Symptoms and Treatment for Complex Ptsd

Symptoms and Treatment for Complex Ptsd


A variety of stressful events, such as a car accident, natural disaster, a near-death incident, or other solitary acts of violence or abuse, can result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a syndrome that was initially found to affect combat veterans. Yet, when the underlying trauma is persistent and recurrent, some mental health professionals make a distinction between PTSD and its more severe sibling, complex PTSD (C-PTSD).

Since it was initially mentioned in the late 1980s, complex PTSD has drawn more attention. However, it is important to highlight that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the instrument used by mental health practitioners to diagnose mental health issues, does not recognize it as a separate condition.


Re-experiencing, avoidance, and hyperarousal are all hallmarks of PTSD, and C-PTSD symptoms typically additionally include:

  • Inability to regulate one's emotions. A person with C-PTSD frequently loses control of their emotions, which can lead to violent anger, protracted despair, melancholy, and suicidal thoughts.
  • Negative self-perception C-PTSD can make a person have a bad opinion of oneself.
  • They could experience helplessness, remorse, or shame.
  • They frequently get the impression that they are totally unique from everyone else.
  • Having relational issues. Relationships may suffer as a result of issues with trusting others and having a poor opinion of oneself. Because of what they experienced in the past, a person with C-PTSD may avoid relationships or enter into harmful ones.
  • Separation from the traumatic event. Depersonalization is the separation of oneself from one's environment (derealization). Some people may even lose the memory of their ordeal.

  • Loss of a value system. Losing one's fundamental convictions, morals, religious faith, or optimism for the future of humanity can fall under this category.

All of these symptoms have the potential to drastically affect one's quality of life and seriously impact crucial aspects of one's personal, familial, social, academic, occupational, or other areas of life.

Identifying C-PTSD

Even though the idea of C-PTSD has been around for a while, the American Psychiatric Association does not formally acknowledge it because it is not included in the fifth edition of the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM-5) (APA).

Despite having distinct symptoms of its own, some people feel that C-PTSD is too similar to PTSD (and other trauma-related diseases) to be given a separate diagnosis. DSM-5 combines PTSD and C-PTSD symptoms as a result.


Due to the fact that some of the distinctive traits displayed by people who have undergone repetitive trauma are not fully captured by typical PTSD symptoms, many mental health specialists do identify C-PTSD as a different illness.

In the 11th version of the "International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems," the World Health Organization (WHO) decided to classify C-PTSD as a separate diagnosis (ICD-11).

Doctors may diagnose patients with PTSD rather than complex PTSD because the disorder is still relatively new and isn't listed in the DSM-5. You should keep track of your symptoms so that you can describe them to your doctor because there is no specific test to distinguish between PTSD and C-PTSD.

These two diseases are treated similarly, but you might want to talk to your doctor or therapist about some of the other complex trauma symptoms you are experiencing.

C-PTSD and borderline personality disorder can both exhibit the same signs and symptoms (BPD). Even if trauma isn't always the cause of BPD, it frequently is. In fact, to acknowledge the connection to trauma, promote a better understanding of BPD, and help people with BPD suffer less stigma, several academics and psychologists advocate for placing BPD under the heading of C-PTSD in the next editions of the DSM.

Causes of C-PTSD

C-PTSD is thought to result from severe, persistent abuse over an extended length of time. Abuse frequently takes place during a person's most vulnerable years, like early childhood or adolescence, and it can lead to life difficulties.

There are many ways that traumatic stress can affect the brain. According to research, trauma is linked to long-lasting alterations in the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex, three important parts of the brain.

The following long-term traumatic event categories can result in C-PTSD:


  • Abuse, neglect, or abandonment of children
  • Domestic Abuse
  • Genocide
  • Childhood enlistment
  • Torture
  • Slavery

In situations like this, the victim is powerless to escape since they are under the authority of another individual.

Therapy for C-PTSD

Due to the lack of precise diagnostic criteria for C-PTSD in the DSM-5, it is possible to receive a PTSD diagnosis despite the fact that C-PTSD may be a more accurate description of your symptoms. Despite the disorder's complexity and severity, C-PTSD can be treated using many of the same methods as PTSD, such as:


Medication can help with C-PTSD symptoms like anxiety and despair. They are particularly beneficial when used with psychotherapy. Complex PTSD is frequently treated with antidepressants, such as Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), and Zoloft (sertraline).



The goal of psychotherapy for C-PTSD is to identify traumatic memories and negative thought patterns, swap them out for more realistic and empowering ones, and develop more adaptive coping mechanisms for the effects of your trauma.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a method of psychotherapy that can be used to treat both PTSD and complicated PTSD (EMDR). This method processes and reframes traumatic memories using eye movements that are led by the therapist. This procedure is designed to lessen the unpleasant emotions connected to the traumatic experience over time.


Managing C-PTSD

Treatments for complex PTSD can be lengthy, so it's critical to learn coping mechanisms for the symptoms of the disease.

Find support: Complex PTSD frequently causes people to isolate themselves from friends and family, similar to PTSD. However, it is crucial for mental health to have a robust social support system. Reach out to a dependable friend or member of your family when you are feeling stressed, angry, frightened, or afraid.

Become more mindful: Complex PTSD may result in tension, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. You can fight off emotions of distress by practicing mindfulness, which can help you become more conscious of what you are feeling right now. This exercise involves learning how to concentrate on the present.

Create a list of your ideas: According to research, keeping a journal can help with PTSD symptoms management and reduce flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and nightmares.

A notebook can be a helpful tool for keeping track of symptoms during therapy that you can later share with your therapist.

It's critical to seek treatment from a therapist who is experienced with treating PTSD if you or someone you care about has experienced recurrent trauma and is having trouble coping.

There are numerous trained and top-of-the-field therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists with PTSD as their Area of Expertise at TalktoAngel. Reach Out Today!

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Contributed by: Dr. (Prof) R.K Suri Clinical Psychologist & Life Coach and Ms. Varshini Nayyar, Psychologist