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What is Complex PTSD (C-PTSD)?

Written on August 25, 2022
What is Complex PTSD (C-PTSD)?

Complex PTSD (Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or C-PTSD) is  a mental health condition caused by prolonged traumatic events, usually at a young age when the brain is still developing.

When someone experiences a traumatic event, their sympathetic nervous system experiences a fight, flight or freeze response. This is an evolutionary response that shuts down all nonessential brain functions and releases stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. In times of life threatening situations, this can be incredibly useful. However, continued exposure to stressing situations can create trauma. 

PTSD forms when people continue to relive or experience traumatic events. Although there is a significant amount of overlap between PTSD and complex PTSD, complex PTSD refers to people who are repeatedly exposed to traumatic events for a prolonged period of time such as months or years, particularly at a young age when the brain is still developing. Because of this, C-PTSD can affect a person’s core sense of themselves.

What are the Symptoms of Complex PTSD?

Some of the most common symptoms of complex PTSD include:

  • Frequent flashbacks
  • Increased arousal
  • Lapses in memory
  • Dissociation from reality
  • Low self-esteem
  • Avoiding people or places that you find triggering
  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Loss of interpersonal relationships

Lastly, complex PTSD is commonly marked by somatic symptoms such as stomach problems or headaches. This arises because the body is under chronic stress, which lowers the immune system and leads to an array of health conditions.

Because C-PTSD is an incredibly painful experience, many if its sufferers turn to substance abuse, disordered eating, self-harm, or process addiction to cope with a condition that has ravaged their lives.

How To Treat Complex PTSD

Treating any form of PTSD can be tricky. What works for one person may not work for another. Fortunately, there are several evidenced based treatment approaches that are known to help. Below are a few of the best known forms of therapy to help address complex PTSD.

Therapies that target the trauma directly include EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), Brainspotting, and Somatic Experiencing, and Trauma-Informed Art Therapy, among others. EMDR has been shone to be particularly helpful. This therapeutic approach uses bilateral stimulation while reliving one’s traumatic experiences through thoughts, emotions or other sensations that would help recreate the experiences.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focus on people’s thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Its goal is to help retrain the individual’s way of thinking so they behave or react in a more mindful manner, which may help with symptoms such as depression and insomnia.

DBT or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy helps people overcome conflicting thoughts, emotions or ideologies. When someone lives in a state of hyperarousal, they tend to see the world with a narrow minded perspective. DBT seeks to provide skills in healthy communication, mindfulness, distress tolerance and emotional regulation. People struggling with complex PTSD often need these skills to overcome the emotional distress caused by their trauma.

If you or someone you love is struggling with trauma and addiction, our team is here to help. Contact us today to learn more about our program and approach to complex PTSD.