How a Complex PTSD Quiz Can Shed Light on Your Mental Health

In this article, we explore how taking a giant step and completing a complex PTSD quiz can shed light on your mental health.

Are you battling with your mental health?

Are you overwhelmed by anxiety, flashbacks, and emotional distress?

Is the burden of hiding this internal torment getting to be too much, yet you’re not sure how to let it all go?

If so, you may be one of the many individuals struggling with Complex PTSD.

Understanding the impact of trauma on your mental well-being is crucial for seeking the right support and treatment.

But how can you determine if you’re experiencing Complex PTSD?

The Complex PTSD quiz is designed to raise your awareness and acknowledge of common Complex PTSD symptoms.

Take the Complex PTSD quiz with black background

Once you’ve completed the quiz, you can share your observations with a trauma-informed professional who can help you determine if Complex PTSD is the source of your pain and anguish.

The Complex PTSD Quiz asks a series of questions you can answer privately.

Whether you suspect you may have Complex PTSD or simply want to deepen your knowledge about this condition, this quiz can serve as a valuable self-assessment tool.

Before taking the Complex PTSD quiz, let’s gain a better understanding of the condition.

What is Complex PTSD?

What is Complex PTSD Infographic - courtesy Complex PTSD Help

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a mental health condition that arises from prolonged exposure to stressors and trauma, both of which are imposed on the individual by someone in authority or who may be(or was) a caretaker.

Unlike PTSD, which stems from isolated traumatic incidents, C-PTSD is marked by on-going, stifling and pervasive trauma.

Left unchecked, a victim of this type of behavior becomes prone to symptoms that dramatically impact their emotional, cognitive, and physiological well-being.

The concept of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) emerged in the late 20th century as researchers and clinicians began to recognize that exposure to prolonged or repeated trauma, particularly in interpersonal contexts, can lead to a broader range of symptoms and challenges than those outlined for traditional Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

While the term “C-PTSD” itself may not have been formally coined until more recently, the recognition of the phenomenon predates its official designation.

The understanding of complex trauma and its effects has evolved over time, influenced by advances in trauma psychology, developmental psychology, and research on the impact of adverse childhood experiences.

Some key milestones in the recognition and understanding of complex trauma include:

Early trauma research

In the mid-20th century, pioneering researchers such as Anna Freud and John Bowlby laid the groundwork for understanding the effects of early trauma and disruptions in attachment on psychological development.

Recognition of childhood abuse

The feminist movement of the 1970s and 1980s brought increased awareness of the prevalence and impact of childhood sexual abuse, leading to greater attention to the long-term effects of early trauma.

Development of PTSD diagnosis

The diagnosis of PTSD was formally introduced in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) in 1980, reflecting growing recognition of the psychological consequences of trauma exposure.

Recognition of complex trauma: In the 1990s and early 2000s, clinicians and researchers began to identify patterns of symptoms and challenges in individuals with histories of prolonged or repeated trauma, particularly in interpersonal contexts.

This led to the recognition of complex trauma and the need for a broader diagnostic framework to capture its complexity.

Inclusion in research and clinical practice: While C-PTSD is not formally recognized as a separate diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), it has gained increasing recognition in the fields of trauma psychology and mental health.

Many clinicians and researchers use the term “C-PTSD” informally to describe the constellation of symptoms that arise from complex trauma.

Overall, the understanding of complex trauma and its impact on psychological functioning has evolved over time, driven by advances in research, clinical practice, and advocacy efforts aimed at improving recognition and treatment of trauma-related disorders.

What are the symptoms of Complex PTSD?

Identifying the range of symptoms is critical so you, a mental health practitioner and friends, family and advocates you trust, can help you confront the demons and support you the same time.

What makes a diagnosis all the more complicated is that Complex PTSD symptoms manifest similarly to other mental health disorders.

Also, reckless, addictive behavior, unhealthy coping mechanisms and avoidance strategies meant to stifle and repress the emotional pain is often misdiagnosed OR occurs alongside the C-PTSD condition.

Individuals with C-PTSD commonly experience a range of symptoms, including intense emotional dysregulation, impaired self-esteem, and difficulties in forming and maintaining interpersonal relationships.

Flashbacks, nightmares, and a persistent sense of emptiness are also prevalent.

The condition often disrupts a person’s overall sense of identity and can lead to self-destructive behaviors.

Understanding C-PTSD requires acknowledging the cumulative impact of trauma over time and recognizing the intricate interplay of psychological, emotional, and relational factors.

Treatment typically involves a comprehensive and integrated approach, incorporating psychotherapy, medication, and peer support.

Empathy and validation play crucial roles in the therapeutic process, helping individuals rebuild a sense of safety and trust.

Emotional Dysregulation

Emotional dysregulation is a prominent feature of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) and refers to difficulties in managing and regulating one’s emotions effectively.

When it comes to the Complex PTSD condition, emotional dysregulation can manifest in various ways and may be triggered by reminders of past trauma or by current stressors.

Emotional dysregulation is a mental health symptom that involves trouble controlling your emotions and how you act on those feelings.

To those around you, your emotions and reactions will seem out of proportion compared to what you’re reacting to.

Some of the key aspects of emotional dysregulation in C-PTSD include:

Intense Mood Swings

Intense mood swings are a common feature of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) and can significantly impact an individual’s emotional well-being and functioning.

These mood swings can be distressing and disruptive, affecting relationships, work, and daily activities.

Here are some key characteristics of intense mood swings associated with C-PTSD:

Rapid shifts in emotion

Individuals with C-PTSD may experience sudden and unpredictable changes in mood, where they may oscillate between different emotional states within a short period.

For example, they may rapidly transition from feeling intense sadness to experiencing intense anger or anxiety.

Triggered by reminders of trauma

Mood swings in C-PTSD are often triggered by reminders of past trauma or by current stressors that evoke memories or emotions associated with the traumatic experiences.

These triggers can vary widely and may include situations, places, people, or even internal thoughts or sensations.

Difficulty in emotional regulation

Individuals with C-PTSD may have difficulty regulating their emotions effectively, leading to heightened emotional reactivity and impulsivity.

They may struggle to modulate the intensity of their emotional responses or to cope with overwhelming feelings, which can contribute to the volatility of their mood swings.

Interference with daily functioning

Intense mood swings can interfere with an individual’s ability to function effectively in their daily lives.

They may find it challenging to concentrate, make decisions, or engage in activities when experiencing rapid shifts in mood.

This can impact various areas of life, including work, relationships, and self-care.

Impact on relationships

Mood swings in C-PTSD can strain interpersonal relationships, as loved ones may struggle to understand or cope with the individual’s fluctuating emotional states.

This can lead to conflict, misunderstandings, and feelings of frustration or helplessness on both sides.

Emotional exhaustion

Coping with intense mood swings can be emotionally exhausting for individuals with C-PTSD, as well as for those around them.

The constant emotional upheaval and unpredictability can take a toll on mental and physical well-being, contributing to feelings of fatigue, overwhelm, and burnout.

Addressing intense mood swings in C-PTSD often involves therapeutic interventions aimed at improving emotion regulation skills, increasing self-awareness, and addressing underlying trauma-related triggers and patterns.

Techniques such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), mindfulness-based approaches, and trauma-focused therapies can be helpful in learning to manage mood swings more effectively and building resilience in the face of emotional challenges.

Additionally, creating a supportive environment where individuals feel validated and understood can also contribute to improved mood stability and overall well-being.

Difficulty Identifying Emotions

Difficulty identifying emotions is a common challenge experienced by individuals with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD).

This difficulty can significantly impact various aspects of their lives, including relationships, self-awareness, and emotional regulation.

Here’s how difficulty identifying emotions may manifest in the context of C-PTSD:

Emotional numbing

Some individuals with C-PTSD may experience emotional numbing, where they have difficulty accessing or recognizing their emotions.

This can lead to a sense of emotional detachment or flatness, where they may feel emotionally “shut down” or disconnected from their feelings.

Confusion or ambivalence

Individuals with C-PTSD may have difficulty distinguishing between different emotions or may experience conflicting emotions simultaneously.

