Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a serious trauma caused by an intense experience or experiences. This trauma will trigger flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety that directly result from thinking about what happened.

What you’re experiencing is a normal brain function that’s often misunderstood and can leave you feeling unheard.

Your brain is processing painful memories and emotions the best way it knows how. But if memories and anxiety interfere with your daily life, you may have PTSD, and proper treatment can improve some symptoms and eliminate others for good.

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD doesn’t only happen to combat veterans. Many people have been through an emotionally intense event that has left an imprint on their minds. It becomes a magnet pulling their thoughts back there and bringing the fear, anger, or shame into the present moment, although the occurrence can be well in the past.

Even though this event may have happened long ago, and at times, it may seem you’ve gotten past it, this influx of emotion tied to memories can cause a lot of problems in the present.

When PTSD causes these extra symptoms, we call it complex PTSD. The ramifications of complex PTSD are far-reaching and may impact your life in ways that seem completely unrelated:

  • Difficulty controlling emotions
  • Snapping at people who did nothing wrong
  • Anger and distrust towards the world
  • Inability to get close to another person or share a loving relationship
  • Constant feelings of emptiness and hopelessness
  • Feeling as if you were permanently damaged or worthless

The good news about complex PTSD is getting treatment for it starts tearing down this web of symptoms so you can experience whole-person healing.

Causes of Complex PTSD

Some common events that can lead to PTSD:

  • Childhood abuse, neglect, or abandonment
  • Ongoing domestic violence or abuse
  • Being forced into prostitution
  • Torture, kidnapping, or slavery
  • A horrible injury or accident
  • Medical mishap or painful treatment
  • Natural disasters
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Seeing someone close experience physical trauma or death
  • Repeatedly witnessing abuse

That last one may puzzle some people. But know that if you were in a home where another child or your parent was abused while you were never “harmed,” you could still have PTSD.

Humans are very empathetic. When we see others being hurt, we often feel the emotions ourselves. When emotions are heightened, the brain can’t always distinguish between something that happened to you or another.

You may even feel guilty about having these feelings or being affected when you weren’t the one being abused, but as far as your mind is concerned, you were abused, and it impacts you similarly.

Who’s at Increased Risk of Developing C-PTSD?

PTSD isn’t the same for everyone. Two siblings who grew up in an abusive household may have processed it differently as children and experience PTSD, or not, later in life. But some factors have been shown to increase your risk:

  • You experienced trauma at an early age
  • Trauma lasted a long time
  • Escape or rescue was unlikely
  • Multiple traumas

Treatments and Resources

Through treatment, you can learn skills to cope with triggers and the painful memories, ways of thinking, and disruptive emotions that may come up. It’s important to make room for your emotions and listen to them. You’ll also begin to evaluate how trauma may impact how you see yourself or others, so you can address any belief systems that you’d like to change and replace.

If you currently have anxiety, depression, substance misuse, or any other co-occurring mental health challenges, a holistic treatment program can address those at the same time. All treatment plans are individualized to meet your unique needs and help you experience the fullest healing.

If you need long-term intensive care and support, resources are available. You don’t have to deal with this alone. You are heard here. And we hope you’ll just take a moment to learn more about the whole-person healing we offer.


Jonas Hill Hospital & Clinic, a division of Caldwell Memorial Hospital provides our community with safe, dignified and integrated care for adult patients experiencing an acute mental health need. We provide hope, treatment, and healing through a holistic program of evidence-based psychiatric treatment, team-based medical care, and education provided by engaging and dedicated professionals in a safe and healing environment. Contact us today for more information. A safe space to heal.