Complex PTSD (C-PTSD)

Complex PTSD is a variant of post-traumatic stress disorder that affects people who’ve experienced intense trauma over a prolonged period. The complex PTSD symptoms are similar to those of PTSD, but they are more severe, disabling, and pervasive.

Differences between PTSD and Complex PTSD

Both PTSD and complex PTSD are anxiety disorders caused by exposure to severe trauma and/or abuse. But PTSD is usually a side effect of sudden, shocking, short-term trauma and suffering, while complex PTSD develops as an aftereffect of long-term abuse and victimization, and the feelings of helplessness and rage that accompany it.

More so than PTSD, complex PTSD distorts a person’s perspective on the world and reality. PTSD sufferers fear the events or circumstances that can trigger their symptoms, but fear and anxiety affect people with complex PTSD at a fundamental level, impacting their emotions, self-judgments, and capacity to forge connections with other human beings.

Some risk factors for complex PTSD include:

  • Repeated incidents of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse during childhood
  • Being a victim of domestic violence
  • Becoming a victim of human trafficking or slavery
  • Living and trying to survive in a war zone, or in an area destroyed by a natural disaster
  • Exposure to torture or captivity by hostile forces

Naturally, PTSD can also develop in people who’ve experienced these extreme forms of suffering or deprivation, and in fact, about nine-in-10 complex PTSD sufferers also meet the diagnostic criteria for conventional PTSD.

But complex PTSD causes more intense and invasive symptoms, superseding PTSD in its severity. Complex PTSD sufferers:

  • Experience more frequent, vivid, and frightening flashbacks
  • Struggle even more to manage and control their emotions
  • Feel immense panic in anticipation of events that might trigger bad memories
  • Have more terrifying nightmares and struggle even more with sleep disturbances
  • Exhibit hypervigilant tendencies that are more deeply tinged with fear and paranoia
  • Experience feelings of dissociation that are more extreme and, in some instances, can transform into multiple personality disorder

Complex PTSD includes additional upsetting elements that are not commonly experienced by conventional PTSD sufferers. These added elements include:

  • Wounded and dysfunctional self-perception.

    C-PTSD sufferers often blame themselves for their suffering. They may be torn by feelings of guilt and shame. They may feel worthless and helpless to overcome their troubles or manage their lives, and their self-esteem may be deeply damaged by their past encounters with extreme abuse.
  • Loss of faith in everything.

    People with C-PTSD have little or no faith in the world, in people, in spiritual teachings, and in themselves. They may be pessimistic, cynical, and mistrustful to the extreme, to the point where even kindness is viewed with suspicion.
  • Turbulent and troubled relationships.

    Men and women with complex PTSD often search for someone to play the role of their rescuer, or for a father or mother figure who can give them what their abusive parents did not. Their inability to trust is another barrier to relationship success, as are their moodiness and unwillingness to discuss the past.

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