What Is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

What is Complex PTSD?

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD) is a mood disorder that is triggered by long-term exposure to traumatic events. It is typical that victims with the disorder are being held captive against their will (either physically or emotionally), says the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs. Along with the classical PTSD symptoms, adults who have complex PTSD experience a wide range of other severe symptoms. These may include: difficulty regulating emotions, a skewed perception of the perpetrator, dissociation and other shifts in consciousness, altered self-perceptions, hopelessness, and difficulty relating to others. These adults may have suicidal ideations, a preoccupation with the thought of revenge, self-harm tendencies and outbursts of extreme anger. These people may relive their traumatic event or forget it altogether and they may feel shameful, guilty and different from others. An altered perception of their victimizer is common, and they may idealize their abuser, feel that they have a unique bond with him or her, attribute complete power and dominance to the perpetrator, and adopt his or her beliefs and views.

Who is at Risk for Complex PTSD?

Those who have experienced chronic trauma with no foreseeable end to their situation are the most likely to develop complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Specific situations that may lead to an individual having the disorder include events such as domestic violence. As well, childhood abuse, both sexual and non-sexual, may lead to complex PTSD in the future. Those who have been taken as prisoners of war, subjected to sex trafficking and forced into concentration camps may also be at risk for developing complex PTSD symptoms. Children who experienced severe, prolonged trauma may manifest symptoms of cPTSD, such as attachment issues, emotional regulation and expression troubles, behavioral control issues, attention difficulties, and negative self-concepts, notes the Psychiatric Annals. In addition, they may suffer from depersonalization, memory impairment, amnesia, a higher occurrence of medical problems and biological development issues. These symptoms are often brought on by mistreatment from a person with whom the child has a personal, caregiver-child relationship with.

Treatment for cPTSD

Due to the fact that complex post-traumatic stress disorder deeply affects a person’s perceptions (outward

what is cPTSD

what is cPTSD

and inward) and abilities related to emotional regulation, a cognitive-relational approach to treatment has been reported as the most optimal option. CPTSD.org notes that there are four stages involved in the process that is used to help patients manage their complex PTSD symptoms. These steps are as follows: assessment; stabilization and development of self-care skills; trauma processing and trauma integration; and adjustment to a new sense of self. The first stage includes diagnosis of the disorder, education about the cause and effects, and skill building to help individuals develop the tools needed to manage their symptoms. If need be, mood stabilizing medications may be prescribed, as well.  Stage two requires the individual to work through the trauma with a therapist; a patient’s perceptions and emotional responses are examined and reconstructed. During the third stage, an individual must accept the trauma and no longer suppress it. Stage three is pertinent to stage four, which exists so that once a person has accepted what has happened, they can integrate it into the sense of self. Integration of the traumatic event into a people’s overall self-image is useful because shame, guilt and repression can be avoided; once they realize that they can admit the role their former circumstances played in shaping them to become who they are, but continue to build the positive skills for moving past the event, self-acceptance becomes easier.

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder occurs in those that have had chronic exposure to situations in which they were the unwilling victims of some type of abuse (physical, emotional or mental). The condition causes a range of severe PTSD symptoms that make normal functioning difficult, such as low self-esteem, trouble regulating emotions, and difficulty relating to others. Children who have cPTSD experience unique symptoms that impede their biological development, in addition to their emotional and mental growth. Treatment of the disorder is a four step process and focuses on teaching the patients how to better understand their condition, acknowledge their experiences and build the skills necessary to manage their symptoms and lead healthy, functional lives.

In addition to the cognitive-relational approach to treatment, medication may also be necessary. A great option to consider in these circumstances is to enter into a Los Angeles clinical study to get access to free medication, as well as be compensated for participation. To learn more about Los Angeles clinical trials for PTSD or other forms of medical issues, contact the Pacific Institute of Medical Research, which is an independent clinical research site specializing in psychiatry since 1982. Visit us online or call us at (310) 208-7144.

  1. Christina Hetherington
    Christina HetheringtonJanuary 14,16

    Hi there, I was diagnosed with CPTSD in February and have no relief since. I would definitely benefit from learning some of the skills in gaining some of my freedom back, though I am currently in Vancover BC.

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