Why Complex Trauma is Called Complex Trauma

Keywords: Complex trauma.

Any overwhelming experience or period in life will create some form of fight, flight, freeze or please response. Depending on what you have gone through, and its duration, you will resort to some of these survival responses, retrospectively, in times of crisis.

The fight or flight response is normally more readily available in order to deal with distressing situations. Childhood trauma and complex traumatic situations are often sustained over extended periods, and so are not only the result of 'one-off' incidents. This renders just one particular survival response, quite often insufficient.

Any overwhelming experience or period in life will create some form of fight, flight, freeze or please response. 

With CPTSD, childhood trauma and complex trauma you will likely see a variety of combinations of the fight, flight, freeze and please responses, and even these combinations could be different depending on the particular person one is with, and the circumstances in which your survival patterns get triggered.

Another good reason for calling it complex trauma!

Survival Response Combinations with Complex Trauma

Let us look at that through an example:

You are a wanted child by your mother but not by your father. Your mother is insecure and in need of love and attention, to feel her own self-worth. In contrast to that, your father is often absent and neglectful, and when he is around, belittles you by being overtly abusive and demanding.

The possible patterns you form regarding your mother are; flight, when her neediness and the skillful manipulation that goes with it, becomes overbearing followed by dissociation and a freeze response when her assaults are relentless and your mutual reactions keep triggering each other.

With your father, you might go into fight mode first, whenever he becomes physically, verbally, or even sexually abusive. When fight doesn't yield results, you might go into agreeing or pleasing, in an attempt to avoid any furthering of prolonged abuse. If that proves futile and the abuse continues, the 'last resort' step is to dissociate, by moving into a freeze state.

In cases of recurring and long-lasting traumatic periods, the complexity of traumatic adaptation patterns continues.

CPTSD or Complex Trauma is composed of various layers of Dissociation

Later in life when someone exhibits similar behavior patterns to one of your parents, such as a boss or partner, you might get triggered, and start acting out similar coping patterns that you adopted as a child.

On top of all that, reason will kick in, and you will challenge yourself as to why you still respond with so much complexity and emotion, right up to this present moment of your life. This further compounds and maintains in a fixed way, your emotional state, by way of guilt, self-reproach, and blame.

Trauma, especially childhood trauma, is complex by its very nature. It cannot be otherwise as it spans periods within life, rather than separate incidents.

Question: Which adult figure, in your childhood, was most abusive to you; and what combination of fight, flight, freeze or please, did you adopt? Leave your comment below.

  • Marina says:

    Father and it was definitely freeze…followed by flight. Please to manipulate later became a strategy.

    Starting to resolve the anger I have about being ripped off of having coping skills and all the train wreck stuff that childhood trauma sent me into.

    Have found that by understanding this pattern, and doing things like EMDR, hypnosis, massage, yoga, meditation and exercise…I can begin to feel more at peace and not always that underlying feeling of I can’t relax, can’t stop my brain or else. It’s been a lot of years of work and self reflection and always trying things Another Way.

    What it gave me or what I have always had is this sense of wanting to help others and not have people feel alone. Love is the answer.

    • Tony says:

      Not just parents but siblings as well. One of my earliest childhood memories, at about age 3, was being cornered in the garage by my older brothers and their friends being pelted with crab apples. In my life, fight was the only effective response to most of what went on.

  • Jacqueline says:

    Guess it was my mother, however the story is I was so wanted and I was definitely surrounded by loving older siblings.
    She had no way of showing love nor affection except breastfeeding.(which stops after awhile) with me 13 months.
    I was always seeking her approval never good enough jealous of younger siblings who were kind of perfect.
    Got bored of it, saw right thru her manipulative psychology and rebelled in teens.
    Fight & anger it is all a cover for the hurt. Too much.
    Dad was loving.

    It is complex!
    Chose a 1st husband who was distant, non communicative, judgemental and degrading.

  • Jacqui says:

    Mother: i felt she rejected me for others that came after. Ambivalent attachment because she could only be close through breastfeeding:nourishment.
    Fight and anger belies the hurt and then I ‘chose’ a distant, uncommunicative 1st husband and now daughter and I are going through tough teens.
    Complex trauma is complex alright.

    I think I had a pretty good family life though.

  • Julie says:

    Mother, all combination of strategies, multi layered and still unpicking the complexity of it all. A lot of confusion and dissociation, fight and avoidance, rationalisation and over-thinking, definitely also a lot of freeze!

  • Hele says:

    How timely this is. I think sleep should be added. My father used to drink and drive when I was a child. My mother would plead with him to slow down, which served to fuel his lead foot onto the gas peddle. My siblings and I were trapped in the car going on long trips. For us kids, there was no fight or flight or pleading. I guess freeze came into play, but too, I remember falling asleep. Maybe this was a way of shutting down. I knew I was helpless so maybe sleep is another defense mechanism. This situation was repeated recently with my husband, and I did fall asleep. Some sort of learned helplessness I guess. I never viewed this as traumatic until this recent episode.

    • Ella says:

      Sleeping is considered a freeze response. It happens to me a lot. Stores used to be a big trigger for me and i would become so tired so fast that It would take all of my will not to lie down on the ground and just sleep.

    • Kay says:

      That’s interesting because I use sleep now as an adult to withdraw! I go to conferences for work. The overwhelm of people, lights, and noise cause me to be exhausted, and I will go to my room and sleep for hours.

