What Is Complex PTSD?
As the name suggests, complex PTSD (C-PTSD) is a type of PTSD that occurs after experiencing repeated or sustained trauma. This includes, but is not limited to, childhood abuse, neglect, bullying, and war-related trauma. Symptoms of complex PTSD can vary from person to person. However, they often include anxiety, depression, fear, grief, nightmares, and flashbacks. Other symptoms may include difficulty trusting others, controlling emotions, and low self-esteem.
How Common Is It?
C-PTSD research is new, but a 2019 study indicated that the prevalence rates for C-PTSD and PTSD are 7.2%. Together, it seems that childhood interpersonal trauma is highly associated with Complex PTSD:
- Approximately 3.8% of people suffer from C-PTSD and 3.4% from PTSD.
- Women display symptoms of PTSD and C-PTSD at a rate double that of men.
- Childhood sexual and physical abuse a caregiver commits are closely linked to C-PTSD. In contrast, childhood sexual assault carried out by someone who wasn’t a caretaker is more likely to result in PTSD.
- Of all substantiated child abuse cases, 78% of children were victimized by a parent.
C-PTSD vs. PTSD
Whereas PTSD may develop after a single traumatic event, C-PTSD is commonly associated with prolonged or repeated traumas. There are three primary symptoms of PTSD:
- Re-experiencing the trauma physically and emotionally.
- Avoiding situations that would remind you of the trauma
- A constant sense of threat, exaggerated startle response, and hyper-vigilance mark anxiety.
Individuals with complex PTSD often experience the typical symptoms of PTSD but to a more severe degree. They may also have difficulty regulating their emotions, suffer from negative self-thoughts, and find it hard to maintain healthy relationships. These additional symptoms show how long-term and repeated trauma can affect someone’s life in many ways.
Complex PTSD Symptoms
C-PTSD symptoms are commonly misinterpreted as other psychological disorders or “bad behavior.” But in reality, these symptoms are just ways people suffering from trauma have learned to cope with their pain. Some complex PTSD symptoms include:
- Difficulty controlling emotions and impulsive behavior
- Negative thoughts about oneself and the world
- Altered beliefs or expectations of relationships, such as difficulty trusting others
- Self-destructive behavior, such as substance abuse and self-harming
- Feelings of detachment from one’s body
- Difficulty regulating one’s emotions
- Physical tension, chronic pain, and fatigue
- Intense feelings of guilt or shame
- Frequent nightmares and flashbacks
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s imperative that you seek help. A mental health professional can provide support and guidance as you work through your trauma and move toward healing.
What Causes Complex PTSD?
Complex PTSD is caused by prolonged or repeated trauma. This can include ongoing physical, sexual, or psychological abuse; neglect; bullying; and war-related trauma. It’s also important to note that witnessing violence or having close relationships with people who have experienced trauma can result in C-PTSD symptoms.
Risk Factors for Complex PTSD
The severity of complex PTSD depends on certain risk factors. For example, some of the most significant risk factors for developing PTSD include:
- The frequency, intensity, and duration of the trauma
- Poor treatment received by professionals, and caregivers before, during, and after the trauma
- Limited access to mental health care
- Using negative coping skills
- A lack of social support
- Continued exposure to trauma
The Impact of Complex PTSD
Complex PTSD can devastate an individual’s mental and physical health. People who suffer from C-PTSD often feel isolated, hopeless, and helpless. They may be unable to control their emotions or trust others, making it difficult to form meaningful relationships with friends and family.
However, with the right therapist, you will be able to form the relationships you are longing for and deal with your emotions in a way that feels comfortable to you.
How Is Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Diagnosed?
When people suffer from trauma, they often experience long-term mental and emotional recovery difficulties. One of the most serious of these is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or C-PTSD, which happens when someone experiences multiple traumas over time.
While difficult to diagnose due to its overlap with other conditions, such as depression and PTSD, some key indicators can help identify it. Medical professionals need to look for ongoing symptoms that have been present for at least three months, such as:
- feeling emotionally overwhelmed
- difficulty managing one’s feelings or thoughts
- feelings of extreme guilt or shame
Additional criteria such as impulsivity, avoiding thoughts and situations related to trauma, and frequent nightmares are also considered.
Ultimately, diagnosing C-PTSD requires a careful assessment by a knowledgeable specialist with the training and experience necessary to make a proper diagnosis. Understanding how C-PTSD is diagnosed can ensure that those struggling with this condition get the support and treatment they need to heal and reclaim their lives.
Complex PTSD Therapy and Treatment
Therapy allows for healing deep wounds through a specific and safe relationship with the professional. Currently, the recommended treatment for Complex PTSD is seeking professional help from a licensed mental health professional. A licensed therapist should do treatment with specific training in treating traumatic stress.
Below are some of the types of therapies used to treat C-PTSD:
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT):
This therapy allows individuals to learn how to express their emotions while being mindful and nonjudgmental.
This form of cognitive-behavioral therapy gradually exposes an individual to the trauma they experienced to help them process it in a safe environment.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR):
This therapy helps individuals process difficult memories without experiencing the intense emotion that comes with re-experiencing them.
Mindfulness-based practices help people become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and body responses to regulate emotions and cope with difficult experiences.
It is important to note that each person’s experience with trauma is different, and it may take time before an individual finds the right treatment for them. Working with a mental health professional can help individuals to find the best approach for their healing journey.
Complex PTSD can be difficult to cope with, but it is possible to recover and reclaim one’s life. With the right support and treatment, individuals can find ways to manage their symptoms and learn how to live healthier and more fulfilling lives.
Where to Get Help for Complex PTSD Therapy
Here at The Better You Institute, we specialize in helping individuals with Complex PTSD to learn how to manage their symptoms and reclaim their lives. Our team of experienced mental health professionals are committed to providing each individual with the support, guidance, and resources necessary for effective healing and recovery.
If you or someone you know is struggling with C-PTSD, please get in touch with us today for help. We are here to provide the care and support necessary for individuals to begin their healing journey.