What is Complex CPTSD?


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
  • Irritability

*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.



  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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