  • Melissa says:

    Flight with my father. Tried running away from home. Climbed out the window and tried to get to my aunties house but was brought back home.

  • Kristin W says:

    Brother – Freeze, pleasing, fight. Sexually abused. Dad abrasive and pushed me away when I needed comfort. Tried desperately to get his attention by pleasing. Mom too busy to notice abuse. Brother always high, justifying his abuse. Finally felt defeated and quit fighting. That led me to freeze.

  • Inriia says:

    Depends on the type of suffering as to who was most abusive. Freeze especially, and flight and fawn are often present.

  • Cat says:

    Mother and father. Fight, dissociation to this day. When something happens I can block it off immediately, tell my brain it is not true but my brain is constantly on alert and i am ready for fight at all times.

  • Elspeth says:

    Adoptive mother. Fight initially as I’d scream and cry and was left alone to manage, until I gave up and ‘behaved’. She had a fearful temper. Mostly freeze after that, and please. Flight once I was old enough. Still too afraid to fight, though I’m in my 50s and she is long dead . . . ugh.

  • Megan says:

    My dad sexually abused me. I definitely would freeze and try to please later.

  • Shannon says:

    I think my mother was my main abuser but it was severe neglect that both parents, grandmother was very abusive too.
    They all each had different effects on top of parents never getting us help after being molested that lead to many re-victimization. I am a freeze type with fawn characteristics and am dealing with a lot of childhood memory loss

  • Scottie P says:

    My brother sexually/physically/emotionally abused me most of my childhood. Anything that reminds me of him causes fight. Even if it is subconcious, such as a certain smell or sound. My Mother and Father were mostly mentally abusive/physical. With them it is typically flight. I used to run away often as a child.

  • Janna says:

    Mother – fight peppered with a light need to please. She bullied me and father was only wmotionlky avaialable when it was he and I alone on sports trips (he was my coach). I dissociated and raged against my mother and 1st husband. 2nd husband beat that out of me so dissociation with please, fight, flight and freeze all becoming tools in my surivivalist toolbox. I now seek out similar risky behavior and scenarios.

  • Lindy says:

    Many adults in my life have caused a lot of trauma. From childhood up til I was 36. Very intense abuse. Was a crack baby and never received any love, involved in abuse and hide other prediators abuse, by my mother: so many traumas by her that I never know how I am going to react to anything and it takes days or weeks to recover from. Just from her I have CPTSD.

  • a mouse says:

    My situation wasn’t like this. I had medical issues, surgery at a young age, follow up procedures, etc. I was also in a lot of pain. So that was traumatic. Also I had to take medication but fought it and my parents did the only thing that occurred to them (or the doctors) which was restrain me and make me take it.

    I was also severely bullied and had a therapist who contributed to my emotional pain but thought he was helping I also had undiagnosed Asperger’s and ADD. And then there some other things.

    So I wasn’t abused. But if I had to classify it as “most” abusive, I do’nt know I couldn’t even pick because it wasn’t.. it was just small things over and over and I write this and it doesn’t even sound like it was enough to be traumatic but I could go on and into more detail only I don’t want to.

    As to the question -which one did I adopt. well depends on the situation.

    • Hele says:

      Hi AMouse, it is my understanding that the severity of the trauma is not measured by the circumstances that caused it, but rather by how our young selves respond or cope with it. If you relate to the feelings (or lack of feelings and/or memory, then just keep sharing. This guy, Roland seems to really know what he is talking about and if it resonates with you, keep sharing.

  • Shaneda says:

    I was sexualy abused by my father recently… And physically also.. My mother seemed like she disappeared whwn the damage was being done… I have personally used fight, flight, freeze and please.. After suffering at their hands till I was 18 I became an expert at using them all

    • Hele says:

      Wow, I must be so strong, I wish I were that strong, or that aware. I guess because I was a kid, really young, my body just did what it could to survive. I wish I could pick and choose defenses, but it’s not that way for me. YET! Seriously working on it, though. I think I need to get fucking angry ( sorry Roland) if swearing is against the rules.

  • Dani says:

    Mother, I started with flight, but then I worked out that when she caught me it’d be worse so it became freeze. In between it was please. I tried to do everything so that I didn’t upset her. As I got older I realised just the space I occupied was enough. So I cared less. Then she was diagnosed with a progressive illness and I was glad. But not free she still managed to manipulate those around her. She was also so adept at psychological warfare. Sounds like I’m whinging. I’m not the worst off by far.

  • Anonymous says:

    My mother was verbally abusive and at times physical. But her words had to be the most hurtful thing I have ever endure, Im 31yrs old and she can still make me feel like Im 5yrs helpless, with one sentence. But close second, my step dad whom beat me physically and verbally and his son whom sexually abused me for years. Then everyone whom I ever dated was abusive in one form or another. Life can be shit.

  • Emma says:

    My father’s best friend sexually abused me and my sister for about 4 years in front of each other. My parents didn’t know and i pleased to cope. Disassociated while it was happening. My mother was emotionally unavailable. My father absent. I fought with my parents and ran away from home a few times. I feel like a mess machine as i can’t function in normal intimate relationships. It’s just too overwhelming.

