5 Pillars of Post-Traumatic Growth: How to Heal from Complex PTSD

Gina Rolkowski, discusses using the 5 Pillars of Post-Traumatic Growth to demonstrate healing from Complex PTSD in action. The image shows three women in brightly colored dresses holding bouquets of tulips smiling with their eyes closed

 “What the heck is Complex PTSD, and how is healing from Complex PTSD found in the five pillars of Post-Traumatic Growth?”

I hear you all the way here in Delaware 🙂 asking these questions and I can totally relate to that confusion and curiosity.  For many years in my own recovery journey, I had never heard of Complex PTSD.  From what I understood, PTSD was PTSD was PTSD.

No distinction was ever made among different forms of trauma.  However, today the crucial distinction between PTSD and Complex PTSD has not only been made but it has paved the way for healing from it to be much more effective.

The Difference Between PTSD and Complex PTSD

Beauty After Bruises offers this easily understandable distinction, “It’s likely you may already be familiar with PTSD. You may know it as the condition that affects war veterans and survivors of car accidents, natural disasters, and isolated acts of violence. Complex PTSD, however, is specific to severe, repetitive trauma that typically happens in childhood – most often abuse.  Complex PTSD comes in response to chronic traumatization over the course of months or, more often, years. This can include emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuses, domestic violence, living in a war zone, being held captive, human trafficking, and other organized rings of abuse, and more.”

Healing from Complex PTSD Involves the Survivor’s Sense of Self

They continue stating that, “Being at the complete control of another person (often unable to meet their most basic needs without them), coupled with no foreseeable end in sight, can break down the psyche, the survivor’s sense of self, and affect them on this deeper level. For those who go through this as children, because the brain is still developing and they’re just beginning to learn who they are as an individual, understand the world around them, and build their first relationships – severe trauma interrupts the entire course of their psychologic and neurologic development.”

Healing from PTSD and Healing From Complex PTSD Both Hurt

Now let me be clear, there is no such thing as trauma competition.  One isn’t worse than the other.  Struggling and suffering with either PTSD or Complex PTSD feels awful to say the least, and negatively impacts the victim’s life until addressed with compassion and support.

I See Your Pain 

However, for the purposes of this blog and our continued connection, it’s important to me that you know that I see that your pain goes deep into your very sense of self.  I see and can relate to what is means to feel unloved, unworthy, ashamed and frightened to your core because those you trusted to love you growing up not only abandoned you but worse, abused you for years and years.

Not only that but,  I can relate to the frustrating journey of turning that abuse and abandonment inward and having it continue to impact all areas of your life in spite of a deep desire to heal.

So before we look into post-traumatic growth and healing from complex trauma, please rest assured:

  • I see you.
  • I understand how awful it was.
  • You do not need to explain or defend yourself here.
  • I truly do know how you feel because have been there.

And the good news is that I have transformed my trauma to triumph and you’re on your way to do the same!  Yippe!!

Hope, Freedom and Joy 

So, now that we’ve made some space for your pain, let’s make some space for your hope, joy and freedom by looking at Post-Traumatic Growth.

What is Post Traumatic Growth?

According to The Journal of Trauma, Post-traumatic growth is defined as “the positive changes that occur as a person works through their healing journey after trauma.” The concept of Post Traumatic Growth includes 5 Pillars: Personal strengths, Relating to others, New possibilities, Appreciation for life and Spiritual change.  For the purposes of this blog we’ll look at the first pillar and then we will explore the others in the next two blog posts.    

Healing from Complex PTSD-Pillar Number 1

Let’s start with Personal Strengths.  I can hear you now wondering if you really have any  personal strengths?!  So allow me to share with you, just because you feel weary does not mean you are weak.  Got that?  (Reread as necessary :o)

Think about it… even the strongest athletes feel tired and need to rest after a good game of football, baseball, basketball etc.  Just because they feel tired doesn’t make them wimpy!  They simply used their strengths and need some rest and refreshment.

As a survivor think of yourself like Tom Brady (he’s not my favorite since I am a die hard Philadelphia Eagles fan but I’m willing to admit he’s an outstanding athlete 😉 The fact that you are alive demonstrates that you are incredibly strong and resilient.  You are still here and that right there demonstrates personal strength!

