Complex PTSD – PTSD Becomes Complex

What is Complex PTSD?

A paper head taped back together representing Complex post traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD)

Many people are familiar with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and how it is cultivated by a traumatic event that occurred in one’s life. From witnessing an abuse, an unexpected car accident, to an event that had happened during wartime, all can trigger PTSD and require professional support to help levitate the underlying symptoms. But what is not as familiarised in society, but gaining recognition as a viable diagnosis amongst professionals is what is called CPTSD (Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Complex PTSD is similar to traditional PTSD but differs in such a way as to how it formulates. For someone to be diagnosed with Complex PTSD, they would have been suffering from related trauma over the course of months or even years, rather than a single event. For example, someone who was abused as a child repeatedly can suffer from Complex PTSD. They may feel traumatised from their constant abuse, which can result in long-term feelings of guilt, shame, difficulty controlling their emotions, to perhaps partaking in destructive behaviours such as self-harm or drugs. This is in addition to often feeling disassociated and depersonalised from the world and those around them.

Symptom Differences

To give you some more clarity on how a doctor or professional can distinguish between PTSD and CPTSD, here are the signs of both for you to review. It is often believed that CPTSD symptoms are in addition to the already existing PTSD symptoms.


  • Often reliving the traumatic experience, such as through nightmares and flashbacks
  • Avoiding certain situations and activities that induce fear
  • Changes in beliefs and feelings about themselves and others
  • They are hyperaroused, meaning they are always on high alert


  • Lack of emotional regulation and may have uncontrollable feelings
  • Changes in consciousness and dissociation
  • Adverse self-perception
  • Has a hard time maintaining healthy relationships
  • Has a distorted perception of their trauma
  • Loss of systems of meanings, such as loss of faith and view the world/life as meaningless

A table showing the symptoms of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder

What Causes Complex PTSD?

Though it is known, as mentioned above, that CPTSD is caused by repeated trauma, such as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect, or even being a prisoner of war, researchers are still trying to nail down the reason why there are cognitive changes after traumatic stress. On animals, stress has been shown to leave lasting amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex effects, which indicates why humans may respond in these symptomatic ways after stressful situations.

Side Note: Though CPTSD can happen to anyone who has been exposed to long-term trauma, it is more often seen in people who were abused by someone they thought they could trust, such as a caregiver or protector.

How is Complex PTSD Diagnosed?

Since CPTSD is still a relatively new condition and term, some doctors may not even be aware of its existence yet, which makes it hard for people suffering to get an official diagnosis. Since there is no specific test to determine whether you have CPTSD or PTSD, the best route that professionals can take is to have you write down your symptoms and log it diligently. By tracking your feelings, thoughts, and actions, you, your doctor, and the help of a counsellor or psychologist can determine if you have CPTSD or not based on the evidence.

How Complex PTSD Treated?

Once you have been formally diagnosed, the next step is to get the ideal treatment plan to get you back to a better, healthier state of mind and well-being. One of the most effective is Psychotherapy. Here you and your psychologist will use targeted methods such as EMDR, CBT, and dialectical behavioural therapy to manage your stress responses better and build stronger relationships with others. Overall, they may give you medications, work with you on growing positive thought patterns, and teach you to identify negative feelings so you can better control them.


On the surface, when discussing PTSD and Complex PTSD, they may sound like the same thing. Both are caused by traumas that cause disturbances in daily life and happiness, and both require professional assistance. However, upon diving into the details and the symptoms, they each are unique.  The fact that Complex PTSD results from a long-term trauma, such as abuse, that manifests internally and reshapes a person’s entire view on life is what makes it its own diverse diagnosis.

Since many doctors are still unaware of this rising category, it might be hard for them to figure out what exactly you are suffering from. If you feel like you have CPTSD, bring it up to your doctor, and either discuss the next steps with them or seek out a respected psychologist to get on the best path to live a better-quality life.


Quest Psychology Services are specialists in providing psychology and counselling for people with PTSD and CPTSD within Salford, Manchester. To discuss getting help yourself call us on 07932737335

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