  • Juanita says:

    I think Ibdid it all. Fight, flight and freeze in that order. First you resist in any way you can. When that doesn’t work you try and escape, any way you can. And then you freeze and start internalizing the fear. Shutting down. Climbing into whatever box seems the safest. You learn to live like this, being presumed difficult with so many walls up that you can’t get out and no-one else can get in. Then you start growing up eventually, which I only started doing in my 50’s, and you learn the art of response not reaction. But still, there are moments when that little girl feels utterly abandoned and vulnerable and all the old wiring starts popping and buzzing and she unwittingly messes everything up and has to pick up the pieces and start again.
    It’s very sad and very hard and takes great courage.
    Here’s to us all.
    Warriors forever

    • Hele says:

      Hey Juanita, Your response touched me. Only I like to think of “little me” as not messing things up, but rather responding to turmoil in the only way she knows how, without much information and with the mind of a six or a three, or a four-year-old. She only knows what she knows, and that is blanketed in fear. Be gentle with her. For me, I am told to love her unconditionally. All the best on your journey

    • Marianne says:

      Hi, Juanita, I recently went through this when I came back to take care of my abusive, Cluster B father while he died of Pancreatic Cancer. He lived 16 of the longest and most terrible months of my life. I am also in my 50s–I fought with his Flying Monkeys he brought in to control me; After a particularly bad panic attack, I took off to the beach and sat for a couple hours (the FMs told me I couldn’t leave the house) and one night that I didn’t cook *HIS MEAL* at 4 P.M.–there was an emergency meeting the next morning when a particularly nasty FM was brought in to “help” because I was now “unreliable” and shamed (there was plenty of food!) ; and I think the point was to finally get me under control or as my father once said: “Gotta Dominate the Woman!.” So I climbed in an emotional box of sorts (freeze) and did what they wanted but I did not, for one instance, *please.* He tried to set up rivalry between me and my daughter and between my daughter and my son–who could get his love more—and not one of us wasn’t having any of that. He went in a nursing home after all the crap he pulled. He was relentless sending his FMs after us because we did not visit. He was an odious man. What a legacy to leave behind.

  • Halina says:

    My aunt was emotionally and psychologically abusive to both my brother and I throughout my childhood. I definitely got the worst of it though and for a long time I would freeze/please. I just wanted her approval, and couldn’t understand why she seemed to love the other children in her life (she has no children of her own, and I’m sure it stems from resentment of my mother). When she started on my brother, a bit of fight came out, which, combined with the death of my father – my only ally in this whole situation – resulted in some severe anger issues and a seemingly endless stretch of about 6 years in fight-mode. Just after my father died my aunt and I went head to head. She unloaded a barrage of accusations and judgements of me. I started off trying to please, trying to reason. Then I froze up as she just yelled at me, drunk and stoned, in front of my friend. I retaliated, fought back and eventually just asked my friend to drive me somewhere. I didn’t care where, I just needed to get out. I am trying to work through my issues and it seems to get a little better over time but this is something I still struggle with on a daily basis.

  • shirley says:

    It was freeze, fright and flight with my siblings.I had 4 brothers sexually abuse and rape me as a child. Not all together, during different periods of my life from age 44 until 17. One of my abusers died when I was 9 and another 1 was sentenced to 5 yes imprisonment last year for rape and 5 sexual assaults. The other 2 the police couldn’t gather enough evidence for them so their still walking free in the next town to where I love so heightened vigilance all the time when I’m out. It’s so tiring and draining being in this mode as well as having social anxiety and complex ptsd, depression and my other illnesses added in. Never give up the fight is my motto. We are all warriors.

  • Sam says:

    My father was absent. My mother was emotionally unavailable, but my sister was the worst. She had her own share of childhood trauma and since we were always left to our own devices, my mom spending all her time at the bar, I became a target for my sister’s anger. I’ve always thought that she somehow resented me for not being molested, as was she by an uncle, but I was younger and have no recollection of my childhood prior to my preteens. My memories are blank. It’s not impossible that I wasn’t. She used to beat me up, trip me, hit me in the back without reason or trigger, intentionally ruin my things, or give them away. She would call me the wanted child bc I never got in trouble. I was a pleaser. I did my chores plus hers so neither of us would get scolded and mom’s bf wouldn’t beat mom up in front of us or paddle us on a drunken rage. My dad was also abusive, but abandon us before I can remember. My sister and I took care of ourselves while they drank until closing every night. Too this day my sister invests all her time in trying to take me down or ruin anything good on my life. She slept with my ex husband, most of my boyfriends, stollen from me, and I keep forgiving her and allowing it to happen again and again. I’ve never been in a healthy relationship and have no idea what love is.

  • Olwyn says:

    Step dad, siblings and mother – all my life from the age of 4.sexual abuse and mother allowing it. Siblings saying I was spoilt as step dad always took me out without them – to molest me. Result was jealousy and cruelty and put downs, even when they found out the truth. Mother knew what was going on from age 7 till 12 but did nothing, my eldest half sister called the welfare so the molestation stopped but the abuse and lies continue today still and I am 64. I have now cut all communication with family, as they are only negative and insulting to and about me to anyone who will listen. I even moved to another country but they followed and carried on. After years of counselling I healed and forgave them. Then last year got married again to an Australian to a narc and sociapath that tried to kill me and I had to run away. Again into trauma counselling and am healing back in the UK. I am starting my life over. I was homeless and destitute but praise God I now have a nice flat in a lovely area and am slowly building my little home up a bit at a time. It is exciting and a new adventure and my friends support me and I am blessed by them. It is hard work and things still hurt and get to me as the narc still posts loads of lies and bullshit on his page about me, but at least he cannot get to me as he cannot fly so I am safe.