This can lead to confusion, ambivalence, or a sense of being overwhelmed by emotions that are difficult to identify or understand.

Limited emotional vocabulary

People with C-PTSD may struggle to find words to describe their emotions or may have a limited emotional vocabulary.

They may use vague or general terms to describe how they are feeling, which can make it challenging for them to communicate their emotional experiences effectively.

Misinterpreting physical sensations

Physical sensations such as tension, tightness, or discomfort in the body may be misinterpreted as emotions by individuals with C-PTSD.

They may have difficulty distinguishing between physical sensations and emotional experiences, leading to confusion or misattribution of their feelings.

Suppression or avoidance

Some individuals with C-PTSD may suppress or avoid their emotions as a coping mechanism to avoid feeling overwhelmed or vulnerable.

They may push aside or deny their feelings, which can make it even more challenging to identify and understand their emotional experiences.

Triggered by trauma reminders

Difficulty identifying emotions in C-PTSD may be exacerbated by reminders of past trauma or by situations that evoke intense emotional arousal.

Trauma triggers can activate defensive responses that interfere with emotional awareness and regulation.

Addressing difficulty identifying emotions in C-PTSD often involves therapeutic interventions aimed at increasing emotional awareness, improving emotion regulation skills, and fostering self-compassion and acceptance.

Therapeutic approaches such as emotion-focused therapy, mindfulness-based interventions, and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) can help individuals with C-PTSD learn to identify, understand, and express their emotions more effectively.

Additionally, creating a safe and supportive therapeutic environment where individuals feel validated and understood can facilitate the exploration and expression of emotions in the context of C-PTSD.

People with C-PTSD may struggle to accurately identify and label their emotions, making it challenging to understand and communicate their feelings effectively.

This difficulty in emotion identification can contribute to further emotional dysregulation and interpersonal difficulties.

Inability to Express Emotions in a Healthy Way

Inability to express emotions in a healthy way is a common challenge experienced by individuals with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD).

This difficulty can stem from various factors related to the trauma and its impact on the individual’s emotional regulation and interpersonal relationships.

Here’s how the inability to express emotions may intersect with C-PTSD:

Fear of vulnerability

Individuals with C-PTSD may have a deep-seated fear of vulnerability, stemming from past experiences of betrayal, rejection, or emotional harm.

This fear can make it difficult for them to open up and express their emotions authentically, as they may perceive vulnerability as a threat to their safety or well-being.

Shame and self-blame

Shame and self-blame are common features of C-PTSD and can contribute to difficulties in expressing emotions.

Individuals may feel ashamed of their emotions or believe that they are unworthy of love and support, leading them to suppress or hide their feelings rather than risk being judged or rejected by others.

Limited emotional vocabulary

Some individuals with C-PTSD may have a limited repertoire of emotional language, making it challenging for them to identify and express their feelings accurately.

They may struggle to find words to describe their emotions or may resort to using vague or generic terms to convey how they are feeling.

Emotional dysregulation

The intense emotions and mood swings associated with C-PTSD can interfere with an individual’s ability to express their emotions in a healthy and adaptive way.

They may experience difficulty modulating the intensity of their emotional responses or may react impulsively when overwhelmed by intense feelings.

Avoidance and suppression

Avoidance and suppression of emotions are common coping strategies used by individuals with C-PTSD to cope with distressing feelings.

They may push aside or deny their emotions in an attempt to avoid feeling overwhelmed or vulnerable, which can lead to further difficulties in expressing emotions in a healthy way.

Communication difficulties

Trauma can disrupt interpersonal communication patterns and lead to difficulties in expressing emotions effectively within relationships.

Individuals with C-PTSD may struggle to communicate their needs, feelings, and boundaries to others, leading to misunderstandings, conflicts, and relationship strain.

Addressing the inability to express emotions in a healthy way in C-PTSD often involves therapeutic interventions aimed at increasing emotional awareness, building trust and safety in relationships, and developing effective communication skills.

Therapeutic approaches such as individual therapy, group therapy, and couples or family therapy can provide opportunities for individuals with C-PTSD to explore and express their emotions in a supportive and validating environment.

Additionally, practicing self-compassion and self-care can help individuals cultivate a more accepting and compassionate relationship with their emotions, allowing for greater freedom of expression and emotional well-being.

Impulsivity and reckless behavior

Impulsivity and reckless behavior are often observed in individuals with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) and can be significant challenges in their lives.

These behaviors can arise from various factors related to trauma exposure and the subsequent impact on emotional regulation, self-perception, and interpersonal relationships.

Here’s how impulsivity and reckless behavior may intersect with C-PTSD:

Emotional dysregulation

Impulsivity and reckless behavior in C-PTSD may stem from difficulties in regulating emotions effectively.

Individuals with C-PTSD may struggle to tolerate distressing emotions or may experience intense mood swings, leading to impulsive actions as a way to escape or alleviate emotional discomfort.

Avoidance of trauma-related triggers

Impulsive behaviors can serve as a coping mechanism to avoid or numb the distress associated with trauma-related triggers.

Individuals may engage in reckless behaviors, such as substance abuse, self-harm, or risky sexual behavior, as a way to distract themselves from intrusive memories or overwhelming emotions.

Self-destructive tendencies

Impulsivity and reckless behavior in C-PTSD can manifest as self-destructive tendencies, where individuals engage in actions that put their physical or emotional well-being at risk.

This may include behaviors such as substance abuse, reckless driving, or engaging in dangerous activities without considering the potential consequences.

Difficulty with impulse control

Trauma exposure can disrupt neural circuits involved in impulse control and decision-making, leading to difficulties in inhibiting impulsive urges or considering the long-term consequences of actions.

Individuals with C-PTSD may act impulsively without fully considering the potential risks or outcomes of their behavior.

Seeking stimulation or excitement

Some individuals with C-PTSD may engage in reckless behaviors as a way to seek stimulation or excitement in an attempt to counteract feelings of emotional numbness or emptiness.

This can lead to a pattern of seeking out high-risk activities or situations as a means of self-soothing or self-regulation.

Interpersonal difficulties

Impulsivity and reckless behavior can strain interpersonal relationships and lead to conflict or instability in social interactions.

Loved ones may struggle to understand or cope with the unpredictability of impulsive actions, leading to feelings of frustration, concern, or abandonment.

Addressing impulsivity and reckless behavior in C-PTSD often involves therapeutic interventions aimed at improving emotion regulation skills, increasing self-awareness, and addressing underlying trauma-related triggers and patterns.

Therapeutic approaches such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and mindfulness-based interventions can help individuals with C-PTSD develop alternative coping strategies and increase their capacity for self-control and decision-making.

Additionally, creating a safe and supportive therapeutic environment where individuals feel validated and understood can facilitate the exploration and resolution of underlying trauma-related issues contributing to impulsivity and reckless behavior.

Difficulty in emotional recovery

Difficulty in emotional recovery is a significant challenge faced by individuals with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD).

This difficulty arises from the complex nature of the trauma and its enduring impact on various aspects of the individual’s emotional well-being and functioning.

Here’s how difficulty in emotional recovery may intersect with C-PTSD:

Prolonged emotional distress

Individuals with C-PTSD may experience prolonged periods of emotional distress following exposure to trauma, where they struggle to recover or bounce back from intense emotional experiences.

The emotional pain associated with trauma can be persistent and may resurface repeatedly over time, hindering the individual’s ability to move forward and heal.

Triggered by reminders of trauma

Trauma reminders or triggers can evoke intense emotional reactions in individuals with C-PTSD, making it challenging for them to regulate their emotions and recover from distressing memories or experiences.

These triggers can be internal (e.g., thoughts, sensations) or external (e.g., sights, sounds) and may elicit feelings of fear, sadness, anger, or shame.

Difficulty in processing emotions

Trauma exposure can disrupt the individual’s capacity to process and integrate emotional experiences effectively.

They may struggle to make sense of their emotions or to find meaning in their traumatic experiences, which can impede the process of emotional recovery and healing.

Interference with daily functioning

Persistent emotional distress in C-PTSD can interfere with an individual’s ability to function effectively in their daily lives.

