CPTSD - What is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?


Most of us of heard of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder where someone experiences certain symptoms after going through trauma such as being attacked, having a car accident or experiencing natural disaster.

The person would respond naturally to this incident with fear and sadness by trying to avoid situations that remind them of the trauma. It is likely also they would be experiencing some other symptoms like nightmares, flashbacks, playing the incident over and over in their minds etc.

There is however, another type of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder called Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, CPTSD which is more serious that PTSD. Here, you as the child or adult would have been exposed to long-term physical and emotional trauma rather than a single incident like it can be with PTSD.

CPTSD also mainly happens in a relationship where there is that potential imbalance and one person naturally, or has forced their way to have more power and control over the other. This could be when people are imprisoned and tortured, or they could have been in a domestic abusive relationship etc. 

When it comes to children, there is that natural power imbalance where as parents we need look after our children to take care of them. Children are naturally vulnerable where they need their parents to take care of them. 

CPTSD happens when a child is brought up in an environment where they don’t feel safe and they have little or no support to help them through what they are experiencing. This could emotional, physical, spiritual or sexual abuse. 

As a result of this trauma, with CPTSD the trauma is ongoing to the extent the child doesn’t believe there is a way out for them. They would have taken on behavioural changes, beliefs and values to protect themselves, to cope with what they were going through. This helped them to survive what they were experiencing. 

As adults, they child may start to experience some of the following difficulties:

  • Managing emotions: i.e. constant sadness, suicidal ideation, explosive anger, or suppressing anger.
  • They could also have lapses in memory over what happened or the could be constantly reliving in their minds what happened to them. 
  • Have episodes where they feel detached from themselves emotionally. They find they don’t laugh too much, don’t cry,  or just don’t feel much at all.
  • It could affect how, and this is a main one as well, they perceive themselves. Having low self worth, no confidence and low self esteem. 
  • They would feel so much shame at times that it is Toxic. With healthy shame, when you make a mistake, you see it as a mistake and you can move on with your life. When you experience toxic shame, you feel so ashamed when you make mistake that you think so badly of yourself.
  • You can also believe that the perpetrator has a lot of power over you or you may be preoccupied with revenge.  
  • It can also affect your relationship with other people where you find it difficult to trust others, you find it hard to set boundaries, or you need to control your relationships.
  • In addition to the above,  you could experience mental health issues such as Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Addictions, Dissociative disorder and some personality disorders.

As an example, someone who is an avid people pleaser where they would really try so hard to placate people and to not let situations get out of hand. As a child they might have frantically tried to please their parents. To tread on eggshells not to upset them. If you grow up doing that as adult, you would be feeling exhausted and completely by now, trying to make everyone happy. 

That’s an impossible job. 

I am a Therapist based in Sutton Coldfield, UK also available online.

Call for a free 15 minute no obligation consultation to talk about your next steps.

Also, don’t forget to follow me for information, self care tips and coping strategies for your healing journey: 


Similar Posts