  • Ellen says:

    My Childhood was a mess. For me, it was a step-mother. My own mother passed away when I was seven months old. I was shuffled around as an infant and toddler to anyone who would offer to watch me, finally ending up with my grandmother. I stayed with her till I was almost five and then I was made a ward of the state in Illinois. My father finally accepted me back. His new wife had mental and emotional issues and was extremely, unpredictably violent. My father wasn’t around much and when he was, he was distant. I spent my early childhood in fear. It was a mixed bag of physical abuse, verbal abuse and molestation.. I guess I would most associate with fight or flight. I was always on high alert and I avoided being home as much as possible. It helped for me to focus on my younger half siblings, trying to keep them safe as best I could. As I got older, I learned to “shut down” , not feel anything. I guess that would be the dis-associate coping skill. I actually became really good at that, to the point where I wouldn’t feel any physical pain being given. Although I had a rough start and I admit, I still have residual issues, I have had years to come to terms and make peace with it. As far as 100% healing, for me, I’m not sure that would be possible.

    • Olwyn says:

      complete healing is possible, but memories will not be blocked. I use my memories to make me strong and remind me that I can get thru anything. I have forgiven my step dad, mom and siblings. I wrote each a letter telling them I did not condone their behaviour, I loved and forgave them but I no longer want any part in their lives. 1 Sibling and my parents are no longer alive. My mother refused before she died to tell me who my real father was. I have come to terms with it, I have a Heavenly Father and that is all I need. You have to be patient with yourself and not feel guilty, you are not to blame in anyway. Forgive yourself for shutting down etc, this is the hardest part of your healing and possibly the last part towards 100% healing. Also accept that the memories will always be painful.
      God bless, praying for you.

  • Anon says:

    I cannot remember most of my early childhood. I can’t say why that is. My mom was too busy with her own trauma and I was quiet. I kept to myself and I did not bother anybody. She could be verbally and emotionally abusive and would use excessive force when she punished me. Mostly she just asked me what I did to deserve bullying at school etc. I don’t really know what defense I use. I dissappear. A friend say that I project a field of “don’t see me, I’m not here”. I’m too intense though so it doesn’t always work. I cry, I cry when I’m hurt, angry, frustrated, happy, lonely, relieved. I desperately am trying to find out who I am though. I turned into a chameleon.

    • Olwyn says:

      I have found out that if you do not remember your childhood it is due to trauma, I know mine was I only found out in my 40’s after hypnosis what had gone on. I thank God I cannot remember most of it as I do not want to remember the molestation by my stepdad or the beatings I received, it is bad enough knowing about it and having physical proof. When I confronted my parents about it, my step dad went silent, my mom who was a schitzo shouted at me and said do not bring up shit and you have no proof, then she walked off. My stepdad apologized for it on his death bed. I never used to cry as I was hit by my parents and siblings if I did cry. Since been in so much trauma especially the past 6 years and going into counselling I have learnt to cry, it is a step in healing. I have learnt not to feel guilty anymore for things beyond my control and also as I did not do wrong most of the time or deserve the beatings and bullying, the insults and degrading, so I have forgiven myself. I have forgiven all of them that have done this to me and that have continued to hurt me. End of last year when I found out my siblings are still bad mouthing me and lying about me and my past, so I have now stopped all contact with them. Yes I still cry a lot when remembering as it will always hurt to think they think I am not worth anything and not worthy of love, but I refuse to have these type of people around me any longer, I accept that I will never have a loving biological family. I have a wonderful family, a mother, 4 sons and a daughter and we have adopted each other as family, she is a wonderful sister and her kids love me and call me mom or nana. I have moved on and will not allow anyone to abuse me in anyway ever again. My friends are my support and I am very blessed by them too. Blood is not thicker than water, that is BS it is up to you who you now have in your life and who not. You have to have positive loving, considerate, respectful people and if your family will not be like this break contact and surround yourself with these type of people. Stay strong. God bless.

    • Niki says:

      Anon, your story touched me as I can relate with similar things.. I don’t remember much.. sometimes if I read something or something comes up I can remember something.. like someone describing the troubled kid acting out and unable to reach her.. I remember myself being that troubled girl and told the lady what I needed and wanted at that age. But hey, I’m a chameleon too! Both of us, and that’s pretty fricken amazing! I’m glad you thought of that and shared- such a unique perspective! Sending you hope and I believe in you! If I am starting to slowly become aware , you can too! You have the power in you and always have and always will. Good luck! -fellow proud chameleon

  • Emma says:

    My grandpa was sexually abusive. My family is narcisitic. I disassociate from them . I have eating disorders and control issues. I manage it with positive thoughts and attitude. As well as exercise. I developed PTSD 9 years ago and exercise helps with that too. The running community is a great help and I help others whenever I can too ☺

  • Amanda says:

    My mother was physically abusive but I was also sexually abused by three different people. I was literally not safe anywhere I went. With my mother I learned the fight (arguing back to avoid the abuse) followed by the Freeze. The freeze became my default. My fight or flight rarely kick in. When I married my abusive husband I chose the freeze and please route. It’s absolutely baffling to most that I married an abuser after growing up the way I did, but honestly, looking back (and after a year of therapy) it’s not shocking at all.