They may find it challenging to concentrate, engage in activities, or maintain relationships when overwhelmed by intense emotions, leading to difficulties in meeting responsibilities or pursuing personal goals.

Self-destructive coping mechanisms

In an attempt to cope with overwhelming emotions or to numb emotional pain, individuals with C-PTSD may resort to self-destructive behaviors such as substance abuse, self-harm, or disordered eating.

These maladaptive coping mechanisms can further perpetuate emotional distress and hinder the process of emotional recovery.

Difficulty in seeking help

Shame, stigma, and distrust of others can make it difficult for individuals with C-PTSD to seek help or support for their emotional struggles.

They may fear judgment or rejection from others or may have had negative experiences with mental health professionals in the past, which can discourage them from reaching out for assistance.

Addressing difficulty in emotional recovery in C-PTSD often involves therapeutic interventions aimed at improving emotion regulation skills, processing traumatic memories, and fostering self-compassion and acceptance.

Therapeutic approaches such as trauma-focused therapy, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), mindfulness-based interventions, and supportive counseling can provide individuals with C-PTSD with tools and strategies to navigate their emotions more effectively and work towards healing and recovery.

Additionally, creating a safe and validating therapeutic environment where individuals feel heard, understood, and supported can facilitate the process of emotional recovery in the context of C-PTSD.

Feelings of Worthlessness

Feelings of worthlessness, despair, and despondency are common experiences among individuals with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) and can significantly impact their overall well-being and functioning.

These feelings often arise as a result of the profound psychological and emotional effects of trauma exposure and the subsequent challenges in coping and recovery.

Here’s how these feelings may intersect with C-PTSD:

Low self-esteem

Trauma can profoundly impact an individual’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem, leading to feelings of inadequacy, shame, and unworthiness.

Individuals with C-PTSD may internalize negative beliefs about themselves that were instilled by past experiences of abuse, neglect, or invalidation.

Hopelessness and despair

Chronic exposure to trauma and adversity can erode a person’s sense of hope for the future and belief in the possibility of positive change.

Individuals with C-PTSD may feel trapped in patterns of suffering and despair, unable to envision a way out of their emotional pain and distress.

Emotional numbness

Some individuals with C-PTSD may experience emotional numbness or detachment as a way to cope with overwhelming feelings of worthlessness or despair.

They may shut down emotionally in an attempt to avoid further pain or to protect themselves from further harm.

Loss of meaning and purpose

Trauma can shatter an individual’s sense of meaning and purpose in life, leaving them feeling adrift and disconnected from their values and goals.

Feelings of despair and despondency may arise from a profound sense of existential emptiness or a loss of faith in oneself and others.

Self-blame and self-criticism

Individuals with C-PTSD may engage in self-blame and self-criticism as a way to make sense of their traumatic experiences or to regain a sense of control over their lives.

They may blame themselves for the trauma or for their perceived inability to cope with its aftermath, reinforcing feelings of worthlessness and despair.

Social isolation and alienation

Feelings of worthlessness and despair can contribute to social withdrawal and isolation, as individuals with C-PTSD may struggle to connect with others or to trust in the possibility of meaningful relationships.

They may feel disconnected from the world around them, further exacerbating feelings of loneliness and despair.

Addressing feelings of worthlessness, despair, and despondency in C-PTSD often involves therapeutic interventions aimed at rebuilding self-esteem, fostering hope and resilience, and addressing underlying trauma-related beliefs and patterns.

Therapeutic approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and schema therapy can help individuals with C-PTSD challenge negative beliefs about themselves, develop healthier coping strategies, and cultivate a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life.

Additionally, creating a supportive and validating therapeutic environment where individuals feel heard, understood, and accepted can facilitate the process of emotional healing and recovery from C-PTSD.

Intrusive Memories


Intrusive memories, flashbacks, and nightmares are hallmark symptoms of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) and can significantly impact an individual’s daily functioning, emotional well-being, and quality of life.

These symptoms are often triggered by reminders of past trauma and can be distressing and overwhelming.

Here’s how these symptoms may intersect with C-PTSD:

Intrusive memories

Individuals with C-PTSD may experience intrusive memories of past traumatic events, where distressing images, thoughts, or sensations related to the trauma intrude into their consciousness without warning.

These memories can be vivid and intense, causing significant emotional distress and interfering with the individual’s ability to focus or concentrate on present tasks.

Flashbacks

Flashbacks are dissociative experiences in which individuals feel as if they are re-experiencing a traumatic event as if it were happening in the present moment.

During a flashback, individuals may feel a sense of intense fear, helplessness, or horror, accompanied by sensory perceptions and physiological reactions similar to those experienced during the original trauma.

Nightmares

Nightmares are disturbing dreams related to past trauma that can occur during sleep and may be experienced as vivid and realistic.

Individuals with C-PTSD may have recurrent nightmares that replay aspects of the traumatic event, leading to disrupted sleep, fear of going to sleep, and persistent feelings of anxiety or distress upon waking.

Triggers and reminders

Intrusive memories, flashbacks, and nightmares in C-PTSD are often triggered by reminders of past trauma, such as specific sights, sounds, smells, or situations that evoke memories or emotions associated with the traumatic event.

These triggers can be unpredictable and may lead to intense emotional arousal and reactivity.

Emotional dysregulation

Symptoms of C-PTSD, such as emotional dysregulation and hyperarousal, can exacerbate the intensity and frequency of intrusive memories, flashbacks, and nightmares.

Individuals may struggle to cope with the overwhelming emotions and sensations triggered by these symptoms, leading to further distress and impairment in functioning.

Avoidance and numbing

Some individuals with C-PTSD may engage in avoidance behaviors or emotional numbing as a way to cope with intrusive memories, flashbacks, and nightmares.

They may avoid people, places, or activities that remind them of the trauma or may use substances or other distractions to suppress their emotions and thoughts.

Addressing intrusive memories, flashbacks, and nightmares in C-PTSD often involves therapeutic interventions aimed at processing the traumatic memories, reducing emotional reactivity, and developing healthier coping strategies.

Therapeutic approaches such as trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and prolonged exposure therapy can help individuals with C-PTSD gradually confront and integrate their traumatic experiences in a safe and supportive environment.

Additionally, creating a personalized safety plan and practicing self-care techniques can help individuals manage distressing symptoms and regain a sense of control over their lives.

Dissociation


Dissociation is a common and often distressing symptom experienced by individuals with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD).

It involves a disruption in one’s normal sense of identity, consciousness, memory, or perception of the environment.

Dissociative experiences can vary in intensity and duration, ranging from mild detachment to more severe states of dissociation where individuals may feel disconnected from themselves, their surroundings, or reality.

Here’s how dissociation may intersect with C-PTSD:

Triggered by trauma reminders

Dissociative experiences in C-PTSD are often triggered by reminders of past trauma or by situations that evoke intense emotional arousal.

Trauma triggers can activate defensive responses that lead to a disconnection from the present moment as a way to cope with overwhelming emotions or sensations associated with the traumatic event.

Types of dissociation

Dissociation in C-PTSD can manifest in various ways, including depersonalization (feeling detached from oneself or one’s body), derealization (feeling detached from the external world or environment), amnesia (gaps in memory or difficulty recalling traumatic events), and identity disturbances (changes in one’s sense of self or identity).

Emotional numbing

Dissociation in C-PTSD may serve as a form of emotional numbing or avoidance, where individuals disconnect from their emotions as a way to cope with distressing feelings or memories related to trauma.

This can lead to a sense of emotional emptiness or detachment from one’s own internal experiences.

Difficulty in grounding

Individuals with C-PTSD may struggle to maintain a sense of grounding or connection to reality during dissociative episodes.

They may feel disoriented, confused, or detached from their surroundings, making it challenging to engage in daily activities or to make decisions.

Impact on memory and functioning

Dissociation can affect memory functioning, leading to gaps or inconsistencies in one’s recollection of past events.

Individuals may experience memory lapses, time distortion, or a sense of “losing time” during dissociative episodes, which can interfere with their ability to function effectively in their daily lives.

Interference with relationships

Dissociative experiences can strain interpersonal relationships, as loved ones may struggle to understand or cope with the unpredictable nature of dissociative symptoms.

