What is Complex PTSD? Symptoms, Causes, Treatment 

Complex PTSD is the aggravated form of post-traumatic stress disorder. Today, we’ll discuss what is complex PTSD; its symptoms, causes, and treatment.

What is Complex PTSD? 

C-PTSD or Complex PTSD is a condition of anxiety comprised of many similar symptoms to PT.SD along with exhibiting other types of symptoms. Various traumatic events cause the development of post-traumatic SD like abuse, the act of violence, isolation, near-death experiences, natural disasters, and car accidents. Psychologists first identified this condition among war veterans.

When a person goes through the traumatic experience continuously and repetitively; then psychologists distinctly categorize this condition as complex PTSD different from one-time post-traumatic SD. DSM-5 (5th edition of the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental health disorder) has not included the C-post traumatic SD as a distinct condition. But it was there in the DSM in the 1980s.

PTSD versus Complex PTSD

Both C-post traumatic SD and PTSD happens due to intense traumatic experience, and they cause insomnia, nightmares, and flashbacks. But traumatic conditions would make you feel highly fearful even if the dangerous event has gone. Despite having a lot of similarities between the two traumatic conditions, many experts consider them separate and different conditions.

The key differentiating factor between two traumatic conditions is the recurrence of the traumatic event. When a person goes through a traumatic event one time, then it is post-traumatic SD. However, when a person has to go through the traumatic event repetitively for months, then it is complex trauma. You could develop this condition at any age, but it happens due the childhood trauma.

The development of complicated trauma in childhood is far more severe and dangerous than a single traumatic event. That’s why many researchers consider that the diagnostic criteria of post-traumatic conditions don’t explain the long last and wide range of consequences of the complicated post-traumatic condition.

Symptoms of Complex PTSD

Along with the symptoms of hyperarousal, avoidance, and re-experiencing; some of the other symptoms of complex PTSD are as follows;

Losing System of Meaning

It comprises of losing your core belief system, religious faith, optimistic views about the world and its people, and values.

Detaching from Trauma

They would depersonalize and disconnect themselves from the world around them like a state of derealization. Some of them would even forget about their traumatic experiences.

Difficulty in Relationship

Due to the negative perception of themselves, they have difficulty trusting others and developing and maintaining relationships. People with the c-post-traumatic condition would engage in unhealthy relationships and ignore developing new ones because that’s what they know and have been through in the past.

Negative Self Perception

The C-post traumatic condition would make people perceive themselves highly negative; and they would feel ashamed, embarrassed, guilty, and helpless. Often, they consider themselves highly different from others.

Trouble in Controlling Emotions

It’s a common experience for people with c-post-traumatic conditions to lose control over their feelings and emotions. It results in the form of suicidal thoughts, depression, persistent sadness, and explosive anger.

The symptoms would change your life to a great extent, and cause a lot of impairment in your occupational, educational, social, family, personal, and other fields of life.

Causes of Complex PTSD 

The C-post traumatic condition happens mainly due to continuous and repetitive abuse over a period of time. The abuse and traumatic events happen when you’re at a vulnerable position in your life like adolescence and childhood, and it causes a lot of challenges in your life.

The stress caused by trauma would have a significant impact on your brain. Many research studies have shown that trauma has got a lot of association with various areas of your brain like the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala. Some of the main events that would cause the development of c-post-traumatic condition are as follows;

  • Slavery
  • Torture
  • Childhood soldiering
  • Genocide
  • Domestic violence
  • Abandonment
  • Neglect and childhood abuse

These are such traumatic events when the victim is under the control and supervision of abusers and can’t leave the situation and place easily.

Treatment of Complex PTSD

Since complex PTSD doesn’t fall under the diagnostic criteria of DSM-5, and that’s why it doesn’t have any separate diagnostic criteria. Despite the severity of the condition, researchers follow the same treatment for c-post-traumatic conditions as for post traumatic disorder.


The focus of therapeutic treatment is to recognize the negative and destructive thought patterns and negative memories; replace them with positive and realistic ones. It helps you to manage the impact of the traumatic memories.

EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing)is one of the main types of therapeutic treatment that would help you to deal with the c-post-traumatic condition. Your therapist would follow eye movement therapy to reframe and process your traumatic memories. It helps you to lower the negative feelings relevant to the traumatic event.


Medicines would help you to lower the symptoms of depression and anxiety along with the therapeutic treatment. When you combine both strategies medicines and therapy, then it amplifies the results. Some of the main antidepressants that your doctor would suggest are as follows;

  • Sertraline
  • Paroxetine
  • Fluoxetine

Conclusion: What is Complex PTSD? Symptoms, Causes, Treatment 

After an in-depth study of what is complex PTSD; its symptoms, causes, and treatment; we have realized that traumatic events and memories could disturb your life to a great extent. If you’re experiencing its symptoms, then you should consult with the therapist and follow the treatment plan.