Complex PTSD: Is it Why You’re Feeling Trapped at Work?

Do you feel overwhelmed and unable to get out from under the stress at your workplace? There could be a deeper reason. Could the reason for feeling trapped at work be Complex PTSD?

Complex PTSD, as opposed to traditional PTSD, is a condition that results from chronic and repeated traumatic experiences.

It can affect not only individuals who have experienced single traumatic events, but also those who have endured prolonged trauma, such as emotional abuse or neglect.

In the context of work, Complex PTSD can manifest in various ways, leading to feelings of being trapped, powerless, or constantly on edge.

The triggers can range from toxic work environments to unmet emotional needs and unresolved trauma-related issues.

Understanding that C-PTSD might play a role in your feelings of being trapped or “stuck” at work is an important step towards finding a path to healing.

In this article, we will explore the connection between C-PTSD and workplace struggles, providing strategies to help you navigate through your challenging work environment.

What is Complex PTSD?

What is Complex PTSD Infographic - courtesy Complex PTSD Help

Complex PTSD, also known as C-PTSD, is a psychological condition that develops as a result of chronic and repeated traumatic experiences.

Unlike traditional PTSD, which is often associated with a single traumatic event, C-PTSD stems from prolonged exposure to trauma.

This can include experiences such as emotional abuse, neglect, or living in an unstable or unsafe environment.

Individuals with C-PTSD may experience a range of symptoms that can significantly impact their daily lives.

For some, the consequences of feeling trapped at work and the resulting Complex PTSD flashbacks, dissociation and interpersonal conflicts can cost their job and career.

Other symptoms can include intrusive thoughts, nightmares, flashbacks and emotional dysregulation.

Although C-PTSD is not a recognized diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), many mental health professionals acknowledge its existence and the unique challenges it presents for individuals who have experienced prolonged and repeated trauma.

What are the signs and symptoms of Complex PTSD?

The signs and symptoms of C-PTSD can vary from person to person, but there are some common indicators to look out for.

These may include

Emotional dysregulation

Individuals with C-PTSD may have difficulty managing their emotions, experiencing intense mood swings, and feeling overwhelmed by even minor stressors.


This refers to a state of constant alertness and heightened sensitivity to potential threats.

It can manifest as hyper vigilance, an exaggerated startle response, or an inability to relax.

Imagine when you feel trapped at work the mental energy you’re burning just to feel “safe”.

Now consider the energy you’ve expended is not being used for your work responsibilities.

That’s just one trade off undiagnosed Complex PTSD sufferers make in the workplace.

Intrusive thoughts and memories

People with C-PTSD may experience intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, or nightmares related to their traumatic experiences.

These can be distressing and make it difficult to concentrate or focus on work tasks.

This can result in decreased productivity and an increased risk of errors or mistakes.

Avoidance behaviors

Individuals with C-PTSD may actively avoid situations or reminders that trigger memories of their trauma.

This can include avoiding certain tasks or interactions in the workplace, which can limit career growth and opportunities for advancement.

Difficulties in interpersonal relationships

C-PTSD can affect an individual’s ability to trust and form healthy relationships.

This can lead to difficulties in the workplace, such as conflicts with colleagues or challenges in working collaboratively.

If you’re feeling trapped at work due to Complex PTSD triggers, interpersonal relationships can and will suffer.

This can create a hostile or unsupportive work environment, further exacerbating feelings of entrapment.

That’s when extreme intrusive thoughts can overcome and overwhelm the person, leading to “I hate my job and feel trapped” or “I want to leave my job but feel trapped.”

These type of intrusive thoughts go beyond the normal dissatisfaction in the workplace and instead lead to rash, impulsive career decisions that can cause significant career and financial strains.

Causes and risk factors of Complex PTSD

C-PTSD can develop as a result of various traumatic experiences.

These may include:

Childhood abuse or neglect

Individuals who have experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse during childhood are at a higher risk of developing C-PTSD.

Similarly, neglect or growing up in an unstable or unsafe environment can also contribute to its development.

When you feel trapped at work, these can trigger emotional flashbacks that are the hallmark of Complex PTSD sufferers.