  • Raine says:

    With my abusive stepfather, it was most definitely freeze. Then he’d demand while beating me that depending on whether or not he was belting me from behind, I was not allowed to cry or yell out. When he’d yell and demean, he’s demand I look into his eyes… I would stare at his mole at the top of his nose, disassociation I guess .. With my mother, it was fawn. No matter What, she would threaten to leave me, stop the car and put me on the side of the road, or tell my stepfather and then he’d beat me. I look back now and see that she left me over and over. I have realised that throughout my life, people would trigger me and i would almost be automatic in my behaviour. My half sisters, I’d either ignore or if push came to shove… I’d fight back.

    • Olwyn says:

      I am so sorry you went thru this. I know what it is like to be abused by both parents and half siblings. I am 64 years old now and had to be on counselling for years. The sexual abuse from age 4 to 12 still affects my life today. I decided 3 years ago that I would give my siblings another chance to stop the abuse and lies to and about me. I used to freeze as well when I was young, but no more now. Well both my mom and step dad are dead, neither would ever tell me who my real dad was and it used to worry me, but not anymore, it is what it is and nothing will change it. I decided that I would not freeze or put up with any type of abuse ever again. Needless to say, another marriage badly chosen to a narc and sociapath ended October when he tried to kill me by withholding my heart meds, I got help and left. My siblings now bad mouth me and lie to me and about me, so I have cut all family with the exception of one niece out of my life. I will have no further contact with any of them. I surround myself with honest supportive and positive people, some have become closer than my own family ever were. It is hard, but baby steps and one day at a time is the way to do it. Cut out abusive, negative people completely even if that means family, you will find you will have more peace of mind and be able to function a lot better too. Helping others also helps to heal you, I now do voluntary care work with the terminally ill and it helps me to heal and be positive as I know I am useful and worth something in this world.

  • Jeannette says:

    I am one of four siblings. I am the 3rd child. We were born about 15 months apart, except for my younger brother there is a 7 year gap. My older brother and I were verbally and physically abused by my late Dad. My mother (is a child in an adult body) never tried to stop my father at all. My farther also verbally abushed my Mom . At the age of 16, I tried to commit suicide by taking mixed tablets and all it did we make me feel ill. I phoned my mother as I did not know what to do and she asked me to walk to the doctor which was around the corner. No one at the doctors rooms asked me any questions as to why I took the pills. When I got home, my father was home lying on his bed and he asked me to come and talk to him. He asked why I took the pills. The reason is, he called me a whore which was so far from the truth. It was the first time in my life that I ever heard him apologise. Our relationship changed for the better.However I suffered with huge self esteem and I always had to work harder than any of my peers. I eventually went for a regression a lot later in life and found out whilst my Mom was pregnant with me, my parents fought a lot and he hit her to try and abort me. When I confronted my Mom she said it’s true. I then looked for various people in the field to help me to cope with what I’d learned. I now have an eating disorder whereby I hate food and if I did not have to eat would be happy. I also damaged relationships with people who got to close and I pulled away as I was scared to be hurt, so I decided it’s time to get out. For some reason my husband understood all this and has stuck with me.

    • Olwyn says:

      I am so glad you got help and that your dad apologized, it means a lot. You sound that you have a very loving and supportive husband, that is good and now you can heal completely. Keep up the good work.

  • J says:

    Mother. Judgmental, critical, manipulative, needy.

  • Jami says:

    My mother. She dolled me up and pranced me around to feed her ego. Once I became 14 and grew toys she treated me like the competition and abandoned me on my 22 year old poloraid Canada living drug dealer boyfriend to go marry an extremely physically abusive man that stole my inheritance

  • Sherry says:

    Mother and stepfather. He molested, mom didn’t believe me. Still doesn’t. I moved out at 15, so flight was my defense. Unfortunately I now find myself caring for a mother that enrages me on a regular basis. Therapy helps somewhat but my anxiety and anger continue to grow.

  • Ellie says:

    Adopted after abused in orphanage. Once adopted – narcassistc mum. Physically, mentally, emotionally abusive. Master of manipulation. Has left me with a crippling belief of never being good enough, never knowing how to react correctly, always self punishing afterwards for having fun and letting guard down, unable to literate my thoughts and feelings for fear of judgement and punishment. Suicidal thoughts as a teenager. Prefer my own company to any other human now. Always avoid telephone communication. 1st marriage disaster as married compulsive liar, manipulator, abuser on all levels – another narcissist etc. I refuse to treat my children the same as I was treated, always make sure they have their dignity, privacy and space. Am very distrusting of people, always watching body language, facial expressions for ‘the signs’. Always ready to freeze and please and always annoyed at myself for doing so however having no other reference point as this is my only experience of people. Give me an animal any day!

  • Doris says:

    Both parents abusive, mentally ill alcoholics. Fight and please was my response. I had to care for my 3 younger siblings so I learned to shut up, take it, then make everyone happy. Lots and lots of other trauma too…this was the beginning. ❤

  • David says:

    Both parents. Raped by my father at 2 years old, blamed by my mother for the rest of her life…Am only now at 57 dealing with the terrible aloneness of growing up in a family like what I had.

