Complex Trauma and Coping Through Doctors Appointments
If the terminology “complex trauma” or “CPTSD” is familiar to you, there most likely have been significant boundary violations in your life. If you are reading this post, then maybe you have been pondering the thought of going to the doctor, or you’re seeking out answers on whether or not your experience was normal. Completing what are considered “normal” self care activities, like going to the doctor, can feel really confusing. If you grew up in chaos and abuse, wellness visits and health screenings probably weren’t modeled nor prioritized.
The experience of going to the doctor can actually feel quite dehumanizing and objectifying - especially for those who have experienced significant boundary violations and sexual trauma. Being asked to disrobe, or having others poke and prod us is quite uncomfortable and can understandably feel triggering. It’s important to first know that your fears are understandable and normal. Even those without complex trauma can find wellness visits disturbing.
Medical professionals may mean well in performing exams and tests. They may have the most compassionate and tender heart towards understanding your health concerns and helping you navigate your path to wellness. Even with that, not all medical professionals are trauma informed. It’s important to first find a practice that is aligned with your values and the kind of intentional care you are seeking. Asking your own therapist if they are aware of any trauma informed general practitioners (or other medical professional) can be a great place to start. Even once you have found a place that you feel good about, there are a few things that can help you prepare for your visit that we have broken down into the following three A’s.
Prepare for your appointment by asking ahead of time what all the visit will entail. What will be the gender of the person performing my exam/ultrasound/test? What will the visit include? Will removing clothing be a part of any of the testing? Are staff familiar with working with trauma survivors, and if so, what does that familiarity mean for them? Asking what to expect can help prepare you mentally and ease any anxiety that you might already be having about the visit. This also can help alleviate any surprises if you have not had any experience with wellness visits.
It is perfectly acceptable to request a certain physician, lab technician, ultrasound technician, medical assistant, or any other medical professional. If your trauma has been with a certain gender, it is understandable to not desire that gender being a part of your examination. This is not discriminatory - it is preventative. Make this known up front if possible. It is also okay if this only comes after the fact and you realize that you are feeling uncomfortable.
If you feel comfortable in sharing the fact that you are a trauma survivor, this is important information to provide to those completing your exams. Everyone should ask for consent before touching your body, but sometimes people assume that consent is implied since you are at the exam. Asking for a verbal cue before each touch is more than reasonable.
If you have a close friend, a partner, or chosen family member who you feel safe with, it can be helpful to have them come to the appointment with you. Having a third party in the room can help us to remain regulated and grounded with their presence. If a personal connection is not available, and you do not feel comfortable being alone during your visit or parts of your visit, request another staff member be present.
Utilize this post as a gentle reminder that your needs matter and your experiences are valid. You never had the privilege of knowing how to navigate doctors appointments and wellness exams, you were focused on survival. Learning how to not only manage the symptoms of trauma, but also learning how to take care of yourself for the first time is hard work. Go slow and be gentle on yourself.