How Safe Connections Help Heal Complex PTSD from Childhood Trauma

Gina Rolkowski shares how safe, loving connections help in healing Complex PTSD symptoms like anxiety, fear and shame. Image shows a red haired young woman resting her head with here eyes closed on her soft, fluffy cat.

What Is Complex PTSD?

Most likely you have heard of PTSD, however, Complex PTSD might be a new term for you.  So before I share how connections help heal complex PTSD, let’s look at what complex PTSD actually means. defines CPTDS as follows, “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…war, human trafficking, etc.  While there are exceptional circumstances where adults develop C-PTSD, it is most often seen in those whose trauma occurred in childhood…

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.  Additionally, it breaks down the survivor’s sense of self  and affects 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.”

They continue, “The reason children are vulnerable to forming CPTSD is that children do not have the cognitive or emotional skills to understand what is happening to them. Since the abuse and neglect they are experiencing is normally perpetrated by people they know and trust, to admit to themselves that these same people want to hurt them is akin to emotional suicide so they use other means to manage the trauma.

The psychological implications are enormous leaving the child with a complex mess of their core beliefs about who they are and what they are. This tangled mess becomes even more complicated by flashbacks, nightmares and other symptoms that are worse in adulthood.”

Symptoms of Complex PTSD

As a result of living in such continued, inescapable, horrific environments and its cause of psychologic and neurologic delay,  the part of the brain responsible for emotional regulation shrinks significantly (by up to 20%).  Therefore,  symptoms like the following develop:

  • Losing memories of trauma or reliving them
  • Feeling ashamed
  • Difficulty regulating emotions that often manifest as rage
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Feeling different from others
  • Feeling guilty
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships
  • Feeling detached from oneself
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Seeking out or becoming a rescuer
  • Feeling afraid for no obvious reason
  • Having a feeling of always being on the alert
  • Becoming obsessed with revenge on the perpetrator

It’s important to note that not everyone who has CPTSD will experience all of these symptoms.  This list simply outlines the various ways living in repeated trauma can manifest itself in adults.

Calming The Nervous System

As I mentioned earlier, when you grow up in an unsafe environment and have no way out, your body stays on high alert which is why emotional regulation can be so challenging for abuse and childhood trauma survivors.  The nervous system stays in fight, flight, freeze or fawn mode because it has been trained that you are constantly unsafe.  While, incredibly important when in an unsafe situation, this brain state hinders living in post-traumatic growth when no longer living in unsafe situations.  Calming a nervous system that has been programmed to stay on high alert can feel uncomfortable initially.   However, with practice, this feat is highly possible!  🙂

Many ways exist to calm a nervous system stuck on high alert.  However and ironically, the quickest way to calm your body, mind and spirt when you feel activated (i.e. anxious, fearful, etc.)  involves connection.  (A bit of a conundrum when previous connection caused you terror and grief.)  However, you cannot heal in isolation what happened in connection.  So, connection is crucial to healing complex PTSD.

Connection not only helps calm your nervous system, it also helps to rewire your brain so it no longer stays in high alert.  Pretty cool, huh?  When you can connect safely with someone or something, you fire new connections in your brain.  And, what gets fired, gets wired.  So when you connect, you build new neuropathways in your brain that tell your body, you are safe and calm.  The more you practice these connections, the sooner your brain rewires thus, calming your nervous system.

Calming your nervous system makes it possible to heal the pain of the past so that you can learn to manage your emotions, learn new ways to cope and connect and start building a peaceful, playful, purposeful life that you desire and deserve.

Safe, Loving Connections for Calming Complex PTSD Symptoms

Connections come in all shapes and sizes.  No one right connection exists.  Think of making new connections as an experiment.  Approach them with curiosity like you would trying a new ice cream flavor.  When you approach this new tool with curiosity, you will decrease the need for something to work or not. right away.  🙂

Some ideas for safe and loving connections include:

  • Resting with God-imagining laying your weary head on His lap and receiving His unconditional love.
  • Snuggling with your pet.  Cozying up with them and rubbing their belly or playing fetch.
  • Scheduling consistent time with a trauma informed therapist or coach.
  • Talking to a trusted friend who sees your pain.
  • Joining a trauma based support group or group therapy.
  • Joining a group (gym, bible study, cooking etc.)

Safe Connections Are Crucial to Peaceful, Playful, Purposeful Lives

As Bessel Van der Kolk MD, author of The Body Keeps the Score points out, “Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.”  He continues, “Achieving any sort of deep intimacy — a close embrace, sleeping with a mate, and sex — requires allowing oneself to experience immobilization without fear. It is especially challenging for traumatized people to discern when they are actually safe and to be able to activate their defenses when they are in danger. This requires having experiences that can restore the sense of physical safety.”

Connections like those listed above create the opportunity for you to have these experiences that will restore your sense of physical safety and retrain your nervous system.  Once this transformation takes place, the more opportunities you will have to sense your true self, your abilities and talents and start living consistently in Post-Traumatic Growth.

Not sure where or how to start?  Schedule your free discovery call with me here…I promise I am a safe connection for you!



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