  • Janie says:

    Mother, uncle, school bullies……fight and flight. I fought hard as a child. Endured abuse at the hands of many. The flight was me saying ENOUGH and exiting. Usually consisted off me moving to the opposite coast line and staying gone for almost 20 yrs.

  • Reyna says:

    While I do know childhood trauma is real, and I want to thank you for stating that trauma goes on for periods of time for many, I also wanted to share my frustration at inviting comments only about childhood trauma, so many are negated and betrayed during periods of traumatization who if believed and taken seriously about being unsafe, could be assisted to be safe. When it comes to MH workers we cannot be safe with them when traumatized if they deny and focus on the past. Not that I think MH is the right support for trauma, but to illustrate a way we become further brutalized by those who say they help.

    • Roland says:

      This article indeed goes more into the relationship between childhood trauma contributing to complex trauma. That said it does not include how multiple traumas in adulthood can just as well lead to complex trauma. The website in general has many different articles and angles.

  • Lisa says:

    Had a complex life. Traumatic childhood. Sexual abuse. Emotional abuse. Physical abuse. Disassociated all the time. Never stayed in one place long enough to make friends. Had very harmful adult relationships. Worked extremely hard to understand who I am. Lost my 23 year old son in car accident. Diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Starting to slowly come off all the meds. Still struggle with nightmares and PTSD.

  • Lauren says:

    I was adopted by damaged people in their mid forties and an only child. It would be hard to say who did more damage. They both made me feel inherently faulty. I guess my Mom did the most damage, mostly because I cannot recall more than a few good memories with her. She died when I was 23 and her last words to me were “you say you love me, but…….and then she passed. I have more years with my dad so we have healed somewhat

  • Karen says:

    Freeze and please. Stepfather emotionally, physically, and sexually abused me (the first two he also did to my three younger sisters, I’m still not sure if he raped or molested them). It manifested later when I moved in with my aunt, and her husband took advantage of my weak emotional state.

  • Roxy says:

    Depends on what time in my life and the way they abused me each had a different abuse they inflicted be it physical, verbal, mental, emotional or sexual. my 1st step-dad, my Mom, my 2nd step-dad and my foster brother. With my 1st step-dad was freeze and please, Mom it was please until I was old enough to fight back then it was fight, 2nd step-dad it was fight. Foster Brother it was freeze and please.

  • Brooke says:

    chronologically – 1. Adoptive father – very non-emotional, non-verbal, argued constantly with my mother, lots of yelling….I used to hide under the kitchen table as a child. I pleased my father by playing sports, fishing with him, attending church, helping out on his newspaper collection route on Mondays and mowing 7 neighborhood lawns with him. (my adoptive mother made the mistake of telling me when I was young, that my dad had hoped I would have been a boy – he would have name me Russell) 2. as a 4th or 5th grader walking home from school, I was sexually assaulted. My older sister (non-biological) questioned why I was so upset when I got home, and made me answer her from outside the front screen-door, instead of letting me right inside. I was too embarrassed to tell everyone what happened and downplayed my fear because of it. I didn’t know how to tell them someone had grabbed my “private parts” then ran off in between the houses in broad-daylight. I was given a bike to ride to school rather than walking – and I don’t remember if the police were ever called. 3. 1983 – As a freshman in high school, I dated a senior (JL) (for about 2 years), then broke up with him to date someone else. JL would wait in his car in the alley behind my house starting at 4 or 4:30 AM – until my bedroom light went on….then he’d proceed to follow me (and my girlfriends who I rode with) to school. One evening, my father heard JLs car pull up outside our house. Dad said “John’s here”….which meant I needed to go out and see what he wanted. I had never told them that JL was following me until that night after JL pointed a gun in my face. I don’t remember much after that, but I know that one of my parents called his parents and the stalking slowed down somewhat. He eventually found out where I lived and worked as an adult, made attempts to stop by “for a chat” or called me – and I asked my co-workers to screen my calls. He stalked me for almost 20 years until I somehow fund the courage to “remind” him what he’d done to me and asked politely that he finally leave me alone. This was in 2004. 4. 1989 I started dating a wonderful guy (JG), who I knew from church, was attending college, and had hopes to be an attorney. His career path changed and he decided to become a police officer. We bought a house together hoping for a future, but I soon realized his “college” drinking was more of a problem than a phase. I left him 3 months after buying our house. 5. 6 months later, my 51 year old mother had a major CVA. She was paralyzed, in a coma, and would likely die even if she made it through surgery. My ex-boyfriend, the cop (JG), found out about my mother and played me like a fiddle. He expressed his concern for her and even told me that he visited her at night while he was in uniform – so the ICU would allow him in. Within 6 months, we were married. The abuse started soon after, the police department basically knew (hear rumors) of it, I hid things from my parents, I lied to Internal Affairs when he misbehaved because he threatened me, and our 2 sons had no idea how awful their dad was to me when he was drunk. Once I finally divorced JG, he did everything in his power to make my next (re-bound) marriage (2005-2017) nothing short of miserable. He turned my sons again me and their step-father and created havoc at every turn. He earned himself a couple of DUIs, a trip to rehab, a couple of injunctions (from 2 girlfriends) and is now awaiting sentencing for domestic repeat violence. I am now divorced a second time, and my the father of my children has left us all in emotional shambles. My sons want nothing to do with him now, and both boys (19 & 23) are struggling to have decent lives of their own. These boys were not easy to raise either, one with ADHD, ODD, tends to drink, is a pathological liar and was verbally and physically abusive to me. The other was fine until his freshman year in high-school when he started skipping school and smoking weed. I had separated from my second husband and had the pot-head child living with me until I found out he was dealing and had stolen money and jewelry from me. I kicked him out, he dropped out of school, and became homeless after trying to live with his father for a while. My 19 year old is now back in my life and I’m trying desperately to cut him off – while still mothering him in unhealthy ways (paying his rent, giving him money – as he can’t hold down a job, and paying for his classes so he can earn a GED). 6., 7. & 8. I was stalked by a co-worker and my employer (the federal government) did nothing about it, except tell me to avoid this person by using another entrance into work. I was sexually assaulted by another co-worker (and a U.S. Veteran), and all that happened was a casual transfer to another department (him). I had an entire department corroborate that this individual was a problem, but I believe because he was a “protected” veteran, that he was merely slapped on the wrist. AND….In the meantime, I’m in another relationship which is turning out to be exhausting, confusing, difficult, up and down – -and I’m wondering if I’m ever going to find serenity. Half my life is already over and I’ve never really felt happiness or contentment. I’ve been in and out of counseling since age 21. I’m now 48. Thanks for the outlet…..