Individuals with C-PTSD may feel disconnected or distant from others during dissociative episodes, leading to feelings of isolation or alienation.

Addressing dissociation in C-PTSD often involves therapeutic interventions aimed at increasing awareness of dissociative symptoms, developing grounding techniques, and processing traumatic memories in a safe and supportive environment.

Therapeutic approaches such as grounding exercises, mindfulness-based interventions, trauma-focused therapy (e.g., EMDR), and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) can help individuals with C-PTSD learn to manage dissociative symptoms more effectively and regain a sense of control over their experiences.

Additionally, creating a safe and validating therapeutic relationship where individuals feel understood and supported can facilitate the exploration and resolution of underlying trauma-related issues contributing to dissociation.

Impaired Interpersonal Relationships

Relationships can be profoundly affected by Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), both in terms of forming and maintaining connections with others.

The symptoms and challenges associated with C-PTSD can impact various aspects of interpersonal relationships, including trust, communication, intimacy, and boundaries.

Here’s how relationships may be influenced by C-PTSD:

Trust issues

Individuals with C-PTSD may struggle to trust others due to past experiences of betrayal, abuse, or neglect.

They may have difficulty relying on others for support or may be hypervigilant for signs of potential harm or abandonment, which can create barriers to forming close and meaningful relationships.

Fear of Abandonment

Those who suffered neglect as a child by their caregivers may carry a pervasive fear of being deserted or rejected.

In relationships, this can result in extreme attachment or avoidance, neither of which bode well for their stable connections with others.

Difficulty in communication

C-PTSD can interfere with effective communication skills, making it challenging for individuals to express their needs, feelings, and boundaries in relationships.

They may struggle to assert themselves or may resort to passive-aggressive or avoidant communication patterns as a way to cope with interpersonal stressors.

Fear of intimacy

Intimacy can be particularly challenging for individuals with C-PTSD, as it may evoke feelings of vulnerability, fear, or shame associated with past trauma.

They may struggle to open up emotionally or to establish close connections with others, leading to difficulties in forming and maintaining intimate relationships.

Emotional dysregulation

Symptoms of emotional dysregulation in C-PTSD, such as mood swings, intense emotions, and impulsivity, can impact the stability and dynamics of relationships.

Loved ones may feel overwhelmed or confused by the unpredictable nature of these symptoms, leading to strain or conflict in the relationship.

Boundary issues

Individuals with C-PTSD may have difficulty establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries in relationships, leading to issues such as enmeshment, codependency, or emotional distancing.

They may struggle to recognize their own needs or to assert their boundaries effectively, which can contribute to relationship dysfunction.

Repetitive relational patterns

Trauma-related relational patterns, such as reenactment of past dynamics or attraction to abusive or unavailable partners, may perpetuate cycles of dysfunction in relationships for individuals with C-PTSD.

These patterns can undermine the individual’s sense of agency and autonomy in relationships, leading to feelings of powerlessness or resignation.

Addressing relational difficulties in C-PTSD often involves therapeutic interventions aimed at improving communication skills, building trust, and establishing healthy boundaries.

Therapeutic approaches such as couples therapy, family therapy, and group therapy can provide opportunities for individuals with C-PTSD to explore and address relational patterns in a supportive and validating environment.

Additionally, individual therapy can help individuals with C-PTSD develop self-awareness, identify and challenge maladaptive relationship patterns, and learn healthier ways of relating to others.

It’s essential for individuals with C-PTSD to prioritize self-care and seek support from trusted friends, family members, or mental health professionals as they navigate the complexities of interpersonal relationships.

Cognitive Distortions

Cognitive distortions are patterns of thinking that are biased or distorted and can contribute to negative emotions and behaviors.

In the context of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), individuals may develop cognitive distortions as a result of past traumatic experiences and the subsequent impact on their beliefs about themselves, others, and the world.

These cognitive distortions can perpetuate feelings of shame, guilt, worthlessness, and hopelessness commonly associated with C-PTSD. Here are some ways in which cognitive distortions may intersect with C-PTSD:

Negative self-beliefs

Individuals with C-PTSD may develop negative beliefs about themselves as a result of past trauma, such as feeling inherently flawed, unlovable, or unworthy.

These negative self-beliefs can manifest as cognitive distortions, such as overgeneralization (drawing broad negative conclusions about oneself based on specific experiences) or personalization (attributing blame or responsibility to oneself for events beyond one’s control).

Dichotomous thinking

Dichotomous or black-and-white thinking is a common cognitive distortion in C-PTSD, where individuals perceive situations as all-good or all-bad with no middle ground.

This can lead to rigid thinking patterns and an inability to see nuance or complexity in relationships or life experiences.

Catastrophizing

Catastrophizing involves magnifying the negative aspects of a situation and imagining the worst possible outcome.

Individuals with C-PTSD may catastrophize as a way to cope with feelings of vulnerability or uncertainty, leading to excessive worry, anxiety, and avoidance behaviors.

Mind reading and assumptions

Individuals with C-PTSD may engage in mind reading or making assumptions about others’ thoughts, intentions, or motivations, often based on past traumatic experiences.

This can lead to mistrust, paranoia, and difficulties in forming and maintaining healthy relationships.

Emotional reasoning

Emotional reasoning involves believing that one’s feelings are an accurate reflection of reality, regardless of evidence to the contrary.

Individuals with C-PTSD may rely on emotional reasoning as a way to validate their negative beliefs about themselves or to justify avoidance behaviors triggered by past trauma.

Selective attention and memory

Cognitive distortions in C-PTSD can also manifest as selective attention and memory biases, where individuals selectively focus on information that confirms their negative beliefs while ignoring or discounting evidence that contradicts them.

This can perpetuate feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and despair.

Addressing cognitive distortions in C-PTSD often involves therapeutic interventions aimed at challenging and restructuring maladaptive thought patterns.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) are evidence-based approaches that can help individuals with C-PTSD identify and challenge cognitive distortions, develop more adaptive coping strategies, and cultivate a more balanced and realistic perspective on themselves and their experiences.

Additionally, creating a supportive and validating therapeutic relationship where individuals feel understood and accepted can facilitate the process of cognitive restructuring and emotional healing in C-PTSD.

Distorted Perceptions

Distorted perceptions are common features of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) and can significantly impact how individuals interpret themselves, others, and the world around them.

These distorted perceptions often stem from past traumatic experiences and the subsequent effects on cognition, emotions, and behavior.

Here’s how distorted perceptions may intersect with C-PTSD:

Self-perception

Individuals with C-PTSD may have distorted perceptions of themselves, viewing themselves as fundamentally flawed, unworthy, or unlovable as a result of past trauma.

This negative self-perception can manifest as low self-esteem, self-blame, and feelings of shame or inadequacy.

Perception of others

Trauma can influence how individuals perceive and interact with others, leading to mistrust, hypervigilance, and suspicion.

Individuals with C-PTSD may view others as untrustworthy or dangerous, interpreting neutral or ambiguous cues as threatening or hostile.

Perception of safety

Trauma exposure can disrupt one’s sense of safety and security, leading to heightened perceptions of threat and danger in the environment.

Individuals with C-PTSD may perceive ordinary situations as potentially hazardous, leading to hypervigilance, avoidance behaviors, and difficulties in feeling safe and relaxed.

Perception of control

Trauma can undermine an individual’s sense of control over their lives, leading to feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, and vulnerability.

Individuals with C-PTSD may perceive themselves as lacking agency or autonomy, leading to difficulties in asserting themselves or making decisions.

Perception of the future

Trauma can impact how individuals view the future, leading to pessimism, hopelessness, and a sense of foreboding.

Individuals with C-PTSD may have distorted perceptions of their future prospects, expecting further harm or setbacks and struggling to envision positive possibilities.

Perception of time

Trauma-related stress can distort one’s perception of time, leading to difficulties in accurately assessing the passage of time or planning for the future.

Individuals with C-PTSD may experience time as fragmented or disjointed, with memories of past trauma feeling as if they are happening in the present moment.

