Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD)

Understanding Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD)

What is C-PTSD and How is it Different from PTSD?

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) is a type of PTSD that occurs when an individual experiences prolonged and repeated trauma or abuse. Unlike PTSD, which typically follows a single traumatic event, C-PTSD results from long-term exposure to various kinds of trauma.

One of the key differences between PTSD and C-PTSD is that the latter often involves trauma inflicted by a caregiver or someone in a position of authority. For example, a child who endures abuse at the hands of a parent or caregiver may be at risk for developing C-PTSD. This type of trauma can be particularly damaging because it undermines a person’s sense of safety, trust, and attachment to others.

While C-PTSD shares many of the same symptoms as PTSD, there are some key differences. People with C-PTSD may experience more intense and pervasive symptoms than those with PTSD. Instead of just having flashbacks or nightmares, for instance, individuals with C-PTSD may struggle with a constant sense of fear or anxiety, a state of hyper-vigilance that can be emotionally and physically exhausting.

C-PTSD can also lead to problems with self-esteem, identity, and interpersonal relationships. People with C-PTSD may isolate themselves from others, feel detached from their own emotions, or experience an ongoing sense of shame and worthlessness. They may also struggle with anger, irritability, or self-destructive behavior.

In addition, C-PTSD can cause neurobiological changes in the brain that impact memory, affect, and self-regulation. These changes can make it challenging to manage emotions, cope with stress, or make decisions.

It’s worth noting that C-PTSD is not an official diagnosis in the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, many mental health professionals recognize the unique challenges faced by people with this condition and are working to improve our understanding of C-PTSD and how best to treat it.

If you suspect that you may be struggling with C-PTSD, it’s important to seek help from a qualified mental health provider. With the right support and treatment, it is possible to manage the symptoms of C-PTSD and move towards a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Signs and Symptoms of C-PTSD

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) is a debilitating and complex condition that can have a significant impact on an individual’s ability to function in daily life. C-PTSD is often misdiagnosed as borderline personality disorder, anxiety disorder, or depression, but it is a separate condition that causes unique symptoms. Here are some of the signs and symptoms to look out for if you suspect you or someone you know may have C-PTSD.

A State of High Alert: Individuals with C-PTSD may feel as though they are constantly on high alert, as if danger is lurking around every corner. They may become easily startled, have difficulty relaxing, and may struggle with feeling safe in their own body and environment.

Difficulty Controlling Emotions: People with C-PTSD often experience intense and overwhelming emotions, which can sometimes lead to emotional outbursts that are difficult to control. This may be because they are still processing past traumas and are unable to regulate their emotions.

Flashbacks and Intrusive Thoughts: Flashbacks refer to the experience of feeling as though you are reliving a traumatic event. Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts or memories that can be distressing and difficult to manage. People with C-PTSD may experience both.

Dissociation: Dissociation can occur in response to trauma and involves feeling disconnected from oneself and one’s surroundings. This can take the form of feeling detached or numb and may cause individuals to have gaps in their memory related to the traumatic event.

Frequent Nightmares and Insomnia: It is common for people with C-PTSD to experience nightmares, which can be intense and disturbing, and may lead to disrupted sleep patterns. Trouble sleeping is a common symptom of PTSD and C-PTSD.

Turbulent Relationships: People with C-PTSD may experience turbulence in their relationships due to a range of factors, including difficulty trusting others, feeling unworthy of good treatment, and struggling to regulate their emotions.

Difficulty Concentrating: C-PTSD can also impact an individual’s ability to focus and pay attention. This may lead to difficulty at work or school, forgetfulness, or having difficulty making decisions.

Negative Thoughts About Oneself and the World: Due to the trauma they have experienced, people with C-PTSD may have negative thoughts about themselves and their worth or the world around them. This can impact their self-esteem and may contribute to feelings of hopelessness and depression.

It is essential to seek help if you or someone you know experiences these symptoms. A therapist who specializes in treating complex trauma can help you work through your trauma and develop coping skills to manage your symptoms. Remember that C-PTSD is not your fault, and healing is possible with the right support.

How C-PTSD Impacts Daily Life

Living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) can make everyday life challenging. The symptoms of C-PTSD can have a significant impact on a person’s mental and emotional wellbeing.

High Alert and Emotional Dysregulation

One of the most challenging aspects of C-PTSD is living in a constant state of high alert. C-PTSD survivors often feel like they are on edge, waiting for something bad to happen. This hyperarousal can make it difficult to engage in everyday activities, leading to a sense of constant exhaustion.