    • Brooke says:

      …I also omitted the trauma of 3 loved ones dying in the same year: my grandmother, my (adoptive) mother – who survived the stroke (I was her primary care giver and P.O.A. for over a decade), and my biological father (to suicide) all in 2010. (I searched for and my biological parents in 2000) I was physical present with my mother when she died in Hospice, and with my best-friend’s mother who also had a stroke and dies shortly after. Recently, my step-mother died from ovarian CA (I helped care for her as well in her home – along with hospice) I really could go on and on with absolutely nothing good or positive to say

    • Roland says:

      Hi Brooke, please make your next comments a bit shorter. I approved this one for now but do keep this in mind. Thank you!

  • Derrick says:

    Mother: I was an only child and she was in-and-out of relationships and 9 marriages. There was rarely a sense of stability or security, and changed homes, schools, and families frequently. She was abusive and my worst bully. Attempted suicides and violent outbursts were common practice and now I use freeze and fight responses to practically everything in life; it’s debilitating. Even recognizing triggers, reasons, and patterns does nothing to help resolve the isolation I create for myself. These wounds don’t heal and have held me back from everything in life.

    • Shelley says:

      Your mother does not define you. You do. So self care is so very important. Isolation has been a form of self preservation . Perhaps finding some “safe” community where you can be accepted for who you are and where you’re at could be a start at self liberation. Volunteer and help others, this is so rewarding. There are good kind people out there.

  • Nicole C. G. says:

    Both were flight, freeze, manipulate, and torture. It was hard and still is but I’ve finally started to get their brainwashing out of my head after 35 years and 16 years of self-advocated therapy. Basically, they had no right having kids. But even now $$$$ means more to people. The whole deal with my partner and boss makes so much sense! I have a Master’s degree, worked for 9 years in a career, ( of my mother’s choosing), then had a major break down that almost killed me. Now, I’m healing but can NOT keep a job! They R EALLY messed me up body, mind, and soul. 8 doctors, including 4 physiological ones wrote letters, for me to attain disability, but I can’t because I paid into only a pension!? Why do people get it who NEVER work, or NEVER consistently work!? I’m staying in a bad relationship for the health care and money. Great sytem.

  • Eleanor says:

    My mother was more abusive. She has not been diagnosed, but many signs point to her being a narcissist according to my therapist. She cheated on my dad a lot and brought men into our house and I was molested by them. So my usual response was freeze. Second most was flight. When I became a teenager and wanted out from under my mom’s control, my response became fight. And I fought her tooth and nail. It was like I was fighting for my life. To this day, my #1 trigger response is still freeze.

  • Angela says:

    I don’t remember much, due to resorting to meditation to cope. I was sexually molested by my brother, uncle exposed himself to me when I was around 6 I think. Mom was more focused on my appearance and focused on her work. My dad unapproachable. My mom attempted suicide by drinking excess pills. Also recovering alcoholic. Apparently my father was physically abusive towards her. She would always be available to assist her siblings with their dramas. Always drama and alcoholism prevelant amongst them. They are 8 kids. When my 1st daughter was born, the flashbacks began, my husband is empathetic. In the 1st week I actually called him at work and pleaded with him to come home and help me, I was extremely upset his response was he can’t ask his boss!! I have come to the conclusion he has aspergers, does not have empathy. Meditation was a wonderful tool, but cannot seem to relax! I have been through fight, flight and freeze. But freeze does not resolve the emotions, am working on being present and dealing with it best I can, so I can move on and be happy in life. Learning to draw my boundaries and be more assertive. Hope you all resolve your past and reach a point of contentment and happiness!

    • Shelley says:

      I too had an unapproachable parent, my mother. Father absent until my teens. I have aspergers and I think it would help in your relationship with your husband if you were to let him know what you need from him. Boundaries are most helpful but can be flexible as to what you will not accept and what you will. Keep in mind your husband too must have boundaries and be sensitive to those. Blessings

  • Nancy says:

    I was abused in first grade buy a man in a Catholic school , beaten with a belt and being accused I still don’t know what but then she would threaten to tell my dad , my dad was an abusive alcoholic and he knew he would beat me again so I would just cry and say tell my mom ! I knew she wouldn’t hurt me . My coping mechanisms were trying to become invisible when there was strive and anytime someone would come at me and in accusing manner I would freeze, feeling pain and fear that I had as a child . I would get flashbacks of the beatings and it wasn’t until I did EMD are at that flashback was finally gone .

