Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are slightly different. Before being diagnosed, I had no idea that there was a medically-named ‘complex’ version of PTSD – or that there was even more than one type. So what’s the difference?
In terms of symptoms and treatment, they’re not that different. It’s more to do with the nature of a person’s trauma that distinguishes Complex PTSD from PTSD: Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is more commonly present in people who have experienced prolonged or multiple trauma(s), as opposed to a one-off car crash or violent assault, which could develop into PTSD.
Being an anxiety disorder, many of the symptoms of Complex PTSD can be 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, so here’s what I know and live.
Complex PTSD: The Basics
“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.
Symptoms of Complex PTSD
Generally, symptoms are split into three types: re-experiencing, hyper-awareness 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
*There are more and it very much depends on the individual, as I said, I want to focus on what I know and experience – I am not a medical professional*
Complex PTSD Treatment
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.
There are different types of treatments available for both types of PTSD, including therapies and medications. It’s a completely individual thing and everybody’s experience will be different, and it’s really important to remember that.
I personally found that medication didn’t help me, but EMDR therapy did. This is a type of trauma therapy that aims to reprocess memories to reduce their impact on the post-traumatic brain – you essentially relive to reprocess. I won’t go into it here because there are many other types of treatment available for Complex PTSD, but you can find out more about my EMDR experience here.