5 Signs It’s C-PTSD, NOT PTSD

Hey, Psych2Goers! Welcome back to another article to help us gain knowledge and spread awareness of different mental health conditions. Today, we’re discussing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

When you hear “PTSD”, what do you think of? A soldier? A victim of a crime? The American Psychiatric Association defines PTSD as “…a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event…” (2020), but did you know there are different types of PTSD? Traditional PTSD is when someone experiences a single traumatic event that causes post traumatic stress. According to Medical News Today, only 7% of those in the U.S. will be affected by traditional PTSD at some point in their lives. Have you ever heard of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD)? In 2016, the World Health Organization Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse did a study finding that you can tell the difference between PTSD and C-PTSD. So how do WE tell the difference? Let’s jump into 5 signs it’s C-PTSD not PTSD (Medical News Today, 2022).

Side note: This is a disclaimer that this article/video is for informative purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Please reach out to a qualified healthcare provider or mental health professional if you are struggling.

#1: You notice feelings of trauma coming up more frequently.

The main difference between PTSD and C-PTSD is how often we feel stress from our traumatic event. PTSD is typically a one-time traumatic event that will cause stressful feelings that subside within a few days. C-PTSD is either trauma from a series of or prolonged event. Let’s say you were in a car accident (knock on wood!). If you feel trauma after that event, and it goes away, we might assume this is traditional PTSD. However, what if you feel nervous and anxious getting into a car any time after this accident? Even five years after the accident, you still won’t drive. This can be categorized as C-PTSD. C-PTSD can also include reliving the event through flashbacks or nightmares bringing on these stressful feelings. Seeing the frequency of these episodes increase can be the main indicator of C-PTSD.

#2: You have difficulty controlling your emotions.

When someone has traditional PTSD, the effects of the event are short-lived. However, C-PTSD is a diagnosis that involves an extended period of feeling stress and trauma stemming from a series of events. With a longer timeframe comes more severe symptoms. On top of feeling the stress of the event, an individual with C-PTSD may also have difficulty controlling their emotions.

Let’s take that same example of a car accident. This person may feel stressed even getting into a car, let alone driving the car. If a friend suggests carpooling to lunch, you may react by getting very angry and yelling at your friend. Maybe the person begins crying due to the idea of being stuck in a car is too overwhelming. These swelling emotions paired with a traumatic event can be a sign of C-PTSD.

#3: Huh…What? Were you saying something?

Have you ever been in the middle of something and completely spaced out? Maybe you were driving home from the store, then BAM! All of the sudden, you’re home. This is a phenomenon called dissociation. Dissociation is when our brains lack continuity. You can separate yourself from your thoughts, surroundings, and even emotions. This is a common coping mechanism when we have incredibly overwhelming feelings and don’t wish to be present to feel them anymore. This is another symptom specific to C-PTSD due to the how long you feel the stress.

Let’s go back to the example of your friend suggesting to carpool to lunch. When the friend asks, you may begin feeling all of those negative emotions bubbling up. At that point, you may notice that you “blackout” or dissociate to stop yourself from feeling like this. If this individual also takes the car ride, they may dissociate during the car ride to keep themselves from having an emotional outburst.

#4: You feel physical symptoms when you are reminded of your past trauma.

Have you ever been listening to someone telling a story, and they describe something that legit makes you sick to your stomach? I have! The brain is a powerful organ that holds on to a lot of information, including what/how you feel and when you feel it.

Back to the car example!! Say you’re recounting your traumatic car accident with a mental health professional. Even though you’re safe with the therapist in an office or the comfort of your own home and NOT in a car, you may start to feel physical symptoms that come with anxiety. These symptoms can include nausea, dizziness, or pains in your stomach. Your brain remembers! Having these feelings coming back up when simply REMEMBERING trauma can be a C-PTSD sign.

#5: You avoid your traumas triggers at all possible costs.

When you know what sets off a mental or physical health concern, most of us are inclined to avoid that thing. Example: I’m lactose intolerant. As much as I love a beautiful cheese pull on a freshly baked slice of pizza, I have to give it up. Someone experiencing C-PTSD for a length of time may feel tired of the stress or additional symptoms that they’re feeling. They may also be sick of letting their emotions get the better of them. So, what do they do? They avoid the trigger at all costs.

Cars make you nervous? Okay, I can use public transportation to meet friends, or I can invite them to my home and host a friends night in. Someone asks you to run a quick errand for them? You politely make an excuse that you’re stuck at the office. Someone suffering from C-PTSD might feel the need to control their situation to feel like they’re in control of themselves.

Did any of these signs shock you? Were you surprised at the different types of PTSD? Leave a comment below to let us know! Experiencing a traumatic experience is awful, but reliving that pain is so much worse. If you or a loved one have experienced any of these signs, please reach out to a trusted mental health profession to explore the more. As always, keep an eye on Psi for more Psych2Go content!

Have a wonderful day!

Want to know more about what C-PTSD is? Check out C-PTSD…What Is It?

The references used in and to compose this article are referenced below.

BetterHelp. (n.d.). Dissociation and dissociative disorders. Dissociation and dissociative disorders – Better Health Channel. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/dissociation-and-dissociative-disorders

Gilles, G. (2018, September 29). Complex PTSD: Symptoms, tests, treatment, and finding support. Healthline. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/cptsd

Keeley, J. W., Reed, G. M., Roberts, M. C., Evans, S. C., Robles, R., Matsumoto, C., Brewin, C. R., Cloitre, M., Perkonigg, A., Rousseau, C., Gureje, O., Lovell, A. M., Sharan, P., & Maercker, A. (2016). Disorders specifically associated with stress: A case-controlled field study for ICD-11 mental and behavioural disorders. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, 16(2), 109–127. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijchp.2015.09.002

Leonard, J., & Kubala, K. (2022, February 2). Complex PTSD (CPTSD): Causes, symptoms, behaviors, recovery. Medical News Today. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322886#symptoms

Torres, F. (2020, August). What is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd

Tull, M. (2022, January 18). How a diagnosis of Complex PTSD differs from PTSD. Verywell Mind. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-complex-ptsd-2797491

WebMD Editorial Contributors, & Brennan, D. (2021, April 12). What is complex PTSD? the symptoms caused by chronic trauma. WebMD. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-to-know-complex-ptsd-symptoms

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