What is Complex PTSD?
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) is a condition that can develop after experiencing repeated or prolonged traumatic events, such as physical or emotional abuse, neglect, or violence. It is considered a subtype of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but with additional symptoms that are related to prolonged and repeated trauma. While C-PTSD is not currently recognized as a separate diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), but is often used as a clinical concept to describe the more complex symptoms experienced by individuals who have experienced ongoing trauma over an extended period of time.
What are Its Symptoms?
Some of the common symptoms of C-PTSD include:
Emotional Dysregulation: This refers to difficulty regulating emotions, which may result in intense and unstable emotions, such as anger, sadness, or anxiety.
Difficulty Trusting Others: People with C-PTSD may have difficulty forming and maintaining relationships, and may be suspicious of others’ intentions.
Negative Self-image: They may have a distorted sense of self, and feel guilty, ashamed, or responsible for the trauma they experienced.
Feeling Trapped: They may feel as if they are still in the traumatic situation and unable to escape, even if the traumatic event is no longer occurring.
Dissociation: This refers to feeling disconnected from oneself, one’s surroundings, or one’s memories, which can manifest as feeling numb or disconnected from emotions.
Hypervigilance: This is an ongoing sense of being on high alert for potential danger, even when there is no immediate threat.
Avoidance: People with C-PTSD may avoid people, places, or things that remind them of the traumatic event, which can interfere with daily life and relationships.
Interpersonal Difficulties: They may have difficulty maintaining relationships or may struggle with feelings of detachment or distance from others.
What Causes C-PTSD?
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) is typically caused by repeated and prolonged exposure to traumatic events or experiences, often in childhood or over an extended period of time. These experiences are typically extreme and involve a loss of control, feelings of helplessness, and a threat to one’s life or sense of self.
Examples of traumatic experiences that can lead to C-PTSD include childhood abuse or neglect, domestic violence, ongoing exposure to war or conflict, captivity or imprisonment, and long-term human trafficking or exploitation. The chronic nature of these experiences can lead to changes in the brain and the body’s stress response system, which can contribute to the development of C-PTSD.
How to Treat C-PTSD?
The treatment for complex PTSD may involve a combination of therapies, such as:
Psychotherapy: This type of therapy is often used to treat complex PTSD, and can include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).
Medications: Certain medications may be prescribed to help manage symptoms of complex PTSD, such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and sleep aids.
Self-help Techniques: People with complex PTSD can benefit from developing self-help techniques to manage their symptoms. These can include mindfulness, relaxation techniques, and exercise.
Support Groups: Joining a support group can help people with complex PTSD connect with others who are going through similar experiences, providing a sense of community and understanding.
Lifestyle Changes: Making healthy lifestyle changes, such as reducing alcohol and caffeine consumption, getting regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy diet, can also be beneficial for managing complex PTSD symptoms.
It’s important to note that the treatment for complex PTSD is often a long-term process and requires patience and commitment. A mental health professional can work with individuals to develop a personalized treatment plan based on their specific needs and circumstances.