Addressing distorted perceptions in C-PTSD often involves therapeutic interventions aimed at challenging and restructuring maladaptive cognitive patterns.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and schema therapy are evidence-based approaches that can help individuals with C-PTSD identify and challenge distorted perceptions, develop more adaptive coping strategies, and cultivate a more balanced and realistic understanding of themselves and their experiences.

Additionally, creating a safe and validating therapeutic relationship where individuals feel understood and accepted can facilitate the process of cognitive restructuring and emotional healing in C-PTSD.

Physiological Manifestations

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) can manifest in various physiological symptoms and manifestations, often stemming from the chronic stress and dysregulation of the body’s stress response systems associated with repeated trauma exposure.

These physiological manifestations can affect different bodily systems and contribute to a range of physical health problems.

Here are some common physiological manifestations of C-PTSD:

Hypervigilance

Individuals with C-PTSD may experience heightened physiological arousal and vigilance in response to perceived threats, leading to increased heart rate, muscle tension, and readiness for fight-or-flight responses.

Chronic hypervigilance can contribute to symptoms such as insomnia, fatigue, and muscle pain.

Hyperarousal

Chronic activation of the body’s stress response systems in C-PTSD can lead to persistent states of hyperarousal, characterized by increased sympathetic nervous system activity and elevated levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline.

This can manifest in symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, and gastrointestinal distress.

Hypersensitivity to stimuli

Individuals with C-PTSD may exhibit heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli, including sounds, sights, smells, and tactile sensations.

This hypersensitivity can trigger exaggerated physiological responses, such as startle reactions, sensory overload, and feelings of overwhelm.

Dissociative symptoms

Dissociation, which involves a disconnection from one’s thoughts, feelings, or sense of identity, can have profound physiological effects in C-PTSD.

Dissociative symptoms may manifest as numbness, tingling, dizziness, or altered sensations in the body, as well as disruptions in perception of time or space.

Sleep disturbances

C-PTSD can disrupt sleep patterns and contribute to various sleep disturbances, including insomnia, nightmares, and disrupted sleep-wake cycles.

Sleep problems in C-PTSD can exacerbate other physiological symptoms and contribute to fatigue, irritability, and impaired cognitive functioning.

Gastrointestinal problems

Chronic stress and dysregulation of the body’s stress response systems in C-PTSD can impact the gastrointestinal system, leading to symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Stress-related changes in gut microbiota and intestinal permeability may also contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms in C-PTSD.

Immune system dysregulation

Prolonged stress and trauma exposure in C-PTSD can dysregulate the immune system, leading to increased susceptibility to infections, inflammatory conditions, and autoimmune disorders.

Chronic inflammation associated with C-PTSD may contribute to a range of physical health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and chronic pain conditions.

Addressing physiological manifestations of C-PTSD often involves a comprehensive approach that integrates both psychological and medical interventions.

Therapeutic modalities such as trauma-focused therapy, mindfulness-based interventions, and stress management techniques can help individuals with C-PTSD regulate their physiological arousal, reduce symptoms of hypervigilance and hyperarousal, and improve overall well-being.

Additionally, medical interventions such as medication management, nutritional support, and complementary therapies may be recommended to address specific physical health problems associated with C-PTSD.

It’s important for individuals with C-PTSD to work collaboratively with healthcare providers to develop a personalized treatment plan that addresses both psychological and physiological aspects of their condition.


The symptoms of Complex PTSD are complex, creating emotional, cognitive, and physiological challenges for those who have experienced prolonged and severe trauma.

Recognizing these symptoms is a giant step in recovery, and it’s best to do so within a supportive environment that includes a trauma-informed advocate or clinician, as well as those close to you who can provide unconditional support in a judgement-free way while you tackle the early stages of treatment and recovery.

Complex PTSD Books

Here we unveil a curated list of must-read books that offer profound understandings of Complex PTSD and provide invaluable tools for healing and growth.

Complex PTSD is a complex and pervasive condition resulting from prolonged trauma, such as childhood abuse, domestic violence, or war experiences.

CPTSD affects every aspect of a person’s life, from relationships to self-image and overall well-being.

Understanding this condition is the first step towards healing and regaining control over one’s life.

Our list includes books written by renowned experts in the field of trauma and mental health, including Dr. Arielle Schwartz and Pete Walker, as well as personal narratives and self-help guides.

Each of these books about Complex PTSD offers unique perspectives, evidence-based approaches, and practical advice on how to recover from Complex PTSD.

Whether you are a survivor seeking guidance or a practitioner aiming to deepen your knowledge, these books will provide the inspiration and knowledge you need.

The impact of Complex PTSD on your mental health

It’s difficult to fathom Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder’s impact on those who suffer from it.

It is literally a condition that eats away at one’s self-being, sometimes slowly and sometimes in dramatic eruptions.

Emotionally, C-PTSD manifests intense mood swings(bipolar diagnosis anyone?), feelings of worthlessness(Depression?), and a persistent sense of despair(suicidal ideations).

When one experiences this range of emotional dysfunction, it’s no wonder the individual feels lost, confused and detached from reality.

The cognitive impact is corrosive, marked by distorted perceptions, toxic shame, and a shattered sense of self, contributing to a distorted worldview and self-concept.

Challenging interpersonal relationships(or none at all) characterize the social side of the disorder, with trust issues, fear of abandonment, and difficulty forming connections hindering healthy bonds.

Physiologically, C-PTSD manifests through agitation, jumpiness, insomnia, and an immune system weakened due to overload, creating a cascade of indirect health challenges.

Individuals with C-PTSD may grapple with chronic pain and phantom somatic complaints, further lumping on the psychological and physical aspects of their well-being.

All of these symptoms, and the chronic nature of them, takes a severe toll, often leading to functional impairment in daily life, challenges in work and relationships, and a miserable quality of life.

Recognizing, accepting, and ultimately recovering from these consequences is crucial for recovery and healing.

The importance of early detection and diagnosis

Early detection and diagnosis of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) cannot be overstated, as it significantly influences the trajectory of an individual’s recovery.

Early detection enables trauma-informed practitioners to provide interventions that might include psychotherapy, support networks, and, when necessary, pharmacological approaches.

If caught early, the risk of co-morbid conditions such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse may be mitigated as well.

Take the Do I Have Complex PTSD Quiz

Take the Complex PTSD quiz with black background

Are you still asking yourself: Do I have Complex PTSD?

If so, the Complex PTSD quiz is designed to help you reflect on your past experiences and gain insight into the possible connection between the trauma and symptoms and behaviors that are currently causing problems for you.

The quiz, plus speaking with a trauma-informed care professional will help answer the question: “Do I have Complex PTSD?”

There is no rush to answer these questions.

Also, if this is the first time you’re asking some of these invasive questions that require considering past trauma and abuse, it’s OK and recommended you pace yourself and don’t force completion of the quiz.

One thing to note is that the Complex PTSD quiz is not meant as a diagnostic tool; rather it’s been found to be an effective first step to acknowledge and document the past traumas and the consequences that arise from them.

Whether you have C-PTSD, multiple conditions or something altogether different, it is essential to consult with a qualified mental health professional for a thorough assessment and appropriate guidance.

You don’t have to figure it out yourself, nor all at once.

Whether you move through the quiz quickly or not, the thoroughness you apply to it will benefit you as well as a trauma-informed professional who’ll help you.

Instructions

For each question, choose the response that best describes your experiences.

If a question does not apply to you, select the option that reflects this.


Complex-PTSD Quiz

Have you experienced prolonged exposure to severe stressors, such as chronic emotional, physical, or sexual abuse?

a) Yes
b) No
c) Not sure

Do you frequently experience intense mood swings, from deep sadness to sudden anger or irritability?

a) Yes
b) No
c) Occasionally

Have you noticed persistent negative beliefs about yourself and the world around you?

a) Yes
b) No
c) Not sure

Do you struggle with forming and maintaining elationships, experiencing trust issues or a fear of abandonment?

a) Yes
b) No
c) Sometimes

Do you have recurring nightmares or flashbacks related to traumatic events in your past?

a) Yes
b) No
c) Occasionally

Do you find it challenging to relax and experience a constant state of alertness or hyper vigilance? Do you find yourself constantly on edge?

a) Yes
b) No
c) Occasionally

Have you noticed unexplained physical pain or somatic complaints without a clear medical cause?

a) Yes
b) No
c) Not sure

Do you avoid situations or people that remind you of traumatic events?

a) Yes
b) No
c) Sometimes

Additional exercise – Do I have Complex PTSD?

