top of page

Navigating Complex Trauma: A Compassionate Guide to Healing

In the world we live in, many individuals carry the weight of experiences that go far beyond what the human spirit should ever have to endure. Complex trauma, also known as complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), is a form of psychological injury that can impact every facet of one's life. At Elisheva, we understand the significance of addressing complex trauma with compassion and empathy. In this blog post, we will explore the depths of complex trauma, its often hidden effects, and the path towards healing and recovery.

Before we delve into the exploration of complex trauma, it's essential to acknowledge the sensitivity of this topic. The content ahead discusses psychological injuries and their impacts. If you have personally experienced trauma, please be mindful of your emotional wellbeing while reading. If at any point you find the material challenging, we encourage you to prioritise self-care or seek support. Our intention is to provide a compassionate guide to healing, and we want to ensure this information is helpful and respectful of your journey.

What is Complex Trauma?

Complex trauma is a type of psychological trauma that arises from prolonged exposure to distressing and harmful events, often within the context of relationships where there is an abuse of power and control. Examples of complex trauma include childhood abuse or neglect, domestic violence, war or combat, human trafficking. If you have experienced this paradigm then you may have complex trauma. Unlike single-incident trauma, which can stem from a specific event like an accident or natural disaster, complex trauma develops over time, leaving indelible marks on the survivor's emotional landscape.

The Hidden Scars of Complex Trauma

The effects of complex trauma are not always visible to the naked eye, but they run deep within an individual's psyche. Compassion and empathy are crucial when understanding the hidden scars of complex trauma, which may include:

  • Emotional dysregulation: Individuals with complex trauma often struggle with intense mood swings, bouts of emotional numbness, and the challenge of navigating a sea of overwhelming emotions.

  • Intrusive thoughts and flashbacks: Vivid and distressing memories of traumatic events can intrude upon daily life, leaving individuals feeling as though they are reliving their trauma.

  • Relationship difficulties: Trust issues, difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships, and challenges in setting boundaries are common consequences of complex trauma.

  • Dissociation: To cope with overwhelming emotions, some individuals may develop a disconnect from their thoughts, feelings, and surroundings, as if they are watching life from a distance.

  • Self-esteem issues: Feelings of worthlessness, shame, and self-blame can become a heavy burden carried by those who have experienced complex trauma.

  • Physical health problems: The impact of complex trauma is not limited to the mind; it can manifest in chronic pain, sleep disturbances, and other stress-related physical ailments.

  • Coping Mechanisms: In their quest to manage emotional pain, some individuals may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance misuse.

Trauma Responses: Unpacking Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fawn

Trauma triggers a range of instinctual responses in our evolutionary biology. These responses, often referred to as the "4Fs," include Fight, Flight, Freeze, and Fawn. Understanding how individuals may exhibit these responses and the impact on daily functioning and relationships is crucial for fostering empathy and support.


  • Fight Response: Some individuals facing complex trauma may adopt a "fight" response. This manifests as aggression, defensiveness, or an inclination to confront perceived threats head-on.

  • Impact on Daily Functioning and Relationships: While this response can be protective in immediate danger, it can lead to heightened conflict in everyday situations. Individuals may struggle with anger management, and their assertiveness might come across as hostility, making it challenging to build and maintain healthy relationships.


  • Flight Response: The "flight" response involves a strong urge to escape or avoid triggering situations. Individuals may withdraw, avoid conflict, or seek distractions to evade distressing emotions.

  • Impact on Daily Functioning and Relationships: The flight response can result in social withdrawal, isolation, and avoidance of responsibilities or situations that remind them of trauma. This can hinder personal growth, career progress, and strain relationships, as loved ones may perceive avoidance as disinterest or rejection.


  • Freeze Response: "Freeze" is a response marked by emotional numbing, dissociation, or feeling paralysed when confronted with trauma triggers. It's a survival mechanism that temporarily disconnects from overwhelming emotions.

  • Impact on Daily Functioning and Relationships: While freezing helps individuals endure traumatic situations, it can hinder emotional expression and connection with others. They may struggle to identify their feelings or find it challenging to engage in intimate relationships due to emotional numbness.


  • Fawn Response: The "fawn" response is characterised by a strong inclination to please and appease others, often at the expense of one's own needs and boundaries. Individuals may become overly accommodating or submissive.

  • Impact on Daily Functioning and Relationships: Fawning can lead to codependent relationships, as individuals prioritise the needs of others over their own. This response can result in difficulties setting and maintaining boundaries, leading to a sense of being taken advantage of or emotionally drained.

Recognising these responses are adaptive survival strategies in the face of trauma is essential. Complex trauma survivors employ these coping mechanisms to navigate an overwhelming and threatening world. They can also present challenges in daily life and relationships.

Supportive and trauma-informed approaches can help individuals strike a balance between self-preservation and healthier engagement with the world. Therapy services and self-help techniques can aid in developing healthier responses, promoting emotional regulation, and fostering more fulfilling relationships. Ultimately, understanding these responses is a vital step towards providing compassionate support for those healing from trauma.

