Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder


When we think of post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly referred to as PTSD, we tend to think of war-scarred veterans, grappling with recurring nightmares and auditory hallucinations. In reality, PTSD can affect almost anyone – it can stem from any number of traumatic events, and result in any number of symptoms. Some cases of PTSD are severe, and some are relatively unobtrusive. Some individuals may develop post-traumatic stress disorders during childhood as the result of repeated abuse or neglect, while others may develop the disorder as the result of a traumatic car accident or house fire. When post-traumatic stress stems from repetitive, prolonged trauma during childhood, it is referred to as C-PTSD, or complex trauma disorder.

What is C-PTSD?

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder involves harm or abandonment by a primary caregiver, or another interpersonal relationship with an uneven and damaging power dynamic. This specific stress-related disorder is associated with emotional, physical, or sexual abuse during childhood, prisoners of war, victims of kidnappings or hostage situations, intimate partner violence, and defectors of cult-like communities or organizations. Some more common symptoms of C-PTSD include prolonged and unshakeable feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, and a lack of self-identity. Individuals who come from traumatic experiences involving captivity or entrapment (physical or psychological) have been known to lead to long-lasting feelings of terror and dread.

What Makes C-PTSD Different?

Some researchers argue that while complex post-traumatic stress disorder is similar to PTSD, it is its own unique form of trauma-related disorder. Researchers also note that this disorder is somewhat similar to borderline personality disorder, somatization disorder, and dissociative personality disorder. However, the main distinction – what sets C-PTSD apart from other trauma-related disorders – is the fact that it actually distorts a person’s core identity. This is especially true for individuals who underwent ongoing trauma throughout childhood and early adolescence at the hand of a primary caregiver.

Originally, post-traumatic stress disorder was limited to adults who had suffered a single-event trauma, such as fighting in a war or being the victim of a sexual assault. PTSD, as a diagnosis, did not take into consideration the chronic trauma that is often suffered by children, and how that early childhood trauma may affect individuals later on in life. A disruption in attachment to a primary caregiver, neglect or maltreatment, or family violence are traumatic experiences that are liable to interrupt healthy development. Children internalize feelings of guilt and shame, which later manifest into negative core beliefs – revolving around self, and a lack of personal identity.

Treating Adults with Complex PTSD

Individuals who have undergone long-term traumatic experiences will undeniably struggle with some severe emotional, mental, and potentially physical symptoms – symptoms that can be overwhelming, and extremely hindering when attempting to function in day-to-day life. When it comes to this trauma-related disorder, it is impossible for healing to occur without professional outside help – the afflicted individual continuously relives his or her trauma through flashbacks and nightmares. However, once the connection has been made between chronic stress and disturbance the individual has been struggling to cope with and the ongoing trauma itself, healing can begin to occur. There are several therapeutic modalities that have been proven to help heal those suffering from C-PTSD, including EMDR and CBT. We at Next Chapter are well-versed in both techniques, and have had much success treating men who either consciously or unwittingly suffer the effects of complex post-traumatic stress disorder. To learn more about our comprehensive program of recovery, please feel free to contact us today. We are looking forward to your call – help is available, and we are equipped and ready to provide it.