If you’re comfortable doing so, go back through Complex PTSD Quiz questions 1-9 and expand on your answers.

You don’t have to be perfect nor document every part of your experience.

It does, however, get events and emotions and thoughts out of your head and onto a document.

In your ongoing recovery, answering these types of journal prompts can be cathartic and help you “dump” memories onto paper rather then repressed in your body and mind.

This exercise does not have to be completed in one sitting.

Remember, the results are not a diagnosis.

Interpreting the Complex PTSD quiz results

Interpreting the results of the Complex PTSD questionnaire is a delicate process, and it’s important to approach it with care. Here are some best practices:

Consult with a Professional

The questionnaire is not a diagnostic tool. If you score high or have concerns about your mental health, consult with a qualified trauma-informed professional.

They can provide a comprehensive assessment, a formal diagnosis, and guide you through appropriate next steps.

Avoid Self-Diagnosis

Refrain from self-diagnosing based solely on the questionnaire. Mental health conditions are complex, and a thorough evaluation by a professional is necessary for an accurate diagnosis.

Recognize the Limitations

The questionnaire is a tool for self-reflection, and it’s limited on purpose. A professional assessment considers a broader range of factors.

Explore Your Feelings

If the questionnaire prompts strong emotions or concerns, explore those feelings in a safe place. Share the thoughts and feelings you’ve documented with a mental health professional, who can help you navigate and understand your emotions.

Focus on Next Steps

Use the questionnaire as a starting point for a conversation with a mental health professional. Discuss your concerns, experiences, and the Complex PTSD quiz results to develop a plan for support, whether it involves therapy, counseling, or other interventions.

Promote Self-Care

Regardless of the questionnaire results, prioritize your own self-care and well-being. Engage in activities that promote well-being and consider seeking support from friends, family, or a support group, but only those you are comfortable with and you don’t fear being re-traumatized.

Stay Open-Minded

Be open-minded to the insights gained from the questionnaire but understand that mental health is complex. The professional’s expertise is crucial for accurate interpretation and guidance.

Seeking professional help for Complex PTSD

Seeking professional help for Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a significant and commendable step towards healing. Here are some best practices to consider

Research and Find a Qualified Professional

Look for mental health professionals with experience in trauma and C-PTSD.
Psychologists, psychiatrists, or licensed therapists who specialize in trauma-focused therapies, such as EMDR or trauma-informed cognitive-behavioral therapy, can be beneficial.

Check Credentials and Specializations

Ensure the professional is licensed and has relevant credentials. Inquire about their experience and specialization in treating C-PTSD.

Seek Recommendations

Ask for recommendations from trusted sources, such as friends, family, or healthcare providers. Online reviews and testimonials can also provide insights into a professional’s approach and effectiveness.

Consider Teletherapy

Teletherapy or online counseling services can be a viable option, especially if access to in-person services is limited. Ensure the chosen platform and professional adhere to ethical and privacy standards.

Establish a Connection

Schedule an initial consultation to gauge whether you feel comfortable and connected with the professional. Don’t feel obligated to work with a practitioner who you don’t trust. Trust and comfort are vital components of successful therapy; if you’re in doubt, keep looking.

Discuss Treatment Approaches

Different therapeutic approaches work for different individuals. Discuss potential treatment modalities and approaches with the professional to ensure they align with your preferences and needs.

Clarify Expectations and Goals

Clearly communicate your expectations for therapy and discuss achievable goals.

Be Honest and Open

Be open and honest about your experiences and concerns, to the best of your ability considering you’re dredging up traumatic events and memories. Take breaks as needed.

Understand the Treatment Plan

Work with your mental health professional to develop a comprehensive treatment plan. Revisit and adjust the plan as needed.

Include Support Systems

If comfortable, involve supportive friends and family members in your treatment journey. They can provide additional insights, support, and encouragement.

Prioritize Self-Care

Complement professional therapy with self-care practices. This may include mindfulness, physical activity, and activities that bring you a sense of equilibrium.

Be Patient and Persistent

Recovery from C-PTSD takes time and does not occur on a straight line. Be patient with yourself and the therapeutic process.

Remember that seeking professional help is courageous and a sign of bravery.

Treatment options for Complex PTSD

Treatment options for Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) aim to address the complex nature of the condition, offering individuals a comprehensive path toward healing and recovery.

Each person’s experience with C-PTSD is unique, and treatment plans should be tailored to individual needs. Treatment options include:

Psychotherapy

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT): This evidence-based approach helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with trauma.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR involves guided eye movements to process traumatic memories and reduce their emotional impact, promoting desensitization and resolution.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT, or Dialectical Behavior Therapy, combines cognitive-behavioral techniques with mindfulness strategies, focusing on emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, and distress tolerance.

Mindfulness-Based Therapies

Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and yoga, can help individuals develop present-moment awareness, reduce anxiety, and improve overall well-being.

Medication

Psychiatric medications, such as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or mood stabilizers, may be prescribed to alleviate symptoms like depression, anxiety, and mood swings. Medication is often used in conjunction with psychotherapy.

Group Therapy

Group settings provide a supportive environment for individuals with C-PTSD to share their experiences, learn from others, and practice interpersonal skills. Group therapy fosters a sense of community and reduces isolation.

Holistic Approaches

Complementary therapies like art therapy, music therapy, or equine therapy can provide alternative avenues for expression and healing, engaging different aspects of the individual.

Self-Help Strategies

Encouraging self-help strategies, such as journaling, self-reflection, and self-compassion exercises, can empower individuals to actively participate in their healing journey.

Couples or Family Therapy

Involving significant others in therapy can enhance support systems, improve communication, and address relational challenges that may arise due to C-PTSD.

Education and Psycho-education

Understanding C-PTSD is a crucial aspect of treatment. Psycho-education helps individuals and their support networks grasp the complexities of the disorder and fosters empathy and awareness.

Successful treatment often involves a combination of these approaches, tailored to address specific symptoms and challenges.

The combined efforts of mental health professionals, support networks, and the individual are fundamental in navigating the complexities of C-PTSD and working towards a path of healing and recovery.

Coping strategies for managing Complex PTSD

Coping with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) requires a multifaceted approach that empowers individuals to navigate the challenges associated with this complex condition. Here are effective coping strategies for managing C-PTSD:

Mindfulness and Grounding Techniques

Practicing mindfulness and grounding exercises helps individuals stay present and manage overwhelming emotions. Techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery foster a connection to the current moment.

Establishing a Safety Plan

Creating a personalized safety plan that includes coping mechanisms for moments of distress is crucial. This plan may involve reaching out to a trusted friend, engaging in a comforting activity, or utilizing a crisis hotline.

Therapeutic Journaling

Self-Compassion Practices

Developing self-compassion is vital for individuals with C-PTSD. Being kind to oneself during difficult moments and acknowledging personal strengths fosters resilience and a positive mindset.

Healthy Boundaries

Establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries in relationships is crucial. Learning to say no, setting limits, and advocating for one’s needs helps prevent re-traumatization and supports emotional well-being.

Routine and Structure

Creating a consistent daily routine provides stability and predictability, which can be particularly grounding for individuals with C-PTSD. Structure helps manage anxiety and promotes a sense of control.

Social Support

Building and maintaining a supportive network is essential. Connecting with understanding friends, family, or support groups provides validation and encouragement, reducing feelings of isolation.

Art and Creative Expression

Engaging in creative activities, such as art, music, or writing, provides an outlet for self-expression and emotional release.

Creative pursuits can serve as therapeutic tools for processing trauma.

Physical Activity

Regular exercise has proven benefits for mental health.

Physical activity reduces stress hormones, promotes relaxation, and enhances overall well-being.

Finding enjoyable ways to stay active is beneficial.

Mind-Body Techniques

Incorporating mind-body techniques like yoga or tai chi helps regulate the nervous system, reducing hyper-arousal and promoting a sense of calm and balance.

