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Every parent experiences joys and challenges while raising their kids. There are always ups and downs when you must take care of little ones while tending to your needs. That becomes more complicated when you’re one of the many parents with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD).
When the brain learns how to cope with the stress of ongoing trauma, it can respond similarly to future stressors after the traumatic event ends. Managing complex PTSD and parenting responsibilities can be extra challenging. Read this guide to learn management strategies and be encouraged to care for yourself.
Understanding Trauma and Its Effects on Parenting
Trauma can happen in various ways. No matter what you’ve experienced, it could have had these effects on your brain and your parenting style.
How Trauma Affects the Brain
When a traumatic event activates stress, it affects numerous parts of the brain and leaves a core memory signature to help the brain survive the next round of stress. Research shows that after traumatic stress makes these changes, future bouts of non-traumatic stress results in increased cortisol and norepinephrine responses even when the individual recognizes that they are in a safe environment.
Experts estimate that 60% of men and 50% of women experience trauma at least once, making PTSD symptoms more common than many realize. When compounded with recurring trauma, parents may also live with complex PTSD that influences their parenting styles.
The Differences Between PTSD and C-PTSD
People can develop PTSD after experiencing any trauma. PTSD often creates symptoms such as flashbacks, physical sensations, and nightmares. You might have these symptoms after events such as:
- Experiencing intense car crash
- Being sexually assaulted
- Getting bullied
- Experiencing abuse like neglect or harassment
- Surviving a near-death experience
- Living with ongoing domestic violence
When someone has complex PTSD, they may have PTSD symptoms along with uncontrollable emotional responses to stress. It influences their parenting choices and behaviors by causing situations like lashing out over minor stresses or increasing distrust of children when they haven’t done anything wrong.
C-PTSD can occur after the same PTSD triggers if they happen numerous times. Symptoms of C-PTSD that differ from PTSD include:
- An inability to control emotional responses to minor or major stressors
- Feeling distrustful without proof of betrayal
- Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
- Suicidal ideations
Parents who seek C-PTSD encouragement through books or mental health professionals instructing self-awareness and accountability methods can overcome their instinctive stress responses in the long run. The stress responses may have changed their identity or personality by affecting their self-worth, but it’s possible to heal with professional help.
Seeking Help and Support
Getting a professional diagnosis for C-PTSD is crucial if you think you have the condition. Other mental health diagnoses also cause involuntary stress responses, like anxiety and acute stress disorder. A therapist can help you match your symptoms with the most likely diagnosis to get more accurate treatment.
Family therapy can also assist parents living with C-PTSD. They’ll teach you how to rebuild the connection with your family and communicate about what you’re experiencing. When everyone understands how your C-PTSD presents and affects your mental health, it’s easier to overcome parenting challenges together.
Complex PTSD and parenting also become more manageable with support from friends and family. Surrounding yourself with a supportive community that will listen to your concerns and helps you figure out new solutions may help you process future stress reactions and manage them in real-time later.
Strategies for Parenting With C-PTSD
You can employ new strategies to manage your C-PTSD responses and parent your kids with a better frame of mind. Consider these options when evaluating potential ways to navigate parenting with your C-PTSD.
Establish Personal Rules
You might establish a rule that when you have an emotional response to a stressor, you ask yourself to identify if the stressful action or event equals your response. Getting angry and punishing a child for knowingly harming their sibling is one thing, but having the same reaction to a child accidentally tripping and hurting their knees would be out of proportion.
You could also create a rule about reassuring your children. When you have an emotional response before recognizing it as a C-PTSD symptom, explain why you shouldn’t have reacted that way and apologize. Your kids will need the reassurance that there’s nothing wrong with them to have caused or deserved your reaction.
Pick a Decompression Space
Many parents set up safe spaces to decompress after getting triggered. It could be a bathroom, closet, or your car’s driver seat. Let your kids know when you need a few minutes to yourself or wait until they’re busy with other things, like napping or attending a playdate. Meditative breathing and reassuring self-talk will help you process and release your feelings.
Find Parenting Classes
Generalized parenting classes and classes for parents with C-PTSD are excellent resources. Whether you’re attending therapy or not, the classes will teach you healthy techniques for managing your emotions and parenting around them. Consider attending online or in-person courses to learn more about parenting with C-PTSD.
Work on Maintaining Open Communication
It might feel challenging to communicate about your C-PTSD symptoms openly. Reacting with solid emotions that felt untethered or uncontrollable for years can make people feel ashamed or embarrassed about themselves. Therapy can open the pathway to improved communication with your kids and give you tools to maintain that connection between sessions.
Encouragement and Hope for Single Parents With C-PTSD
There are always steps forward for parents with C-PTSD who want a brighter future with their kids. Visiting a therapist, acknowledging your challenges, and taking responsibility for your reactions in real-time can help your family heal and grow closer.
These things might feel challenging initially, but they get easier with time. They’re cheerful, essential steps to take for yourself ad your kids. Parenting with C-PTSD is more manageable once you find professional support and resources to understand how your mind works.
Find PTSD Encouragement and Support
Accessing self-care and support through therapy and healthy coping mechanisms is one of the many benefits of getting help for your C-PTSD. Single parents don’t have to endure intense emotional reactions and low self-worth. Reading guides like these could be the C-PTSD encouragement to find support and raise your kids with improved parenting skills.
Beth is the content manager and Managing Editor at Body+Mind. She writes about parenting, fitness, mental health, and nutrition. You can find Beth on Twitter @bodymindmag.