PTSD: The Past Refusing to Let Go
by Kilomarie Granda, Unspoken Voices Founder
What is Complex Trauma and PTSD?
Through my work as an advocate with Someplace Safe and Unspoken Voices, as well as serving as the University of Minnesota Violence Prevention and Response Program Coordinator, I have had the opportunity to serve individuals from varied professions, backgrounds, socio-economic statuses, cultures, and races. These people, regardless of their age, have usually suffered some form of trauma. The experiences that I have gained throughout my work, education, and through my own history have also allowed me to gain a better understanding regarding the needs of those dealing with trauma. Throughout this piece, I want to discuss complex trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and emphasize that there is hope for recovery.
Many traumatic events (e.g., car accidents, natural disasters, etc.) are of time-limited duration. Examples of this may include an act of rape, car accident, or home invasion. However, in some cases people experience chronic trauma that continues or repeats for months or even years. The current PTSD diagnosis often does not fully capture the severe psychological harm that occurs with prolonged, repeated trauma. People who experience chronic trauma often report additional symptoms alongside formal PTSD symptoms, such as changes in their self-concept and the way they adapt to stressful events.
During long-term traumas, the victim is generally held in a state of captivity, physically or emotionally, and often the victim experiences a continued sense of hopelessness. Although Complex PTSD can occur as a result of a traumatic experience that does not involve violence, the very nature of Complex PTSD is found within repeated trauma. Repeated trauma usually occurs as a result of repeated victimization, rather than one specific event.
Various examples of such traumatic situations include; (I) Prostitution brothels, (II) long-term military combat, (III) long-term domestic violence, (IV) long-term physical abuse, and (V) long-term sexual abuse/assault. An individual who experienced a prolonged period (months to years) of chronic victimization and total control by another may experience emotional dysregulation, disassociation, distorted perceptions, and unhealthy relationships. These emotional difficulties often make it difficult for individuals to live emotionally and physically healthy lives. As a result, those affected by trauma experience a higher likelihood of substance abuse.
Quite often, practitioners focus on other marginalized populations, forgetting that survivors of trauma have also been marginalized and are in need of services as well. I do not feel that we, as advocates, should expect healing and recovery from trauma without first addressing the root cause(s) of this trauma. It is my hope that through this piece, we can explore the correlation between complex trauma, particularly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As advocates, it is our responsibility to help survivors equip themselves with the tools needed to explore, confront, and heal from unresolved trauma.
Why Trauma-Informed Advocacy?
I do not feel that the strong correlation between complex trauma and PTSD is disputable. “Early trauma also has consequences for how human beings respond to stress all their lives." (Mate, 2010). As advocates, we must be willing to be a voice for those who are oppressed, marginalized, excluded, and discriminated against. Our profession puts us in a certain position of power and it is that very power that requires us to serve as advocates for social and cultural change.
I believe that advocacy is a necessary part of being an effective counselor. Counselors need to be able to advocate for the best interests of their client as well as social and systems change. As advocates, it is important that we understand the correlation between various disorders. Studies have shown that effective treatments also incorporate trauma-related guilt and shame as points of intervention in treating trauma and substance use (Held, 2015). Effective advocacy begins with understanding the link between co-morbid disorders, their effects on individuals, and appropriate treatments.
This is perhaps, for me, the part of the this work that speaks to my very being. I am passionate about advocacy. Currently, I am honored to serve as the E.D. for Unspoken Voices, a non-profit dedicated to social justice. Throughout the past decade, I have worked for and continue to collaborate with other sexual assault prevention organizations. Most recently, I served as the Violence Prevention and Response Program Coordinator for the University of Minnesota, Morris. Through each of these positions, I was given the honor to act as advocate in some manner.
As an advocate and a victim/survivor, I believe that I am both inside and outside of the affected system. As a survivor, I have struggled within the affected system. As an advocate, I have worked from outside of the system in an attempt to change it. In this situation, I would identify as part of oppressed, rather than the privileged group. My personality tends to be more direct and that extends to all parts of my life, including advocacy. Advocacy is as much a part of my being as breathing, eating, and sleeping. I do not say this to sound pompous, only to share my deep commitment for this field.
Advocacy is about learning… every single day—learning about systems of oppression and how individuals are affected by these systems. Being an advocate also includes learning how to better support and speak for others’ needs: learning how I can use my position, my own privilege, to provide equal rights for those that currently do not have them. It is my hope that the social and cultural work that I do will be effective and will have lasting change. I also have to believe that any positive organizational change will be major.
We may not be able change the entirety of the universe, but we can certainly create change in our own corner of the world!