Most people have come across the term PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), a mental health disorder that develops after a person experiences a deeply traumatizing event, but very few are aware of its more complex sibling, complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). While both PTSD and C-PTSD are caused by trauma, C-PTSD is often more severe and can be harder to diagnose and treat.
As the name suggests C-PTSD is a more complex form of post-traumatic stress disorder that mainly affects individuals who have experienced prolonged, repeated trauma. This can include but is not limited to, domestic violence, childhood abuse and neglect, war, or hostage situations.
While PTSD can be debilitating and disruptive to a person’s life, C-PTSD symptoms are even more pronounced and debilitating and can lead to severe impairment. Symptoms of C-PTSD may include:
- Feelings of guilt, shame, or worthlessness
- Difficulty regulating emotions
- Problems with trust and relationships
- Avoidance of certain places or situations related to the trauma
- Intrusive thoughts or memories of the traumatic event(s)
- Difficulty regulating emotions and experiencing intense or prolonged feelings of sadness, anxiety, or anger
- Difficulty trusting others or forming close relationships
- Difficulty regulating emotions or controlling impulsive behaviors
- A tendency to dissociate or disconnect from one’s thoughts, feelings, or surroundings
- Difficulty with memory, concentration, or decision-making
- Chronic physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach pain, or sleep problems
- Low self-esteem and negative self-image
- A pervasive sense of hopelessness or despair
- Suicidal ideations or thoughts of self-harm
C-PTSD can also have long-term physical effects, such as chronic pain, fatigue, gastrointestinal issues, headaches, and sleep problems.
How C-PTSD Differs from PTSD
Duration of Trauma
One of the main differences between C-PTSD and PTSD is the duration of the traumatic event. C-PTSD occurs following repeated trauma, whereas PTSD may develop after a single traumatic event.
Type of Trauma
C-PTSD is often the result of ongoing interpersonal trauma, such as childhood neglect or domestic abuse, whereas PTSD may be caused by any form of traumatic experience, including natural disasters, accidents, and military combat.
Severity of Symptoms
Complex PTSD is generally considered a more severe form of PTSD, with more intense and long-lasting symptoms. This could be a result of the prolonged and repetitive nature of the trauma.
Prevalence of C-PTSD
C-PTSD is a relatively new diagnosis, and there is limited research on the prevalence of the disorder. However, it is estimated that C-PTSD affects a significant proportion of individuals who have experienced prolonged, repeated trauma. On the other hand, nearly 7.7 million adults in the US have PTSD, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
Treatment for C-PTSD
Due to the complex nature of C-PTSD, more intensive, longer-term treatments are often necessary compared to PTSD. Treatment may include a combination of psychotherapy (such as cognitive behavioral therapy), medication, and self-help strategies. In some cases, non-conventional treatments such as ketamine infusion therapy may also be helpful for those with C-PTSD.
The Bottom Line
As we have seen, C-PTSD is a devastating and often underdiagnosed condition that can have long-lasting effects on an individual’s overall well-being. But with proper treatment and care, it is possible to manage symptoms of C-PTSD and lead a fulfilling life.