PTSD VS C-PTSD – What’s The Difference?

There are many online articles about the symptoms and treatment of PTSD, but not many delve into how it is different from complex PTSD. 

This article will point out some of the subtle differences between these two conditions. 

  • Causes

Both conditions a byproduct of a traumatic event, but there are nuances in symptomatology and diagnosis that differentiate C-PTSD from PTSD. PTSD, as defined by the American Psychological Association, is a result of living or witnessing an event where you perceive a threat to your life which causes you to feel fear, terror, or helplessness. PTSD is common among war veterans but can also affect anyone who has endured violence or sexual abuse. PTSD can also affect survivors of natural disasters and other horrific events. 

a. While not explicitly defined in the DSM-5, it is a branch of PTSD. Whereas PTSD is generally the result of a single traumatic event, C-PTSD is the result of sustained trauma or repeated trauma–physical or emotional.  

  • Symptoms

One of the main differences between C-PTSD and PTSD is the symptoms. Common symptoms of PTSD include:

  • hyper-vigilance
  • severe emotional distress when exposed to a trigger, 
  • recurrent and distressing memories of the traumatic event (flashbacks) 
  •  avoidance of places that remind you of the event or where the event occurred
  • negative self-perception
  •  hopelessness
  •  feeling detached
  • dissociation
  • feeling emotionally numb

These symptoms and intensity vary depending on the person and the experience. For example, the symptoms can be mild, like intrusive thoughts that go away on their own, to more intense, like numbness, dissociation, intense flashbacks, or depression. 

While C-PTSD shares some symptoms with PTSD, most symptoms of C-PTSD can cause a sense of guilt and shame. Other symptoms of C-PTSD are:

  • difficulty regulating emotions,
  •  periods of dissociation or memory loss,
  •  distorted perspective, 
  • difficulty in making or sustaining relationships. 

Some signs of C-PTSD are poor self-perception and self-worth, periods of intense depression, suicidality, decreased self-esteem, difficulty managing emotional impulses, losing faith in one’s personal belief or moral code, and struggling to trust people. 

The severity of a person’s C-PTSD symptoms largely depends on the type of trauma they endured, the duration, and the age when they were traumatized. Those who experienced trauma during childhood were more vulnerable at the time and are likely to experience severe symptoms. 

  • Treatment

Because both conditions affect patients differently, they require different treatments. In the case of C-PTSD, a therapist might initially help the patient regain control over their emotions through cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavioral therapy before engaging in EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). EMDR is a technique that treats the emotional symptoms following a traumatic event. Though it is a relatively new technique, it shows promise as an effective treatment for other disorders–like PTSD. 

 If you grapple with any of the symptoms above or want a proper diagnosis, please visit a medical health professional. I hope this article was helpful, and it has encouraged you to take better care of your mental health. 

As always, take care!


Greenwood Counseling Center. (2020, October 9). What is the Difference Between PTSD and Complex PTSD? Greenwood Counseling Center.

LifeStance Health. (2019, May 21). Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EDMR): PTSD. Behavioral Health Florida. 

Mayer Irvine, H. (2018, November 30). The Most Common PTSD Triggers-and How to Manage Them. 

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018, July 6). Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mayo Clinic. 

Team, G. T. E. (2019, November 21). Signs of C-PTSD. Complex Posttraumatic Stress (C–PTSD). 

Tull, M. (2021, May 4). How a Diagnosis of Complex PTSD Differs From PTSD. Verywell Mind. 

 U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. (2007, January 1). Veterans Affairs. Complex PTSD. 

Related Articles


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comment moderation is enabled. Your comment may take some time to appear.