In addition to a constant state of high alert, C-PTSD survivors may experience difficulty controlling their emotions. Emotional dysregulation can manifest in a variety of ways, including intense anger, sadness, or fear. These emotions can be overwhelming, making it challenging to carry out daily tasks.

Flashbacks and Intrusive Thoughts

Flashbacks and intrusive thoughts are common symptoms of C-PTSD. A person experiencing a flashback may feel like they are reliving a traumatic event. These flashbacks can be triggered by a variety of things, including sounds, smells, or visual cues.

Intrusive thoughts can also be challenging to manage. For instance, a person with C-PTSD may experience random thoughts that cause them to feel overwhelmed, uncomfortable, or anxious. Trying to push away these thoughts can often make these symptoms worse.


Dissociation is another common symptom of C-PTSD. Dissociation makes a person feel disconnected from their body or sense of reality. It can cause a person to feel like they are outside their body, watching things happen from a distance or observing themselves as though they were in a movie.

Dissociation can also cause significant gaps in memory, particularly related to the trauma. A person with C-PTSD may struggle to remember important events or conversations from their past, which can be frustrating and confusing.

Trouble Sleeping

Insomnia is a common problem for people with C-PTSD. The racing thoughts and vivid nightmares associated with C-PTSD make it challenging to get a good night’s sleep. As a result, C-PTSD survivors may feel tired, groggy, and irritable during the day.

Troubled Relationships

Unhealthy relationships are another hallmark of C-PTSD. Survivors of trauma may feel like they don’t deserve healthy relationships. They may also struggle to trust others, causing them to push people away or cling to unhealthy relationships out of a sense of familiarity.

Difficulty Concentrating

C-PTSD can make it challenging to concentrate and complete everyday tasks. Problem-solving skills may also deteriorate as a result of trauma, making it difficult to manage work or school responsibilities.

Negative Sense of Self and Distorted Worldview

C-PTSD can cause survivors to develop a negative sense of self and a distorted worldview. A person with C-PTSD may struggle with self-esteem and feel like they are not worthy of love or happiness. They may also have a negative view of the world and feel like nothing will ever be okay.

Living with C-PTSD is a challenging experience but seeking treatment and support can make a significant difference. With time and effort, it is possible to heal from trauma and manage the symptoms of C-PTSD. If you or someone you know is struggling with C-PTSD, don’t hesitate to reach out for help.

Seeking Treatment for C-PTSD

The symptoms of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) can be extremely challenging to manage, but the good news is that it’s a treatable condition. Healing from C-PTSD requires hard work, but seeking the right kind of help and support can make all the difference. In this chapter, we’ll explore the different types of treatment available for C-PTSD.

One of the most effective forms of treatment for C-PTSD is psychotherapy. This form of therapy allows the patient to work with a trained mental health professional to explore traumatic events or experiences and develop strategies to manage symptoms that may result from these events. There are several types of psychotherapy that have been shown to be helpful in treating C-PTSD, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.

CBT is a form of therapy aimed at helping patients identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. DBT is similar to CBT but focuses more on developing mindfulness and self-awareness skills to help regulate emotions. EMDR therapy focuses on identifying and reprocessing negative emotions and beliefs associated with the traumatic event. All of these forms of therapy have been proven to be particularly helpful for C-PTSD sufferers.

Additionally, medication can often be used in conjunction with therapy to help manage symptoms of C-PTSD. Antidepressants can be particularly helpful in treating the depression and anxiety that often accompanies C-PTSD. It’s worth noting that medication alone is not enough to treat C-PTSD effectively and should always be used in conjunction with therapy.

In recent years, alternative therapies such as yoga, mindfulness meditation, and art therapy have also been found to be helpful in treating C-PTSD. While these therapies are not a substitute for professional psychotherapy and medication, they can serve as helpful adjuncts to the overall treatment plan.

It’s crucial for patients with C-PTSD to build a support system outside of therapy. Joining a support group or finding a trusted friend or family member to talk to can be incredibly helpful. Many people with C-PTSD find that connecting with others who have had similar experiences helps them feel less alone.

Finally, it’s important to remember that healing from C-PTSD takes time and patience. It’s essential to work with a trained mental health professional to develop a personalized treatment plan that meets your individual needs. While the journey to healing can be challenging, living a fulfilling life after trauma is entirely possible with the right type of help and support.