Dealing with CPTSD

*It may seem a bit obvious but I just want to provide a trigger warning: trauma and traumatic events*

I’ve decided that more awareness and education is needed on CPTSD (and PTSD) so I wanted to write about it. Firstly here’s the difference between the two – post traumatic stress disorder and complex post traumatic stress disorder – CPTSD is often present within people who have repeatedly experienced trauma as opposed to one specific event such as a car crash or violent assault. Apart from that, CPTSD and PTSD aren’t very different at all in terms of symptoms and treatment.

Firstly, I think that often post traumatic stress disorders are often associated with the military – I definitely thought that when I didn’t know much about mental health – which isn’t incorrect at all, but I think you’d be surprised at how common it is in a non-military related scenarios, too. I definitely was!

One of the key things I first learnt about CPTSD was that it can easily be misdiagnosed. For example, I went into the doctor aged eighteen and cried my heart out for my ten minute slot. ‘You’ve got depression‘ he said. ‘Phone this number.‘ So I did. But the problem here is that self referring for talking therapy wouldn’t benefit me because my case involves trauma – see this post on finding the right treatment for you as an individual. Then I go to private therapy and tell her everything that’s happened up to now and she says ‘ok, Hannah, you are definitely suffering from depression and anxiety, but they are a product of something else. You are suffering with complex post traumatic stress disorder which is then causing your depression and anxiety symptoms.‘ I’m thinking bloody hell. What on earth? Not going to lie, I was terrified. My whole diagnosis was turned upside down and yet it made perfect sense. Now I could understand. She explained everything to me and for the first time, I understood.

Being an anxiety disorder, many of the symptoms of CPTSD are physical. When it comes to discussing symptoms and treatment I’d like to be mindful when mentioning things that I haven’t experienced/don’t experience myself because to be honest I just don’t want to give off any false information or anything! So here’s what I know and live.



“Complex PTSD may be diagnosed in adults or children who have repeatedly experienced traumatic events, such as violence, neglect or abuse.

Complex PTSD is thought to be more severe if:

  • the traumatic events happened early in life
  • the trauma was caused by a parent or carer
  • the person experienced the trauma for a long time
  • the person was alone during the trauma
  • there is still contact with the person responsible for the trauma

As it may take years for the symptoms of complex PTSD to be recognised, a child’s development, including their behaviour and self-confidence, can be altered as they get older.

Adults with complex PTSD may lose their trust in people and feel separated from others.” (Source)

Usually, everything that we experience throughout the days, weeks, years, is gradually processed through our brains and dumped in the long term memory. CPTSD & PTSD occur when a traumatic event (or events) are stuck in the short term memory. Basically, our brains are going hang on a minute, I want you to remember this, it’s important. Due to the memory being trapped in the short term, when that memory is brought up (or triggered) it’s relived. It’s not a memory, it’s an experience. You’re back there doing it all over again.



Generally, symptoms are split into three types: re-experiencing, hyperarousal (I would describe this as being on high alert all the time) and avoidance and emotional numbing. For example, these categories may include:

  • Flashbacks and nightmares
  • Physical sensations (nausea, vomiting, sweating)
  • Headaches, stomach aches
  • Dissociation (losing attention, concentration or feeling like things aren’t really happening)
  • Difficulty controlling emotions
  • Irritability

*There are many more and it very much depends on the individual, as I said, I want to focus on what I know*

The thing here is that because CPTSD is an anxiety disorder, these symptoms often lead to panic, or are a result of panic. So for example, experiencing flashbacks and nightmare causes high levels of anxiety because you’re reliving a traumatic experience, but the feeling of nausea is often a product of that anxiety. Am I making any sense whatsoever?



Now the key message – took me a while to get there, didn’t it?! – recovery. Because yes, it’s possible. And I know that because I’m doing it right now. I’ve said this a million times and I’ll say it again: recovery is a long and winding process. It’s not a straight motorway, it’s country lanes! There will be bad days. There will be bad weeks, even. I had some bad weeks recently but the idea is that they gradually become less frequent.