Half the battle of healing from abuse lies in the desire and dedication to do so.

The fact that you are taking time out of your day to read this says a great deal about your motivation to create a happy life outside of your past.  So yippee and yahoo right there!  Motivation is a shining example of a personal strength!  

It can be so easy to focus on how horrible we have felt as survivors of abuse and understandably so. As a result, sometimes freedom and joy can seem so far out of our reach.  

Personal Strength Demonstrates Healing and Breakthrough From Complex PTSD 

Think about it logically, if you have survived the worst possible experiences like abuse and trauma then you automatically have the personal strengths to rise above it!  You have the tools to make the life you deserve.  For example, you have to be resilient, persistent, creative and intelligent in order to still even be here.

Additional Personal Strengths That Aid In Rising Above Abuse

Now let’s take a look at strengths you might not even realize apply to discovering your breakthroughs on your healing journey.  Can you draw, color, sing, write?  Do you enjoy crafts (crocheting, building, designing)? 

I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that you never realized that these represent personal strengths.  All of these can be utilized to enhance your calm and anxiety rather than popping a pill or reaching for a drink or dissociating.  

Presence’s Powerful Role in Overcoming Abuse

Staying present absolutely represents a personal strength and all of those listed above help you do that.  See?  More breakthroughs than you thought!  Told ya! ;o) 

For a great download take a look at this site and discover how many more strengths you already have.  

Personal Strengths and Others

Personal strengths, believe it or not, might just be traits we have that we put to use with others.  For example, empathy.  Because we have suffered so much, providing empathy for others might come quite naturally for us.  Empathy ranks super duper high on the personal strengths list!  

Why is empathy such an important strength in healing from abuse? 

Here’s why.  Psychology Today defines empathy as, “the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person…. Developing empathy is crucial for establishing relationships and behaving compassionately.” 

Self-Compassion and Vulnerability are the opposite of shame

In order to move past the pain of abuse, we must learn to recognize our feelings and manage them compassionately without shame and blame.  If we can relate to others with empathy then we can learn to relate to ourselves and our feelings (which can often feel difficult for abuse survivors) with that same powerful strength..  

Relating to ourselves and others with compassion indicates growth because Relate is the second key on the Bridge to Breakthroughs-Relate.  See? You are already on Key #2 and you didn’t even know it!  Another breakthrough on your journey to freedom and joy!

So the next time you wonder if you have what it takes to overcome abuse and create that free joyful life, keep in mind that you have the tools to do so already!  Learning to apply these strengths to relating to yourself will pave the way for more breakthroughs.  

Relating’s Role in the Brain and Healing Complex PTSD

When I changed my perspective from seeing myself as a crazy loser to a highly wounded child of God who actually had strengths I had used, I could much more easily look at myself and offer myself compassion, empathy and love.  

Relating to myself with  compassion, empathy and love changed my brain patterns and calmed the part of my  brain that made me feel frightened, frozen or made me want to flee.  These brain changes made space for new possibilities for freedom, hope and joy to move in.  

Saving the Best for Last

Faith!  Faith, in particular having a relationship with God (notice I did not say religion) most definitely qualifies as a HUGE personal strength!  And if this seems foreign to you, that’s ok because having the desire to build a relationship with God and especially with Jesus who can totally relate to abuse and trauma counts as a strength.  

Just One Pillar Represents Healing from Complex PTSD

Looking back on the list of Pillars of Post Traumatic Growth you can see that you already identity with one of these pillars.  Which means that you are already walking along the Bridge to Breakthroughs and getting closer to the freedom and joy you deserve and desire!

So, to sum up, I encourage you to take a moment every so often to recognize your personal strengths.  Because even though breakthroughs and healing from abuse might seem far off, you have actually already demonstrated your reliance and personal strength by surviving which means that you have the personal strengths required to discover joy and that means you are on your way to transforming your trauma to triumph!  

Now one more thing. It’s lonely and scary trying to heal alone.  You no longer have to do that by yourself.  I’ve been where you are and I get it-I really do!  

Click below for your free 30 minutes discovery call and let’s get you into living a daily peaceful, playful and purposeful life.

Yes, I want your help, Gina

From my heart to yours!





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