Educating Oneself

Learning about C-PTSD and trauma-informed care empowers individuals to understand their experiences better. Education fosters a sense of control and aids in making informed decisions about treatment options.

Coping with C-PTSD is an ongoing process, and individuals may find that a combination of these strategies works best for them.

Working closely with mental health professionals and adjusting coping mechanisms as needed can contribute to a more effective and sustainable approach to managing the complexities of C-PTSD.

Frequently Asked Questions about Complex PTSD

Is Complex PTSD in the DSM?

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is not listed as a separate diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

However, the concept of complex trauma and its impact on psychological functioning are recognized within the DSM-5 under the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In the DSM-5, PTSD encompasses a range of symptoms that can occur after exposure to a traumatic event or events. While the DSM-5 does not specifically define C-PTSD as a distinct diagnosis, it acknowledges that individuals may experience symptoms beyond those outlined for PTSD, particularly in cases of prolonged or repeated trauma.

These additional symptoms are sometimes referred to as “complex PTSD symptoms” and are recognized within the broader framework of PTSD.

Despite not having a standalone diagnosis in the DSM-5, clinicians and researchers continue to study and recognize the unique challenges and symptoms associated with complex trauma.

There is ongoing discussion within the mental health field about the potential inclusion of C-PTSD as a separate diagnosis in future revisions of diagnostic manuals.

In the meantime, mental health professionals often assess and treat individuals experiencing complex trauma using a combination of PTSD interventions and other therapeutic approaches tailored to their specific needs.

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is not listed as a separate diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

However, the concept of complex trauma and its impact on psychological functioning are recognized within the DSM-5 under the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In the DSM-5, PTSD encompasses a range of symptoms that can occur after exposure to a traumatic event or events.

While the DSM-5 does not specifically define C-PTSD as a distinct diagnosis, it acknowledges that individuals may experience symptoms beyond those outlined for PTSD, particularly in cases of prolonged or repeated trauma.

These additional symptoms are sometimes referred to as “complex PTSD symptoms” and are recognized within the broader framework of PTSD.

Despite not having a standalone diagnosis in the DSM-5, clinicians and researchers continue to study and recognize the unique challenges and symptoms associated with complex trauma.

There is ongoing discussion within the mental health field about the potential inclusion of C-PTSD as a separate diagnosis in future revisions of diagnostic manuals.

In the meantime, mental health professionals often assess and treat individuals experiencing complex trauma using a combination of PTSD interventions and other therapeutic approaches tailored to their specific needs.

While the DSM-5 does not explicitly define C-PTSD as a separate diagnosis, it acknowledges that individuals may experience symptoms beyond those outlined for PTSD, particularly in cases of prolonged or repeated trauma.

Despite not having a standalone diagnosis in the DSM-5, the concept of complex trauma and its impact on psychological functioning are recognized within the broader field of trauma psychology and by many mental health professionals.

Some clinicians and researchers use the term “Complex PTSD” informally to describe the constellation of symptoms that arise from prolonged or repeated trauma, particularly in interpersonal contexts.

Mental health professionals may still assess and treat individuals experiencing complex trauma using a combination of PTSD interventions and other therapeutic approaches tailored to their specific needs.

It’s essential for clinicians to conduct a thorough evaluation and develop a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses the unique symptoms and challenges associated with complex trauma.

What causes Complex PTSD?

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) typically arises from exposure to prolonged or repeated trauma, particularly in situations where the individual feels trapped, powerless, or unable to escape.

Some common causes of C-PTSD include:

Childhood abuse or neglect

Persistent mistreatment, such as physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, or neglect during childhood, can lead to the development of C-PTSD.

Children who grow up in dysfunctional or unsafe environments may experience ongoing trauma that affects their psychological development.

Prolonged domestic violence

Individuals who experience long-term exposure to domestic violence or intimate partner abuse may develop C-PTSD.

The chronic stress and fear associated with living in an abusive relationship can lead to complex trauma symptoms.

Repeated exposure to traumatic events

Certain professions or life circumstances may expose individuals to multiple traumatic events over time, such as military combat, first responders witnessing frequent emergencies, or individuals living in war zones or areas with high levels of violence.

Captivity or human trafficking

Being held captive or subjected to human trafficking can result in prolonged trauma and severe psychological distress, leading to the development of C-PTSD.

Forced migration or refugee experiences

Individuals who are forcibly displaced from their homes due to war, persecution, or other traumatic events may experience ongoing stressors and challenges that contribute to the development of C-PTSD.

Childhood attachment disruptions

Early disruptions in attachment, such as separation from caregivers or inconsistent caregiving, can affect a child’s ability to form secure attachments and regulate emotions, increasing their vulnerability to complex trauma later in life.

Institutional abuse or exploitation

Being subjected to abuse or exploitation within institutional settings, such as prisons, residential care facilities, or religious organizations, can lead to C-PTSD.

It’s important to note that not everyone exposed to trauma will develop C-PTSD, and individual responses to trauma can vary widely. Factors such as genetics, resilience, social support, and access to mental health resources can influence an individual’s risk of developing C-PTSD following exposure to trauma.

Can Complex PTSD be Cured?

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a complex and chronic condition that does not have a simple “cure” in the traditional sense.

However, with appropriate treatment and support, many individuals with C-PTSD can experience significant improvements in their symptoms and overall well-being, leading to a better quality of life.

While complete elimination of all symptoms may not always be possible, many people can learn to manage their symptoms effectively and experience substantial relief.

Treatment for C-PTSD typically focuses on reducing distressing symptoms, improving coping skills, and enhancing resilience.

Some individuals may even reach a point where they no longer meet the criteria for a diagnosis of C-PTSD.

Here are some key aspects of treating C-PTSD:

Therapy

Engaging in therapy with a qualified mental health professional who has experience in treating trauma-related disorders is essential.

Therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT) have been shown to be effective in treating C-PTSD.

Medication

While there are no medications specifically approved for the treatment of C-PTSD, certain medications such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed to help manage symptoms such as depression, anxiety, or sleep disturbances.

Self-care

Engaging in self-care practices such as exercise, relaxation techniques, mindfulness, healthy eating, and adequate sleep can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being.

Social support

Building a strong support network of friends, family members, support groups, or online communities can provide validation, understanding, and encouragement throughout the recovery process.

Education

Learning about trauma and its effects on the mind and body can help individuals understand their symptoms and treatment options, empowering them to actively participate in their recovery journey.

Holistic approaches

Exploring complementary and alternative therapies such as yoga, meditation, acupuncture, or art therapy may also be helpful in managing symptoms and promoting healing.


It’s important to recognize that healing from C-PTSD is a gradual and ongoing process, and recovery looks different for everyone.

While complete “cure” may not be possible, many individuals with C-PTSD can learn to live fulfilling and meaningful lives despite their past traumas.

The goal of treatment is to help individuals build resilience, develop effective coping strategies, and regain a sense of safety, stability, and empowerment.

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a chronic condition that does not simply “go away” on its own.

However, with appropriate treatment, support, and self-care, many individuals with C-PTSD can experience significant improvements in their symptoms and overall quality of life.

While complete elimination of all symptoms may not always be possible, many people can learn to manage their symptoms effectively and lead fulfilling lives despite their past traumas.

The goal of treatment for C-PTSD is not necessarily to make the disorder disappear entirely, but rather to help individuals build resilience, develop coping skills, and reduce the impact of trauma on their daily functioning.

Treatment typically involves therapy, medication (if appropriate), self-care practices, and support from others.

It’s important to recognize that healing from C-PTSD is a gradual and ongoing process, and recovery looks different for everyone.

Some individuals may experience significant improvements and reach a point where they no longer meet the criteria for a diagnosis of C-PTSD.

Others may continue to experience some symptoms but find that they are better able to manage them and live fulfilling lives despite their challenges.

Ultimately, the goal of treatment is to help individuals with C-PTSD learn to cope with their symptoms, develop a sense of safety and stability, and build meaningful connections with others.

While C-PTSD may always be a part of an individual’s history, it does not have to define their future, and many people can learn to thrive despite their past traumas.