Domestic violence

Survivors of domestic violence often experience repeated trauma, which can lead to the development of C-PTSD.

War or conflict

Military personnel who have been exposed to prolonged and intense combat situations may develop C-PTSD.

Human trafficking or captivity

Victims of human trafficking or those who have been held captive may develop C-PTSD due to the chronic and repeated trauma they have endured.

Long-term exposure to toxic work environments

Workplace environments that are characterized by bullying, harassment, or high levels of stress can contribute to the development of C-PTSD.

It’s important to note that not everyone who experiences trauma will develop C-PTSD.

Individual factors such as genetic predisposition, resilience, and available support systems also play a role in determining an individual’s susceptibility to developing this condition.

Understanding the causes and risk factors of C-PTSD can help individuals recognize the potential link between their traumatic experiences and their feelings of entrapment in the workplace.

This awareness can be a crucial first step in seeking appropriate support and interventions.

The impact of Complex PTSD on work

C-PTSD can have a significant impact on an individual’s ability to function effectively in the workplace.

The symptoms associated with this condition can interfere with job performance, professional relationships, and overall job satisfaction.

Individuals with C-PTSD may experience difficulties in the following areas

Workplace triggers

Certain aspects of the work environment, such as a high-stress environment, a demanding workload, or a toxic work culture, can act as triggers for individuals with C-PTSD.

These triggers can intensify symptoms like feeling trapped at work, a primary symptom of Complex PTSD.

For those suffering the triggers, their inability to regulate their emotions makes it more challenging to cope with daily work-related stressors.

Career advancement

The impact of C-PTSD on job performance and interpersonal relationships can hinder professional growth and limit career advancement opportunities.

This can contribute to feelings of being stuck or trapped in a job that does not align with an individual’s aspirations or goals.

It is essential for employers and colleagues to be aware of the potential impact of C-PTSD on individuals in the workplace.

Creating an environment that is supportive, understanding, and accommodating can make a significant difference in the well-being and success of those with C-PTSD.

Strategies for managing Complex PTSD at work

Managing C-PTSD in the workplace can be challenging, but it is not impossible.

With the right strategies and support, individuals with C-PTSD can navigate their work environment more effectively and promote their well-being. Here are some strategies to consider:

Seek therapy and professional support

Engaging in therapy with a mental health professional who specializes in trauma can be instrumental in managing C-PTSD symptoms.

Therapeutic approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) have been found to be effective in treating C-PTSD.

Practice self-care

Prioritizing self-care and stress management techniques can help individuals with C-PTSD cope with work-related challenges.

This may include engaging in activities such as meditation, exercise, journaling, or creative outlets that promote relaxation and emotional well-being.

Establish boundaries

Setting clear boundaries in the workplace can help individuals with C-PTSD protect their mental and emotional well-being.

This may involve communicating their needs to supervisors or colleagues, requesting reasonable accommodations, and advocating for a work environment that supports their recovery and growth.

Develop coping strategies

Identifying and implementing healthy coping strategies can help individuals manage and minimize the impact of C-PTSD symptoms at work.

This may involve techniques such as grounding exercises, deep breathing, or using sensory objects to manage anxiety or stress.

Educate and raise awareness

Sharing information about C-PTSD with employers, colleagues, and human resources can help create a more compassionate and understanding work environment.

By raising awareness about the condition, individuals with C-PTSD can reduce stigma and promote a culture of support and inclusivity.

It is important to remember that managing C-PTSD in the workplace is an ongoing process that requires patience, self-compassion, and support from others.

With the right strategies and resources, individuals with C-PTSD can overcome workplace challenges and create a path towards healing and growth.

Seeking professional help for Complex PTSD

If you suspect you may be experiencing symptoms of C-PTSD, it is crucial to seek professional help.

A mental health professional who specializes in trauma can provide an accurate diagnosis and develop an appropriate treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.

