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Knowing the signs and the symptoms is a key to staying vigilant about your mental health. When most people think about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, combat veterans come to mind. While this is a common demographic of individuals impacted by PTSD, it is not the only one.


Do you have Complex PTSD (C-PTSD)



Those who have gone through physical violence, car accidents, or even natural disasters can also face the impacts of PTSD.


What is The Difference Between PTSD and C-PTSD?


The C stands for Complex, and that is how the diagnosis differs. This is a fairly new classification, but it is one that can explain why certain survivors of trauma might experience PTSD for longer amounts of time.


Both disorders arise due to experiencing a traumatic event, one that causes flashbacks and distress in the survivor’s present life. The main difference between the two is the length of exposure to the trauma. Normally, PTSD stems from a short-lived incident, or one that is over and has served its limited course. Complex PTSD manifests when the trauma is ongoing, chronic. To a victim, it often feels as though it will never end. Some examples of this level of trauma include: human trafficking, domestic violence, being held captive, and living in warzone conditions.









It is a defense mechanism that the body takes on to deal with stress. Suffering from C-PTSD can often feel like a trap due to the length of time that it persists. In turn, this can impact a person’s ability to cope mentally. 


What Are the Symptoms?


As stated, it is important to know what symptoms to look out for. Having awareness is a great step to knowing how to treat them. If you, or someone you know, is potentially suffering with C-PTSD, these are some of the most common ways that it presents itself:


  • Flashbacks/nightmares of the traumatic event

  • Being avoidant of situations too closely related to the event

  • Nausea/dizziness

  • Negative world view

  • Easily startled by loud noises

  • Heightened state of awareness

  • Loss of self-trust and trust in others

  • A feeling of chronic anxiety

  • Lack of ability to sleep or concentrate


While it is important to realize that you should never self-diagnose, it is also relevant to be aware of these symptoms. Mental health usually takes a back burner in a busy life, but disorders like C-PTSD can be perisiting in the background. It is a disorder that brings hardship to people, often getting in the way of completing daily tasks, and even maintaining healthy relationships. Since many people are still under the impression that any form of PTSD manifests only from fighting in a war, they will often suffer in silence.


Who is At Risk?


Anyone, any age, can suffer from C-PTSD. It is not a guarantee that those who have suffered from ongoing abuse will develop the disorder, but it does present a more likely chance of occuring. For example, child abuse and non-consensual sex work can lead to this type of prolonged trauma.


Why Does C-PTSD Exist?


Since C-PTSD is chronic, it is most common that it impacts those who have gone through trauma since childhood. In rare cases, it can begin in adulthood, but it normally starts earlier in life. Because this is more common in children, however, it truly showcases how fragile the developing brain is. Childhood is meant to be a time of learning and discovery, one where curiosity should be encouraged. When a severe case of trauma occurs during this time, this can change the course of neurological development.


As an adult, you are equipped with the life experience and tools necessary to better cope with trauma. But as a child, there is little to no room for separation between one and one’s actions. This way of thinking can create a tangled web of feelings that cannot be processed in a healthy way. It might even cause a sense of fault attached; the child might believe that he/she is the reason why the bad thing happened.


Imaginably, this way of growing up can create magnified amounts of stress on a person. Through time, this can build up and ultimately lead to the symptoms that are recognized above. Remember, C-PTSD is a prolonged condition with no set path. It might disappear for a few years, only to return as the brain begins to develop and mature.


How Draining is C-PTSD?


For someone suffering with C-PTSD, some tasks can feel monumental. For example, having a grasp on self-perception. To an average person, it is generally easy to accept thoughts and feelings for what they are. There is a certain stigma, or shame, that can come attached to C-PTSD. Some victims might also feel reduced to their trauma or what they have been through. What they see compared to what outside viewers see can differ, and this is another way for mental perception to become skewed.


Another issue that might begin to arise is dissociation. When someone is dissociating, they are usually removing themselves from a situation that can feel uneasy or uncertain. These small breaks in consciousness can become scary and make a person feel confused. There might even be large lapses in time for the individual when they are trying to block out certain triggers or memories that take them back to their trauma.


Because it can be so hard to get a grasp on self realization, it might also become difficult to form meaningful relationships with other people. This can apply to romantic situations as well as bonds with family and friends. Isolation is another defense mechanism that someone who is suffering from C-PTSD might think that they need in order to feel safe. On the other hand, this person might start to gravitate towards others who are not going to treat them well, mimicking ways that they have been treated in the past.


It is not uncommon that a victim’s perception of the person(s)/situation who did them wrong can also become skewed. This is a very hard and confusing thing to accept, and can also cause plenty of confusion and anger to arise. In some cases, the victim might even feel urges to protect their abuser and want to defend or excuse certain behaviors that have been done to them. This is also known as “victim blaming,” suggesting that these bad things have happened due to their own actions.


How Do You Seek Help?


Asking for help is never an easy task, this ringing especially true regarding mental health. When left untreated, there is a risk that other disorders could arise. It is important to remember that you are not alone; millions of people around the world suffer from C-PTSD from various traumatic events experienced.


Reaching out to someone is a good starting point, whether it is a professional or a person that is trustworthy. From there, you can ask this person to help you create a plan of action. A medical professional is going to be the one to officially diagnose you, but it is not wrong to note the symptoms that you feel you are experiencing and what you think might be the cause.


Medication can be prescribed to deal with the anxiety and depression that often arises. This, along with regular therapy sessions

Call Dr. Clare Albright, Psy.D., CA Psychologist License PSY11660 at (949) 454-0996 at

Army Soldiers
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