  • michelle says:

    Both and every adult that was supposed to be my protector ended up being my abuser. i have all fout of those responses that i can’t seem to figure out how to change.

  • Ruth says:

    My mother needed somebody to take responsibility for her choices, and somewhere safe to put her resentment, general hatred and snark remarks. I became the family idiot when they IQ tested me and I was genious level. It was not normal and wasted on a girl. There is a fine line between genious and idiot, she said. She said she loved me with people around, but he really resented every fiber in my being. Everything is an act with her.

  • Stephanie Stride says:

    I actually subscribed to this as my partner is a disabled war veteran with cptsd and want as much help as I can to grasp even a smidgen of understanding when it is so hard as he went through things that I can’t even comprehend. However I was brought up by a woman that, despite being my mother, she wasnt. I was rejected because of who my father was and what he done, second best to her eldest, blamed for her abortion b4 I was born, second best to my step dad’s daughter who came to live with us in my teens. Dumped off at my biological father’s house twice, resulting in my step dad attempting suicide both times. To finally succeed in committing suicide after coming on to me when I was 17. I was blamed for his death, left out of reporting him missing b4 he was found dead and used to receive calls from my elder half sister telling me that I killed her dad. For a number of years I haven’t spoke to either my half sister nor my mother as I can’t deal with their lies, lack of support nor them needing me as I don’t need them. I have had depression since my stepdad killing himself, lost my 2 children to the care system as I asked for help and know that the flight method is my way. Since I can remember I have run from all those that show they care. But eldest child is in regular contact with me now and I see the youngest. My eldest wants nothing to do with his gran after everything he has found out through life story work. But I fought for my children when they were taken and I’m now fighting for my partner. I have a few, probably a handful at the most, of good solid friends that I can rely on and despite wanting a big family like the Waltons, I am so lucky as I have good people around me, people that want to help, that don’t have to but do because they care and love me.

    • Shelley says:

      I too am the scapegoat in my family. Once I realized that is due to their personal issues and not mine, I can cope with that. Still doesn’t make me feel good but I no longer have expectations of anything more from them. They make me feel invisible. I find validation elsewhere.

  • Lesley says:

    Sleep was a big one for me.My bed was a place where i felt held safe and secure.If i slept it was about getting away from the thoughts in my head.Trouble was as i got into deep sleep my trauma would start coming up and id wake up and be tossing and turning or have to get up.Frankincense oil has helped me a lot to let go of my trauma just smelling it really helps.

  • Kay says:

    That’s interesting because I use sleep now as an adult to withdraw! I go to conferences for work. The overwhelm of people, lights, and noise cause me to be exhausted, and I will go to my room and sleep for hours.

  • kim says:

    Father and mother,father was more up front about it,mother was more cunning,with father it was freeze/flight/please/freeze/ flight, till i realized there was no pleasing him,with mother is was please/flight/please /flight till i realized there was no pleasing her either…started at the age of 4 went till i was 12 when he passed over,then was handed over to state care at age 13,put back into mothers care left home to live on streets at 14…

    • Shelley says:

      I too suffered from parental neglect and disconnection from family. They made me feel unwanted, invisible, and worthless. Best thing I ever did was to leave. It has been a long time struggle to learn how to meet my needs and feel comfortable that I am on a good path. Relationships are still a problem for me.

  • Shelley says:

    Father was absent for most of my life. Didn’t know me when he eventually was in the home. Kind but distant and uncommunicative. Mother raised 7 of us, I being the eldest. She was totally self absorbed, uncommunicative and not in tune with our needs other than the physical which is what she occupied herself with. So I would say emotional neglect the primary abuse. As the eldest I never felt enough and this translated to me becoming isolating and pleasing. I became a nurse/care giver and when I had a spiritual awakening I became the “proper” Catholic wife to a narcissistic husband who had a violent nature. I became seriously ill, with lupus, was misdiagnosed when on Rx meds and suffered a perforated ulcer and was abused by a doctor (an alcoholic) who performed a vagotomy which is assault and battery. Threatened a lawsuit and was abused all the more and was refused treatment. More abuse through neglect. The physical abuse continued. Family was not interested in my health concerns and labelled me “delusional” What followed was flight from my husband, flight from medical and other, and some years of alcoholism and self neglect, then fight with family and subsequent disconnection. .

  • Sophie says:

    Both parents, sister and brother… my respons at first in my teens was fight, but with further abuse it became freeze, not able to speak up for myself and pleasing, helping,… and a lot of health issues… a lot of damage in all aspects of my life.

  • Kim H says:

    Thanks for this article. It would be helpful if the definition and scope of childhood (sexual) abuse could be expanded to include abuse by peers.

  • Moriah says:

    The most abusive figure in my childhood was my father. I would freeze, and please, only to freeze again. By this I mean that whenever my father would abuse me I would freeze inside. I tried to please him by doing better. I desired his approval. Yet, this didn’t work for me because if my father was not pleased with what I did, how I did it, or with what I said he again would abuse me. I was afraid of my father. Every time I saw him I would freeze inside. Every time he gave me the “look” I would freeze with fear.

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