What Is C-PTSD? 5 Symptoms You Can’t Ignore

Many people are familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder, the anxiety disorder that results from a traumatic event. The disorder was once referred to as “shell shock,” commonly found in veterans and soldiers exposed to war zone deployment, training accidents, and military sexual trauma. Today, PTSD has gained national awareness, and the disorder is found in various individuals outside of the military profession. 

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is a closely related condition that has been widely recognized by doctors in recent years. So, what is C-PTSD? What are the symptoms and causes? Are there any risk factors? How can you cope with the disorder daily? Let’s discuss complex post-traumatic stress disorder. 

What Is C-PTSD? 

complex post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological response to a traumatic event. Individuals who have been exposed to fear-inciting events can experience symptoms of PTSD, such as car accidents, natural disasters, near-death experiences, violence, abuse, and more. 

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is similar in that it is a response to trauma. However, C-PTSD results from exposure to repeated trauma over months or years, rather than a single event. 

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder was first introduced in the late 1980s. However, it is not recognized as a distinct condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). Still, more and more patients are coming forward with signs of C-PTSD in recent years. 

What Are the Differences Between PTSD and C-PTSD?

Both PTSD and C-PTSD result from exposure to traumatic experiences. They can cause flashbacks, nightmares, and insomnia. The disorders can also leave you feeling afraid and unsafe, even without the presence of danger. Despite their similarities, there are some distinct differences between the two conditions. 

The primary difference between the two disorders is the frequency of the trauma. PTSD can occur after a single traumatic event, while C-PTSD is caused by long-lasting trauma that continues or repeats for months, even years. While C-PTSD can occur at any time, most cases are the result of childhood trauma. 

Another significant difference between PTSD and C-PTSD is the harmful effects of oppression. This can add layers to complex trauma, increasing symptoms and severity. The psychological impacts of complex trauma are typically more severe than a single traumatic event.

childhood trauma

Even more, the developmental impacts of complex trauma that occurs in childhood can be challenging to overcome. So much so that experts believe that the diagnostic criteria of PTSD don’t adequately describe the severity and lasting consequences of C-PTSD. 

What Are the Symptoms of C-PTSD? 

Individuals living with C-PTSD can experience all the symptoms of PTSD we discussed in our previous article here. Common C-PTSD symptoms include:

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Sweating
  • Feeling sick
  • Distrust of others
  • Avoiding situations that remind you of traumatic events
  • Anxiety or hyper-arousal 

In most cases, symptoms of C-PTSD are life-altering. They can cause significant effects on your personal, family, social, educational, or occupational areas of life. 

5 C-PTSD Symptoms You Can’t Ignore

C-PTSD therapy

Individuals with C-PTSD may notice various symptoms, and no two cases of the disorder are the same. However, some symptoms are severe and should not be ignored. Talk to your healthcare provider or a professional, licensed therapist if you experience any of the following symptoms of C-PTSD:

1. Preoccupation with Your Abuser

If you have been exposed to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, C-PTSD can cause you to have an unhealthy obsession with your abuser. Toxic relationships can be difficult to leave. A person with C-PTSD can be suffering so greatly that they experience a distorted image of their abuser and their relationship. These individuals may be preoccupied with their abuser. This could mean having a distorted image of them as a person, allowing them to maintain dominance or control over you, or even plotting revenge. 

It can be difficult to recognize this symptom on your own. However, those around you can typically recognize these symptoms immediately. If someone you love is displaying signs of this symptom, do your best to support them. Encourage them to seek professional help to discuss tips and strategies to shift their focus. 

2. Consciousness and Detachment

Believe it or not, trauma actually alters the brain in the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex. This can lead to a change in consciousness. Many patients also report depersonalization or a disconnect from themselves and the world. This can be so severe that the individual forgets their trauma until it surfaces in the future. 

You may also experience feelings of detachment, where you physically feel detached from your emotions. This type of attachment is called dissociation and can snowball into other symptoms such as isolation and depression. 

3. Difficulty Controlling Emotions

C-PTSD symptoms

Some individuals report losing control over their emotions. This can manifest as explosive anger, lasting sadness, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Because this can lead to self-destructive behavior, isolation, and depression, it’s crucial to discuss your symptoms with a mental health professional. 

4. Difficulty with Relationships

Due to the previously listed symptoms, you may also experience challenges with your relationships. Some individuals avoid relationships entirely because they lack trust in others in general. Others develop unhealthy relationships because they repeat what they’ve known in the past. For example, you may search for someone to save you from your trauma or seek out a person similar to your abuser because you don’t know what to look for in a healthy relationship. 

5. Negative Self-View 

Unfortunately, many individuals with C-PTSD view themselves in a negative light. Because of long-term exposure to trauma, you may experience feelings of guilt, helplessness, shame, or unworthiness. This makes it hard to connect with others and foster healthy relationships. You can also lose sight of your core beliefs, values, faith, or hope in the future and those around you

Schedule a Consultation to Find Practical Coping Strategies for C-PTSD

Although living with C-PTSD can be a challenge, there are several treatment options and coping strategies to help you live a healthy, happy life. If you’ve been diagnosed with C-PTSD or feel you are living with the disorder, our trauma therapy treatment programs can help. Contact us to schedule a consultation with a mental health professional trained to help you thrive! 

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