Neurobiological Impact: How Complex Trauma Changes the Brain

Complex trauma, marked by prolonged exposure to distressing events, leaves a lasting imprint on the brain's structure and function. Here's an exploration of these neurobiological changes:

  1. Brain's Stress Response: The brain's alarm system, the amygdala, triggers stress responses when faced with trauma. This results in the release of cortisol, the stress hormone, and sets the stage for neurobiological changes.

  2. Hippocampal Shrinkage: Chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels can shrink the hippocampus, affecting memory, learning, and information processing. This can lead to difficulties in recalling specific details or events related to trauma.

  3. Prefrontal Cortex Impact: Complex trauma can impair the prefrontal cortex, affecting decision-making, emotional regulation, and impulse control. Individuals may struggle with managing emotions and making informed choices.

  4. Hyperactive Amygdala: The amygdala, responsible for processing emotions, becomes hyperactive in response to complex trauma. This heightened activity can lead to increased emotional reactivity and a heightened sense of threat perception.

Despite these changes, the brain retains the ability to adapt and heal through neuroplasticity. Therapeutic interventions and supportive environments can facilitate the rewiring of the brain, promoting healing and resilience.

Understanding the neurobiological impact of complex trauma emphasises the importance of compassionate and trauma-informed care. It highlights that healing is possible, and individuals can rewire their brains towards healthier emotional regulation and coping mechanisms.

The Path to Healing with Compassion

Healing from trauma is a personal journey, but it is a path paved with hope and resilience. Compassion and empathy are essential ingredients on this journey, and therapeutic interventions play a pivotal role in the healing process.

  • Trauma-Informed Therapy: Compassionate therapists trained in trauma-informed care create a safe and understanding space for individuals to explore their pain and begin the healing process.

  • Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT): CBT helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviours, promoting healthier ways of coping with trauma.

  • Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is a specialised therapy that helps individuals process traumatic memories, reducing their emotional intensity.

  • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT): DBT equips individuals with skills for emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and effective interpersonal communication.

  • Mindfulness-Based Approaches: Practices like mindfulness can help individuals ground themselves in the present moment, enabling them to manage overwhelming emotions with greater ease.

  • Group Therapy: Group therapy offers a sense of belonging and support, allowing individuals to connect with others who have faced similar trauma.

The Importance of Individualised Treatment Plans

No two individuals experience trauma in exactly the same way. Therefore, it's crucial to emphasise the importance of individualised treatment plans. These personalised plans take into account an individual's history, symptoms, strengths, and goals.

  1. Tailored Interventions: Individualised treatment plans ensure therapy approaches are chosen based on what will be most effective for the individual. This minimises the risk of retraumatisation and maximises the potential for healing.

  2. Flexibility: Complex trauma therapy must be flexible to adapt to the individual's progress and changing needs. An individualised plan allows for adjustments as the healing journey unfolds.

  3. Empowerment: Individualised treatment plans empower survivors to take an active role in their healing. It recognises their agency in determining the course of their therapy and recovery.

The treatment of trauma is a deeply personal journey. We offer a range of therapeutic approaches and by creating individualised treatment plans, we can provide survivors with the support and tools they need to navigate the path to healing and reclaim their lives.

Seeking Help and Support

If you or someone you know is grappling with trauma, reaching out for help is an act of courage and self-compassion. Our dedicated team of professionals are here to provide compassionate support, guidance, and understanding throughout your healing journey.

A Compassionate Call to Action

In a world where compassion and empathy are often in short supply, it's crucial to remember that healing is possible, and there is a community ready to support you. Trauma may have left its mark, but it doesn't define who you are. Reach out, seek help, and embark on the path to wellness with the knowledge that you are deserving of compassion and understanding every step of the way. Together, we can embrace the journey of healing and renewal, hand in hand, and heart to heart.

Support Resources

Here are credible organisations within Australia and worldwide that are recognised for their expertise and support for people affected by trauma:

  • Blue Knot Foundation provides support and resources for adult survivors of childhood trauma, including complex trauma. They offer counselling, workshops, and educational materials to promote healing. Website: Blue Knot Foundation

  • Phoenix Australia - Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health focuses on promoting recovery for people affected by trauma, including complex trauma. They provide training, resources, and research to support individuals and professionals. Website: Phoenix Australia

  • International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS): A global organisation focused on the study and treatment of traumatic stress. Their website provides resources, including research articles and information on trauma-informed care. Website: ISTSS

  • National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN): U.S.-based organisation that offers resources and information on childhood trauma. While primarily focused on children, their resources can be beneficial for understanding and addressing complex trauma. Website: NCTSN

These resources offer a range of support, including educational materials, training opportunities, and direct services for those affected by complex trauma. It's important to explore these resources to find the most suitable support for individual needs.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page