Note: Complex stress disorder is common in people who have dissociative identity disorder, so this article is relevant.
One might think of negative childhood experiences as intimately linked with complex trauma and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), and you would be correct. CPTSD is caused by a series or numerous traumas, usually in childhood, and can form in adulthood.
We have not considered that positive childhood experiences are deeply related to resiliency and can alleviate some of the terrible side effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that cause CPTSD.
Positive Childhood Experiences: A Recap
Often, we read about how adverse childhood experiences challenge kids as they grow into adults and the terrible consequences they have on people’s lives. We seldom concentrate on how powerful positive childhood experiences are in terms of how they also significantly impact the lives of children.
“The more positive childhood experiences you had growing up, the less likely you are to suffer the long-term consequences of adverse childhood experiences.”
Research has found that with the presence of PCEs, the impact of adverse childhood experiences is lessened although not forgotten or made not to influence the child in their adult life. The findings help to underscore that positive childhood experiences can mitigate the effects of adverse childhood experiences.
Indeed, the more PCEs one has, the less powerful are adverse childhood experiences. Positive childhood experiences may include any of the following:
Felt able to talk to your family about your feelings?
Felt your family stood by you during trying times?
Enjoyed participating in community traditions?
Felt a sense of belonging in school?
Felt supported by friends?
Had at least one parent (adult) who took a genuine interest in you?
When we speak of resilience, we are talking about the ability to overcome challenges, including trauma, crises, and tragedy, and bounce back wiser, stronger, and more powerful than before.
Resilience isn’t a fixed trait that one is born with, although some are born with better abilities to overcome adversity. Resilience is a learned characteristic that comes from experiencing hardship.
Resilience is not like an elevator where you go down and then up the next moment. Resilience is more like climbing a massive mountain without knowing the trail. It takes the help of others, a lot of strength, and some falling along the way. By changing thoughts and behaviors, people can tap into their resilience
Resilience is the character that you build as you struggle to climb the mountain, not the destination itself. After much struggle, you will eventually reach the top and look back at where you came from and become aware of just how strong you have become.
One way for a person to have more resilience is to have experienced positive childhood experiences. The PCEs help adults by teaching them to believe in themselves because someone else believed in them, and they felt like they belonged when they were kids.
Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and ACEs
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is directly related to adverse childhood experiences. In fact, the higher your ACEs score, the more likely you are to have CPTSD.
“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, living in a war zone, being held captive, human trafficking, and other organized rings of abuse, and more.
While there are exceptional circumstances where adults develop C-PTSD, it is most often seen in those whose trauma occurred in childhood.
For those who are older, 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, the survivor’s sense of self, and affect 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.”
Healing from complex post-traumatic stress disorder takes time and effort that is draining and difficult to accomplish.
You Too Can Heal
Many of us who have experienced adverse childhood experiences might believe that the effects of abuse or neglect are irreparable and that we cannot live a whole life or heal. This thought is not true.
Through therapy, one can overcome childhood trauma. The first step to healing is finding a trauma-informed therapist who can help navigate the maze of emotionally packed memories and pain that have been couped up in your mind.
I realize that many people have had negative experiences with therapists, but you should not give up. Shop around until you find a good fit, and then work hard with them.
You might have formed a mental health challenge yet having some positive childhood experiences and being resilient during healing will allow restoration to happen. Diagnoses such as borderline personality disorder and dissociative identity disorder are serious mental health challenges, but I am living witness that healing can occur.
I experienced severe and repeated childhood trauma while growing up, but along the way, I had two people who gave me positive attention and created positive childhood experiences for me. One was a Sunday school teacher; the other was my 4th-grade teacher. These people set the stage for me to understand from their care that I am not a doormat for people to wipe their feet on. I am an essential human being worthy of love and respect.
Growing up, I also had other positive experiences that I could not remember or acknowledge because they were trapped behind all the bad memories. Once I dealt with a memory and put it into the past where it belonged, I had a slew of good memories flood back.
Although I have been healing in therapy for thirty years now, I would not be alive or sane had it not been for a few positive childhood experiences from people who cared.
Ending Our Time Together
Adverse childhood experiences are responsible for many mental health conditions, including borderline personality disorder and dissociative identity disorder. However, some of the effects and symptoms of severe mental health challenges are helped with resilience and recognizing one’s positive childhood experiences.
You may not remember too many good things from your childhood, and perhaps you do not remember any at all. In therapy with a trauma-informed therapist, you can explore the bad memories and the good that you experienced while growing up.
Healing from CPTSD and any other mental health condition takes time, effort, and hard work. However, healing is possible and probable when you tackle your diagnosis head-on.
I believe in you and know you will heal even if you do not believe it yourself.
“If you believe in yourself and have dedication and pride – and never quit, you’ll be a winner. The price of victory is high, but so are the rewards.” Bear Bryant
“Believe in yourself, take on your challenges, dig deep within yourself to conquer fears. Never let anyone bring you down. You got to keep going.” Chantal Sutherland
Skodol, A. E., Bender, D. S., Pagano, M. E., Shea, M. T., Yen, S., Sanislow, C. A., … & Gunderson, J. G. (2007). Positive childhood experiences: Resilience and recovery from personality disorder in early adulthood. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 68(7), 1102. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2705622/
Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindsets that promote resilience: When students believe that personal characteristics can be developed. Educational psychologist, 47(4), 302-314.