Complex PTSD (C-PTSD)
Complex PTSD has many of the same symptoms as PTSD, including panic attacks, depressive episodes, relationship conflicts, mood dysregulation, and somatic symptoms like headaches or excessive sweating. People with C-PTSD may also detach or disengage from situations, including dissociation. They may have deep-seated trust issues or have a hard time asking for help.
This is because they had to endure trauma repeatedly, rather than a one-time event. Knowing that abuse is likely to happen again impacts a person’s sense of safety, which can heavily impact their physical and emotional health. For children who experience repeated abuse, their development may become stunted or they may learn unhealthy patterns of relating to others. Adults who repeatedly experience or witness trauma might not be aware that they’re developing C-PTSD until their symptoms begin to impact their daily life.
It’s important that individuals with C-PTSD work with trauma-certified mental health professionals to reduce their symptoms.
Prevalence of Complex PTSD
One study found that the prevalence of C-PTSD was around 4% of the sample population, slightly higher than the prevalence of PTSD. This study noted that women were more likely to develop C-PTSD. The study also found that children who experienced traumatic events, especially abuse from a caretaker, were more likely to develop C-PTSD.
Symptoms of Complex PTSD
There are many challenging symptoms that come with C-PTSD. Many of the common symptoms of both PTSD and Complex PTSD include:
- Difficulties falling or staying asleep
- Nightmares and vivid dreams
- Unpredictable mood changes
- Irritability or loss of control over anger
- Intentional and unintentional isolation
- Always being on edgy or jumpy
- Avoiding reminds of the traumatic event, including places and people
- Panic attacks
- Self harm or thoughts of self harm
- Intrusive thoughts
People who develop C-PTSD may also find themselves with a fixed negative view of other people or the world at large – a product of being hurt over and over again. They may also have enduring negative self-talk, low self-worth, and overwhelming shame. There may be memory loss or an inability to remember things. Many individuals with C-PTSD have trouble going through their everyday routines without interruptions from their symptoms, which is why it’s vital to find a therapist to help.
Therapy for Complex PTSD
Therapists who specialize in treating PTSD and C-PTSD take a trauma-informed approach to working with clients. This means that they are highly intentional about creating a strong sense of safety in the session for clients and don’t push their clients to talk about anything if they aren’t ready. They also have a deep understanding of trauma responses, the impact that symptoms can have on everyday life and relationships, and the signs that someone is struggling and needs additional support.
These therapists are also trained in evidence-based therapy approaches that directly treat the client’s trauma, whether through verbally processing through painful memories, training the body to react less and less to stress, or releasing pent up fight-or-flight energy. Their goal is to help clients move forward after their trauma and to live comfortably.