to outrun or outfight dangers we will never encounter in the lives we live today. Yet we still respond to the stressors we encounter with the same flooding of chemicals.

And boy does modern life offer opportunities to trigger that response!

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