The duration of Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) can vary widely among individuals and depends on various factors, including the severity of the trauma, the availability of treatment and support, individual resilience, and other co-occurring factors such as additional mental health conditions.

C-PTSD is considered a chronic condition, meaning that it can persist for an extended period, often years, if left untreated.

However, with appropriate treatment, support, and self-care, many individuals with C-PTSD can experience significant improvements in their symptoms and overall well-being over time.

It’s essential to recognize that healing from C-PTSD is a gradual and ongoing process, and there is no fixed timeline for recovery.

Some individuals may see substantial improvements within months of starting treatment, while others may require years of therapy and support to manage their symptoms effectively.

Furthermore, while some individuals may no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for C-PTSD after treatment, others may continue to experience residual symptoms or periodic flare-ups of symptoms, particularly during times of stress or when triggered by reminders of past trauma.

Ultimately, the duration of C-PTSD is highly individualized, and recovery looks different for everyone.

The focus of treatment is not necessarily to “cure” C-PTSD but rather to help individuals learn to manage their symptoms, improve their quality of life, and build resilience in the face of past traumas.

With ongoing support and commitment to the recovery process, many individuals with C-PTSD can lead fulfilling and meaningful lives despite their past experiences.

Is Complex PTSD neurodivergent?

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a mental health condition that arises from exposure to prolonged or repeated trauma, particularly in situations where the individual feels powerless or trapped.

While C-PTSD is not typically considered a neurodevelopmental disorder like autism or ADHD, it can affect brain function and neurobiology in various ways.

C-PTSD can lead to alterations in brain structure and function, particularly in areas involved in stress response, emotional regulation, and memory processing.

For example, chronic stress and trauma can impact the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex, which are key regions involved in the brain’s response to threat and its regulation of emotions and memory.

Additionally, individuals with C-PTSD may experience symptoms such as emotional dysregulation, dissociation, and difficulties with attention and concentration, which can affect cognitive and emotional functioning.

These symptoms can vary widely among individuals and may overlap with characteristics seen in some neurodivergent conditions.

It’s important to recognize that neurodiversity encompasses a wide range of neurodevelopmental differences and conditions, including autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and others.

While C-PTSD is not typically considered a neurodivergent condition in the same way as these neurodevelopmental disorders, individuals with C-PTSD may have unique neurobiological profiles and experiences that contribute to their symptoms and challenges.

Overall, while C-PTSD is not classified as a neurodivergent condition, it can still have significant effects on brain function and behavior, and individuals with C-PTSD may benefit from approaches that acknowledge and address their unique neurobiological and psychological needs.

Can Complex PTSD Cause Seizures

While Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is primarily characterized by symptoms related to psychological distress and dysfunction, it is possible for individuals with C-PTSD to experience physical symptoms such as seizures.

However, it’s important to note that seizures are not a direct symptom of C-PTSD itself but may occur as a secondary consequence of trauma or as a comorbid condition.

Here are a few ways in which trauma and C-PTSD could potentially be associated with seizures:

Psychogenic non-epileptic seizures (PNES)

PNES are seizures that resemble epileptic seizures but are not caused by abnormal brain electrical activity.

Instead, they are thought to be related to psychological factors, including trauma and stress. Individuals with C-PTSD may be at higher risk for PNES due to the intense emotional distress and dysregulation associated with their condition.

Stress-related triggers

Stress and emotional arousal can sometimes trigger seizures in individuals with epilepsy or other seizure disorders.

Since individuals with C-PTSD may experience chronic stress and heightened emotional arousal, they may be more susceptible to seizures triggered by stress.

Co-occurring conditions

C-PTSD often co-occurs with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders, depression, and substance use disorders, which may themselves be associated with an increased risk of seizures.

Neurobiological effects of trauma

Chronic exposure to trauma can affect brain function and neurobiology in various ways, potentially increasing susceptibility to seizures or seizure-like phenomena.


It’s essential for individuals with C-PTSD who experience seizures or seizure-like symptoms to seek evaluation and treatment from a qualified healthcare provider, such as a neurologist or psychiatrist.

A comprehensive assessment can help determine the underlying cause of the seizures and guide appropriate treatment and management strategies.

This may include a combination of medical interventions, psychotherapy, stress management techniques, and other supportive measures tailored to the individual’s needs.

Is Complex PTSD a Mental Illness?

Yes, Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is considered a mental health condition or mental illness.

It is characterized by a constellation of symptoms that arise from exposure to prolonged or repeated trauma, particularly in interpersonal contexts where the individual feels powerless, trapped, or unable to escape.

C-PTSD is characterized by symptoms that extend beyond those outlined for traditional Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and may include difficulties in emotional regulation, self-concept, and interpersonal relationships.

These symptoms can significantly impact an individual’s functioning, well-being, and quality of life.

While C-PTSD is not formally recognized as a separate diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), many mental health professionals and researchers acknowledge the existence and impact of C-PTSD.

Individuals with C-PTSD may experience significant distress and impairment in various areas of their lives, including work, relationships, and overall psychological functioning.

As with other mental health conditions, C-PTSD can benefit from appropriate assessment, diagnosis, and treatment by qualified mental health professionals.

Treatment for C-PTSD typically involves a comprehensive approach that may include trauma-focused therapy, medication (if appropriate), self-care practices, and support from others.

Can Complex PTSD Cause Psychosis?

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is primarily characterized by symptoms related to psychological distress and dysfunction, rather than psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions.

However, individuals with C-PTSD may experience dissociative symptoms, which can sometimes resemble psychosis but are distinct in nature.

Dissociation is a common coping mechanism for individuals who have experienced trauma, including those with C-PTSD. Dissociative symptoms may include:

Depersonalization

Feeling detached from oneself or one’s body, as if observing oneself from outside.

Derealization

Experiencing the world as unreal or dreamlike, or feeling disconnected from one’s surroundings.

Amnesia

Gaps in memory for significant events or periods of time, often related to traumatic experiences.

While dissociative symptoms can be distressing and may involve alterations in perception or sense of reality, they are typically understood as a response to overwhelming stress or trauma rather than as a primary psychotic disorder.

That said, individuals with C-PTSD who experience severe and persistent dissociative symptoms may sometimes be misdiagnosed with psychosis or other mental health conditions.

It’s important for clinicians to conduct a thorough assessment to accurately differentiate between dissociative symptoms and primary psychotic symptoms.

If you or someone you know is experiencing distressing symptoms that resemble psychosis, it’s essential to seek help from a qualified mental health professional for evaluation and appropriate treatment.

Treatment for C-PTSD typically involves trauma-focused therapy, medication (if appropriate), and other supportive interventions tailored to the individual’s needs.

Conclusion: Empowering yourself through awareness and support

Empowering yourself through awareness and support is a pivotal aspect of the recovery journey after a Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) diagnosis.

Awareness begins with a deep understanding of the condition, acknowledging its impact and consequences on your life, and recognizing that recovery is a gradual and personalized process.

Educating yourself about C-PTSD, its symptoms, and potential triggers is courageous.

This knowledge builds your self-awareness, allowing you to identify patterns, anticipate challenges, and actively participate in your healing journey.

Stay informed about therapeutic approaches and treatment options, enabling you to collaborate effectively with mental health professionals and make informed decisions about your care.

Building a robust support network is important as well.

When you are comfortable, share your diagnosis with trusted friends and family who can provide understanding and encouragement.

Engage in therapy and support groups where individuals with similar experiences can offer empathy and insights.

Cultivating connections with others who have faced C-PTSD fosters a sense of community and reduces isolation.

And lastly, communicate your needs, preferences, and boundaries to your support system and mental health professionals.

This is your treatment plan, so provide feedback and adapt as necessary.

Taking ownership of your recovery and treatment plan, inviting others to join you, and making incremental steps forward will bring peace and a higher self-worth, which you deserve.

If you or someone you know is in crisis

Call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline  at 988 .

The Lifeline provides 24-hour, confidential support to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Call 911 in life-threatening situations.

If you are worried about a friend’s social media updates, you can contact safety teams at the social media company .

They will reach out to connect the person with the help they need.

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