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How Does Complex PTSD Affect the Brain?

Jul 15, 2023

Because decision-making skills and leadership style are important elements of successful leaders, it’s essential for executives to address mental health needs related to Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). Untreated C-PTSD can lead to professional catastrophes and personal disasters, including addiction. In this blog post, we’ll help you understand how C-PTSD affects the brain, and can impair your ability to effectively lead others. C-PTSD cannot be managed alone by even the most competent leaders in business, and support is available.

Complex PTSD and the brain: Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) can have numerous effects on the brain, as trauma and chronic stress impact both brain structure and function. Individuals with C-PTSD, for example, may have overactive or excessively sensitive amygdalas, which are important in processing emotions and reactions connected to fear. Also, individuals with C-PTSD may experience difficulties with decision-making, impulse control, and emotional regulation due to trauma’s impact on the prefrontal cortex. Headwaters provides trauma therapies for executives whose C-PTSD is negatively impacting their careers and their personal lives, including the development of a substance use disorder.

If you or a loved one need help, call our admissions team today at 561-270-1753.

What Is C-PTSD?

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop as a result of ongoing interpersonal trauma and extended exposure to traumatic events. C-PTSD is distinguished by a wide spectrum of symptoms that go beyond the definition of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While PTSD often focuses on the impacts of a single traumatic incident, C-PTSD recognizes the effects of ongoing distress over time.

What Causes C-PTSD?

Complex PTSD is frequently associated with constant or long-term trauma events, such as childhood abuse, neglect, domestic violence, or ongoing traumatic experiences in adulthood, such as extended captivity or human trafficking.

What Are the Symptoms of C-PTSD?

Some common symptoms of C-PTSD include emotional dysregulation, attachment issues, dissociation, and hypervigilance.

  • Emotional Dysregulation: Executives who suffer from emotional dysregulation may experience emotions more vividly and struggle to manage their emotional reactions. They may have heightened emotional responses to pressures, difficulties, or interpersonal encounters, which could affect their ability to make sound choices or lead people successfully.
  • Negative Self-Concept: C-PTSD may have an extreme impact on a person’s self-esteem and self-worth. They may acquire poor self-perceptions, experience persistent shame or guilt, and have skewed ideas of themselves as broken, useless, or unlovable.
  • Unhealthy Relationships: Workplace interpersonal interactions can be strained by emotional instability. Executives with C-PTSD may find it difficult to establish healthy and constructive connections with members of their teams, coworkers, or superiors. Their emotional volatility or unpredictability may result in a hostile or insecure work atmosphere, negatively impacting cooperation, trust, and morale.
  • Dissociation: Dissociation refers to a disconnection from one’s thoughts, feelings, or surroundings as a coping mechanism during traumatic events. An executive with C-PTSD may feel detached from their body at times, experience amnesia related to traumatic events, or engage in excessive daydreaming in the office.
  • Hypervigilance and Hyperarousal: Individuals with C-PTSD may exhibit a heightened state of alertness and vigilance. They may be easily startled, have difficulties with sleep, experience irritability or anger outbursts, and exhibit a heightened startle response.
  • Persistent Flashbacks: Individuals suffering from C-PTSD may have recurring flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive memories relating to their traumatic events. Re-experiencing symptoms can be triggered by a variety of reminders related to the trauma.

How Does C-PTSD Affect Your Brain?

The relationship between Complex PTSD and the brain may affect a lot more than you think. As trauma and chronic stress substantially impact the brain’s structure and function, Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) can lead to numerous consequences for an executive like you.

Individuals with C-PTSD may have overactive or excessively sensitive amygdalas, which are important in processing emotions and terror reactions. This increased sensitivity might result in excessive fear reactions, hypervigilance, and trouble controlling emotions.

Trauma also can have an effect on the hippocampus, which is involved in memory development and consolidation. Chronic stress and trauma can cause the hippocampus to shrink in volume. This can have an effect on memory functions, such as the capacity to recall traumatic experiences or other memories accurately.

C-PTSD can have a damaging influence on the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive processes such as decision-making, impulse control, and emotional regulation. The results may include impulsive behaviors, difficulty with emotion management, and poor decision-making.

Trauma and chronic stress may disrupt the HPA axis, which regulates the body’s stress response. This can lead to an increase in the synthesis and release of stress hormones (e.g., cortisol) and lead to hyperarousal, sleep difficulties, and other physiological symptoms.

Individuals suffering from C-PTSD may experience neurotransmitter imbalances in serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine production. These imbalances can lead to mood dysregulation, sadness, anxiety, and problems with pleasure and motivation.

Trauma can have an effect on the connection of distinct brain areas. Communication between areas involved in emotional processing, memory, and executive functioning may be disrupted or altered. These disturbances can contribute to symptoms including flashbacks, emotional dysregulation, difficulty concentrating, and trouble making decisions.

Help for C-PTSD at Headwaters

With appropriate treatment, including therapy and support, the brain can begin to heal and regain optimal functioning. Enhancing emotional intelligence, learning stress management techniques, practicing mindfulness, and building healthy coping mechanisms are all strategies for reducing the harm from C-PTSD symptoms. Creating a supportive work environment that encourages open communication, psychological safety, and emotional well-being may also help executives control their emotions and lead their teams successfully.

Headwaters Helps the Executive with C-PTSD

Headwaters provides multiple modes of trauma therapy for executives, including those whose untreated C-PTSD contributes to a growing substance use disorder. At our Center for Brain Recovery, we assess and plan treatments using an integrated approach. Our ongoing counseling and case-management services assist in identifying and securing effective and confidential treatment for every client and relies on modern psychological testing as well as one-on-one interviews with Headwaters’ on-staff clinical psychologists. After the assessment, a personalized program for executives includes evidence-based interventions such as Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), sophisticated medical care, neurofeedback and biofeedback, nutritional counseling, meditation and mindfulness training, and more.

Tour Headwaters
Bedroom at HeadwatersHanley Foundation’s Headwaters is a non-profit addiction treatment program for executives, public figures, other affluent individuals, and their loved ones. Headwaters offers leading-edge, personalized clinical care for mental health and substance use disorders, and our professional and compassionate staff can help you achieve holistic wellness. To start your healing journey, call 561-270-1753 today.

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