Ok so I’ve learnt that dealing with flashbacks whilst I’m awake isn’t too much of a problem now, thanks to grounding techniques that I learnt from therapy. These include having a hairband on my wrist to play with or something to fiddle with because it brings you back into the moment, meditation, breathing techniques (see The Mental Health Toolkit). On the other hand, a problem I encountered recently was nightmares and flashbacks in my sleep. I find that this comes in periods: I won’t have one for a while and then I’ll have them every night for a week. I haven’t quite got a hold of that one yet.


This is one that is often a product of other symptoms. For example after a day or night out (being on high alert, as I said earlier) I’ll often get a headache. It’s like I’ve done my socialising for the day and now it’s too much to process so my mind is like STOP NOW. Nausea is a common symptom for me when I’m anxious (inevitable, in fact) but sweating not as much. Sweating is usually only when I’m really bad and in full blown panic mode. The best thing here, I find, is to use preventative strategies (preventing a panic attack) by bringing myself back into the moment as gently and calmly as possible. A few of my favourite ways to do this are colouring, writing and meditation. Meditation has become a guaranteed fix for me now, I highly recommend it!


As I’ve started to recover, this has become less of an occurrence but it’s still really difficult when it does. Again, it’s about gently bringing yourself back into the moment in a way that just kindly reminds you that you’re okay now.

I also want to mention that I cannot express enough the importance of self compassion. I chose to look at this in two ways. 1: remembering little Hannah and doing it for her. I had compassion towards her which made me want to fight it for her, if nobody else (including grown up Hannah!) 2: if a friend came to me and said, Hannah, I’ve been diagnosed with CPTSD, how would I treat them? I vowed to treat myself the same as I would another person – with kindness, patience and compassion.



  1. April 26, 2017 / 12:36 am

    I LOVED this post. I’ve been diagnosed with CPTSD as well, but after a few years of hell, I am FINALLY making a recovery. I can definitely affirm that it is harder to deal when there is still contact with the person responsible for the trauma… and part of my healing has been to control communication with said persons. I even moved across the country with my very supportive husband to get a fresh start– and it’s been wonderful! Only the strongest fight these battles… but there are brighter days definitely ahead and being so well acquainted with darkness only makes them all the brighter. Stay strong xX

  2. Steve
    July 26, 2018 / 11:02 am

    I’ve had cptsd now 50 years grew up in domestic violence torture and abuse and have flashbacks everyday sometimes 10 or more. I know what’s going on when they happen. For me it’s like going to a funeral for someone you really care about and don’t want to cry but once you get in there a wave comes over you and you cry. Same thing a wave of emotions of that abuse over and over. The crying is a release like a safety valve. Breaking down in front of someone is not fun why I isolate. Couldnt hug my own Mom her birthday was July 20th been 19 years since she passed from cancer. She had cptsd too. I miss her so much. Lost my 13 year ptsd dog 2 years ago. My Mom said in 1994 things would get better but they haven’t since she left!

  3. Chinyere Ogwe
    September 19, 2018 / 10:32 pm

    Thank you for writing this post. I hope it brings awareness to the condition. I have PTSD (CPTSD?) too.


  4. Catherine M Coulton
    November 4, 2018 / 2:43 pm

    Shocking bit of cptsd I’d like to share from own experience is if the cptsd trauma happens before age of 8, before personality has formed, is how the personality is shattered into pieces. I am 50 and due to new family information, and texting myself during phycotic scilent migraine at night out of curiosity finally worked out I was switching between pieces of my own personality from different ages. Named my migraine alice in the labyrinth, she knows all my pieces of the trauma caused by the abuse from my mother who is obviously very ill herself.Unfortunately mum is manipulate and lied to me about my nightmares so I forgot. Definitely not falce memories because I have an art book I drew pictures in from 3 to 5 ish. They didn’t make sense before but they are very clear now. Named my pieces for a laugh during the migraine. There is a shy little girl who is three terrified of telling us what had happened because she was threatened if she did mum would kill her. As she has been strangled till she passed out for telling daddy she had kicked her mother in the leg because she was hurting her hands and wouldn’t stop mother was very angry with her dad threatened to leave her. Little girl piece was so terrified and darent tell her dad or sister incase mum killed any of us.

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