What Is Complex PTSD?

Keywords: Complex PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

Experiences (ACEs).


What Is Complex PTSD? How is Complex PTSD different from PTSD? What are the symptoms of Complex PTSD? Are there complications from Complex PTSD? Can Complex PTSD be treated?

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is a type of mental illness that is brought about by an overwhelming traumatic stress. It can affect both children and adults.

This PTSD, usually starts from acute stress reaction, into acute stress disorder then into PTSD. And by the time it gets to the stage of PTSD, the stressor should have been there for between one month and 6 months duration.

How is Complex PTSD different from PTSD?

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:

Complex Post-Taumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) comes about both in childhood and in adulthood. And it is brought about when the person has experienced severe multiple adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). It is more likely if the ACEs are also repetitive and prolonged. Children don’t easily know how to express their feeling, and may even see the traumatic events as normal. For these reasons, the diagnosis of CPTSD maybe missed in children.

Such adverse childhood experiences include severe physical abuse and neglect and severe psychological abuse and neglect. Others ACEs are sexual abuse, witnessing parents in intimate partner violence, and community violence or wars. There could also be parental loss from divorce, separation or death.

Because the trauma that actually brings it about occurred in childhood, it affects the child’s development in many ways. It can affect the way the child attaches to the primary caregiver which most often is the mother. And can come as insecure attachment or disorganized attachment disorders.

Other areas of child development are negatively affected. These include the way the person thinks, reasons, makes judgment, concentration, etc. It also affects the way the person performs academically, at work and even socially. Behavior is also negatively affected.

In as much as that the symptoms are similar to PTSD, there are other co-occurring mental health conditions. Persons with CPTSD, can also have other forms of mental health issues such as borderline personality or antisocial personality disorders. They can also have depression, rage and panic disorder. The person can also act impulsively or abuse substances (drugs). And the treatment of CPTSD, is a bit difficult.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:

In PTSD, what actually brings it about is one overwhelming traumatic event.  This overwhelming traumatic event occurred, one to six months before the illness starts. It can occur both in adults and children.

The one stressful event could be accidents, injuries, illnesses, surgeries, etc. And the treatment is usually via psychotherapy and social support. Post-traumatic stress disorder has no connection with attachment disorder.

What are the symptoms of Complex PTSD?

The symptoms of CPTSD, are similar to PTSD, but CPTSD has its own added symptoms.

Some similar symptoms with PTSD:

There are intrusive thoughts or memories about the traumatic events the person has had in the past. These unwanted thoughts intrude into the head of the person (child or adult). And these memories can come as flashbacks. So that the child or adult will feel that the events are being re-experienced, with all the emotional attached. There will also be upsetting dreams and nightmares.

The person will do all that is possible to avoid places, events and other reminders of the traumatic events. Some people will even avoid talking about the events.

There is feeling of numbness, detachment from family and friends and the feeling that the environment is unreal.

Such a person has fear and is easily startled. There is always the fear of impending danger that keeps the person on guard at all times. And the person has problems with sleeping.

Specific symptoms of CPTSD:

The person suffering from CPTSD, feels easily irritable and angered, with some of the symptoms already mentioned above. They feel shame and guilt as well as problems in forming relationships with people. And they maybe impulsive in sexual matters.

They feel worthless and have hopelessness and have problems with controlling their emotions. Some of them will have suicidal thoughts and actions.

Are there complications from Complex PTSD?

People who suffer from CPTSD have problems with interpersonal relationships. So they find it difficult with keeping friends and even partners. They have low self-esteem, reckless behaviours, depression, anxiety, etc. Such a person can abuse substances such as alcohol, cannabis, etc. They can also be suicidal.

Parenting their own children can also be difficult. And this becomes a vicious cycle.

There are also physical health problems such as heart diseases, hypertension, arthritis, asthma diabetes and chronic pain. These chronic pains come from muscle tension and cramps. There are also migraine headaches.

Can Complex PTSD be treated?

The treatment for CPTSD often takes longer to achieve. And the road to recovery is very slow.

How you can help:

If you have a loved one with this condition, it is important that you know how you can be of help. So learn as much as you can about the illness. Also educate the individual.

It is important that you are empathic towards the individual. There is need for you to stay calm and be gentle when the individual begins to manifest the symptoms. At this point, remind the individual that he or she could be having a flashback.

Do not be judgmental by saying that the stressor happened in the past, or that the person is overreacting. Never tell the person that you don’t believe him or her, or that he or she is going crazy.

There is need for you to provide social support to the individual. Helping the person in the many ways that you can. This will help build trust between you and the person.

It is important that you are a good listener.  This will help, when the individual wants to talk about their feelings.

Encourage the individual to go consult a professional.

Medical treatment:

Complex PTSD is a lifelong condition that can be managed with the right treatment. It is actually difficult to treat. This is because the problem actually started in childhood and has other mental and physical health complications.

The major treatment in CPTSD, is psychotherapy. This is talk therapy, which has many components and are broken down into sessions. Thus there is need to consult a clinical psychologist.

For about half of the persons on the therapy for CPTSD, treatment sessions may take up to 15 to 20 sessions. Others may require more sessions.

There is need to combine psychotherapy with medications. So there is also the need to see a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist will make use of medications to treat the patient.

The combination of psychotherapy and medications are the best treatment for CPTSD.

Nutritional medicine:

Recently, medical science is going into nutritional medicine in the treatment of mental health conditions. There is a relationship between what happens in the brain and gut health.

This means that the good and bad bacteria in the gut affect mental health.

Some vitamins and antioxidants have been found to be of help and so has probiotics.


To exercise is also very important. This can be done in the form of aerobic exercise. Engaging in regular exercise can also help to improve sleep.

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