What Is Complex PTSD (C-PTSD)?

What Is Complex PTSD (C-PTSD)?

Complex posttraumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) is a possible diagnosis for individuals who suffer from long-term episodes of trauma. Identified by Judith Herman, a psychiatrist and Harvard University professor, the term complex PTSD seeks to outline a group of symptoms common to individuals who are victims of incest, domestic violence, and other repetitive traumatic events.

Examples of Long-Term Trauma Sufferers

Currently a PTSD diagnosis covers symptoms of short-term and long-term trauma sufferers. Individuals who were physically or emotionally trapped for long periods of time tend to suffer more extreme symptoms than some short-term victims. Individuals who are long-term sufferers include those who lived through the following situations according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:

  • Concentration camps
  • Prisoner of War camps
  • Prostitution brothels
  • Long-term domestic violence
  • Long-term child physical abuse
  • Long-term child sexual abuse
  • Organized child exploitation rings

Symptoms of Complex PTSD

In addition to the symptoms of PTSD, a person who lived through a traumatic period lasting months or even years experiences other problems such as the following:

  • Emotional regulation – feelings such as persistent sadness, suicidal thoughts, explosive anger, or inhibited anger
  • Consciousness – periods of time spent unable to remember traumatic events or constantly reliving traumatic events, or feeling detached from one’s mind or body
  • Self-Perception – feelings such as helplessness, shame, guilt, stigma, and disassociation from other people
  • Distorted perceptions of the perpetrator – belief that aggressor is all-powerful, or feeling obsessed by the relationship with the perpetrator or obsessed with thoughts of revenge
  • Relations with others – feeling isolated, distrustful, or in need of a rescuer
  • One’s system of meanings – feelings of hopelessness, despair, or lost faith

In addition to trouble with emotional regulation and perceptions of others and self, other symptoms of complex PTSD may include a desire to avoid thinking about things associated with the trauma because the thoughts bring too much pain. Survivors also may abuse drugs or alcohol or mutilate themselves in some way. Therapists and others who are working with survivors should work hard to accurately diagnose the symptoms and determine if it is complex PTSD or PTSD and a co-occurring personality disorder.