Therapy approaches that have shown effectiveness in treating C-PTSD include

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

This type of therapy focuses on identifying and challenging negative thoughts and beliefs, developing healthier coping strategies, and building resilience.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR utilizes rapid eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation to help individuals process and reframe traumatic memories and experiences.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

DBT, or Dialectical behavior therapy combines elements of CBT with mindfulness techniques to help individuals regulate their emotions, improve interpersonal skills, and enhance distress tolerance.

Remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, and you do not have to face C-PTSD alone.

Reach out to a mental health professional or a helpline in your country to get the support you deserve.

Creating a supportive work environment for individuals with Complex PTSD

Creating a supportive work environment is essential for individuals with C-PTSD to thrive and succeed in their careers.

Employers and colleagues can play a crucial role in fostering a workplace that is understanding, accommodating, and compassionate.

Here are some ways to create a supportive work environment:

Educate and raise awareness

Provide training and educational resources to increase awareness and understanding of C-PTSD among employees.

This can include workshops, presentations, or informational materials that explain the condition and its impact on individuals in the workplace.

Implement policies and procedures

Establish policies and procedures that address workplace bullying, harassment, and discrimination.

This can help create a safe and inclusive work environment for all employees, including those with C-PTSD.

Offer reasonable accommodations

Work with individuals with C-PTSD to identify reasonable accommodations that can support their well-being and productivity.

This may include flexible work hours, modified tasks, or designated safe spaces.

Promote open communication

Encourage open and honest communication within the workplace.

This can involve creating channels for employees to express their concerns, providing regular feedback, and ensuring that supervisors and colleagues are approachable and supportive.

Provide access to resources

Make information about mental health resources and support readily available to all employees.

This can include employee assistance programs, counseling services, or helpline numbers for immediate assistance.

By implementing these strategies, employers and colleagues can contribute to a work environment that promotes the well-being, growth, and success of individuals with C-PTSD.

Self-care tips for individuals feeling trapped at work with Complex PTSD?

Self-care is crucial for individuals with C-PTSD to manage their symptoms and maintain their well-being in the workplace. Here are some self-care tips that can help

Prioritize rest and relaxation

Make time for rest and relaxation outside of work to recharge and rejuvenate.

Engage in activities that bring you joy, such as spending time in nature, practicing mindfulness, or pursuing hobbies and interests.

Set boundaries

Establish clear boundaries between work and personal life.

Avoid overworking or taking on additional responsibilities that may contribute to stress and burnout.

Practice stress management techniques

Incorporate stress management techniques into your daily routine.

This may include deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided imagery.

Seek support

Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or support groups who can provide emotional support and understanding.

Talking to others who have experienced similar challenges can be validating and empowering.

Engage in self-reflection

Take time to reflect on your emotions, triggers, and needs.

Journaling or engaging in therapy can help you gain insight into your experiences and develop strategies for self-care.

Celebrate small victories

Recognize and celebrate your achievements, no matter how small.

Acknowledge your strengths and progress, and be kind to yourself throughout your healing journey.

Remember that self-care is a personal and ongoing process.

It may take time to find what works best for you, so be patient and compassionate with yourself along the way.

Resources and support for individuals with Complex PTSD

If you or someone you know is struggling with C-PTSD, there are resources and support available to help.

Here are some organizations that provide information, helplines, and support for individuals with C-PTSD:

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

NAMI offers resources, support groups, and helplines for individuals with mental health conditions, including C-PTSD. Visit their website at for more information.

Sidran Institute

The Sidran Institute is a nonprofit organization that provides education, resources, and support for individuals with trauma-related disorders, including C-PTSD.

Visit their website at for more information.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

If you or someone you know is in crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) for immediate assistance.

This helpline is available 24/7 and provides free and confidential support.

Remember that reaching out for help is a sign of strength, and there are people who are ready to support you on your healing journey.

Moving towards healing and growth

Feeling trapped at work can be a complex and distressing experience, but it is important to recognize that there might be deeper reasons behind this sense of entrapment.

Complex PTSD, or C-PTSD, can contribute to feelings of being powerless, trapped, or constantly on edge in the workplace.

If you suspect you or someone you know may be struggling with C-PTSD, it is essential to seek professional help for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

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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Disclosure: Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links, which can provide compensation to Complex PTSD Help.

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