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Complex PTSD

Updated: Mar 11

Complex PTSD (c-PTSD, CPTSD) can occur at any time throughout a person's life when an individual experiences chronic, repeated traumatic incidents and/or victimisation that have occurred over a period of time. These experiences are normally inescapable and relational, often involving betrayal and loss of safety.


The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD) describes CPTSD as a trauma that is not a one-time incident. It tends to:


  • be repeated or ongoing;

  • be difficult to escape from;

  • occur within a personal relationship;

  • begin in childhood affecting development; and

  • be covered up, kept secret or denied


The difference between Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and CPTSD is that PTSD is often associated with a single incident trauma. Symptoms fall into three categories of reexperiencing, avoidance, and hypervigilance. In CPTSD a person will have the symptoms of PTSD as well as a) emotional dysregulation, b) negative self-concept (beliefs about oneself as diminished, defeated or worthless, accompanied by feelings of shame, guilt or failure related to the traumatic event); and c) interpersonal disturbances: difficulties in sustaining relationships and in feeling close to others.


Throughout childhood, CPTD may occur when a person is not protected, cared for, hurt or betrayed which can present in forms such as being emotionally, physically or sexually abused, physically or emotionally neglected, bullied, cyberbullied, exploited, trafficked or subjected to forced adoption practices as a child or young.


As an adult, CPTSD may occur as a result of violence in the home, family, neighbourhood and workplace due to physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, financial or spiritual abuse.


CPTSD survivors often have difficulty recognising the impact of their trauma as it becomes entwined with their functional understanding of themselves, other people and the world. However, in therapy, a person will build a new foundation of stability, consistency and safety to heal. They will also learn that relationships can be safe, they can be vulnerable and remain safe.


It is important to know that people can and do recover from CPTSD. It may not always seem like recovery is possible but holding onto the hope of recovery is very important.

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