C-PTSD: What Is It?

Disclaimer: Please do not self-diagnose. Seek help from a qualified mental health professional and/or doctor if you suspect you may have any form of PTSD or any mental health condition. This article is for informative purposes only and is not medical advice.

PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, may be a condition you’ve heard about. Typically we associate it with people who have experienced a traumatic event. These include cases of sexual assault or military service. The condition causes intense anxiety around the traumatic event which can manifest in intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, or nightmares among many other signs. However, lesser known is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, otherwise known as C-PTSD. In this article, we’ll give a brief overview of this condition as well as resources to seek help.

What is C-PTSD in contrast with PTSD?

The main difference between PTSD and C-PTSD has to do with the traumatic events themselves. PTSD is typically triggered by one specific event, or a series of events in a small period of time. C-PTSD on the other hand, consists of a series of traumatic events over a long period of time. Commonly, this is the case in children growing up in abusive households, or spending time in a war torn country, although it can come in many other forms (BetterHelp).

The series of traumatic events can take place over several months to several years. Like all forms of PTSD, C-PTSD may lead to other issues including, but not limited to: addiction, depression, anxiety, and even changes in personality among many more if left untreated (VeryWell Mind).

What causes C-PTSD?

Studies suggest that trauma has physiological effects on the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. While C-PTSD is still being researched, it is believed that long term trauma and repeated traumatic events create different effects than what is normally understood as PTSD (Healthline).

On a psychological level, Dr. Sonya Bruner of BetterHelp describes C-PTSD as an issue involving safety. People growing up in abusive households for instance, lack the feeling of safety. Having this constant fear of physical/emotional/psychological/sexual harm in childhood can cause problems later in life. Living in a war-torn country is another instance where the basic feeling of safety is shattered. Feeling unsafe, especially for extended periods of time, can cause issues in trusting others and issues with hyperarousal; a constant anxiety about the surrounding world. There are countless scenarios where a person may experience traumatic events. However, each person experiences and handles trauma in different ways making C-PTSD a difficult topic to study (BetterHelp).

What are the symptoms of C-PTSD?

Since C-PTSD is closely related to PTSD, the symptoms often overlap. Commonly, flashbacks and/or nightmares related to the traumatic event are huge indicators. Avoidance is another symptom in which the affected person avoids situations reminding them of the event. Hyperarousal is another factor in which the affected person will have intense anxiety surrounding an event and anything that may remind them of it. All these symptoms are considered “core” symptoms as they are shared with PTSD (VeryWell Mind).

A few complications that C-PTSD shows more prominently can include relationship issues, difficulty controlling emotions, negative self view, and detachment from the trauma which may manifest in derealization and depersonalization – although each of these can manifest in PTSD as well making diagnosis tricky. Additionally many other mental health conditions may develop that can impede living a normal life. Seeking help early on is highly recommended as these symptoms may worsen over time (Healthline).

How do I know to get help?

According to the Mayo Clinic, if you’re having disturbing thoughts or feelings related to a traumatic event for more than a month, you should seek help from a doctor or mental health professional. If these thoughts and feelings are severe, then you should seek help sooner. PTSD and C-PTSD can be helped and acting sooner can help prevent the condition from worsening. As with any condition, any thoughts of suicide should be treated as an emergency by calling your local emergency service number (Mayo Clinic).

How is C-PTSD diagnosed?

Since C-PTSD is a relatively newly discovered condition, more people are likely to be diagnosed as just PTSD. Typically the process involves working with a doctor to analyze your behavior, past events, as well as looking into family history. For C-PTSD specifically, they may look at your past relationships and emotional control as well as analyzing the traumatic events (VeryWell Mind).

What kind of treatments are available for C-PTSD?

There are many different options for treatment. Commonly, forms of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be implemented. Medication may also be used alongside CBT. Otherwise, some professionals utilize Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) (VeryWell Mind).

In summary, C-PTSD is a closely related condition to PTSD that manifests itself in many of the same ways. The condition is serious and treatment should be sought out as soon as possible. It is important to know that help is always available and that your quality of life can be improved. We hope this article helps shed some light on C-PTSD. Let us know any thoughts on the matter. We have more articles related to PTSD here.


Bruner, Sonya, director. C-PTSD Behavior Explained – Common Traits, Triggers & Treatment Options | BetterHelp. BetterHelp, BetterHelp.com, 15 Nov. 2018.

Bruner, Sonya, director. What Is C-PTSD? (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). BetterHelp, BetterHelp.com, 30 Oct. 2018.

Hull, Matthew. “An Overview of Complex PTSD.” Verywell Mind, Dotdash Publishing Company, 30 Mar. 2020.

“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Clinic, 1998.

“Understanding Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 2005.

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