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Chronic Stress Disorder

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Chronic stress disorder, also known as complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-OTSD) is a serious psychological condition that often stems from being a witness to a particularly traumatic incident. As a result of that traumatic incident, chronic stress disorder sufferers lose control, power and then begin to feel trapped.

Although chronic stress disorder is very similar to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it is not one in the same. PTSD, according to many researchers, does not encompass all of the symptoms that a case of chronic stress disorder typically carries within itself. Despite the fact that numerous mainstream journals and authors have written about chronic stress disorder, it is not recognized formally in more prominent diagnostics systems.

Initially, chronic stress disorder was cited in Trauma & Recovery by Judith Herman. The types of the condition included were those which stemmed from: sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, domestic violence and torture. Essentially, the one notable recognized criteria was the sufferer not being able to escape the trauma.

According to Cook, the following are seven characteristics of chronic stress disorder in children:

  • Attachment - "problems with relationship boundaries, lack of trust, social isolation, difficulty perceiving and responding to other’s emotional states, and lack of empathy"
  • Biology - "sensory-motor developmental dysfunction, sensory-integration difficulties, somatization, and increased medical problems"
  • Affect or emotional regulation - "poor affect regulation, difficulty identifying and expressing emotions and internal states, and difficulties communicating needs, wants, and wishes"
  • Dissociation - "amnesia, depersonalization, discrete states of consciousness with discrete memories, affect, and functioning, and impaired memory for state-based events"
  • Behavioural control - "problems with impulse control, aggression, pathological self-soothing, and sleep problems"
  • Cognition - "difficulty regulating attention, problems with a variety of "executive functions" such as planning, judgement, initiation, use of materials, and self- monitoring, difficulty processing new information, difficulty focusing and completing tasks, poor object constancy, problems with "cause-effect" thinking, and language developmental problems such as a gap between receptive and expressive communication abilities."
  • Self-concept -"fragmented and disconnected autobiographical narrative, disturbed body image, low self-esteem, excessive shame, and negative internal working models of self."

In adults, the characteristics are slightly different, but share a few simliarities:

  • Difficulties regulating emotions, including symptoms such as persistent sadness, suicidal thoughts, explosive anger, or covert anger.
  • Variations in consciousness, such as forgetting traumatic events, reliving traumatic events, or having episodes of dissociation (during which one feels detached from one's mental processes or body).
  • Changes in self-perception, such as a sense of helplessness, shame, guilt, stigma, and a sense of being completely different from other human beings.
  • Varied changes in the perception of the perpetrator, such as attributing total power to the perpetrator or becoming preoccupied with the relationship to the perpetrator, including a preoccupation with revenge.
  • Alterations in relations with others, including isolation, distrust, or a repeated search for a rescuer.
  • Loss of, or changes in, one's system of meanings, which may include a loss of sustaining faith or a sense of hopelessness and despair.

Anyone worried or curious about whether or not they suffer from chronic stress disorder should consult their local physician as soon as possible.

photo by John Nyboer

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