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C-PTSD: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

A woman discusses C-PTSD with her therapist.

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a mental health disorder that occurs from experiencing repeated or prolonged traumatic events. While related to PTSD, there are some key differences between the two. By learning more about C-PTSD, it can help those affected by this disorder and their loved ones have a better understanding of the condition and treatment options. 

What Is C-PTSD?

C-PTSD is a psychological condition that develops in individuals who have experienced chronic and repetitive traumas, often over an extended period. It arises from enduring extreme physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, often coupled with neglect or abandonment. It is commonly associated with cases of ongoing childhood abuse, domestic violence, long-term captivity, or prolonged exposure to war or conflict zones. 

C-PTSD can cause profound disruptions in an individual’s sense of self, emotional regulation, interpersonal relationships, and overall functioning. It emerges from the cumulative toll of multiple traumas and may require specialized treatment approaches for healing and recovery.

Signs and Symptoms of C-PTSD

C-PTSD signs and symptoms vary widely from one person to the next but often encompass a combination of psychological, emotional, and physical manifestations. 

Emotional Dysregulation:

Individuals with C-PTSD can experience intense emotions such as fear, sadness, or anger that are difficult to manage or control. They might have frequent mood swings and struggle with emotional regulation.

Distorted Self-perception:

People with C-PTSD often feel constantly flawed or damaged and have a negative self-image due to their traumatic experiences. They might struggle with feelings of shame, guilt, low self-esteem, or chronic self-blame.

Difficulty Forming Relationships:

C-PTSD can interfere with the ability to establish and maintain healthy relationships. Individuals may find it challenging to trust others, develop intimacy, or engage in social interactions due to deep-seated fears of abandonment or betrayal.

Persistent Re-experiencing of Trauma:

Intrusive memories related to past traumas often haunt individuals with C-PTSD through upsetting flashbacks, nightmares, or distressing thoughts that disrupt daily life regularly.

Hypervigilance and Heightened Arousal:

Those affected by C-PTSD may demonstrate hypervigilance as they become extremely alert for signs of danger, even in non-threatening situations. Exaggerated reactions, such as being easily startled, jumpy, and having difficulty sleeping, are also possible symptoms. 


To cope with painful memories, people suffering from C-PTSD can disconnect themselves briefly from the present. They may view events like they did not happen to them but rather experience events as an out-of-body experience. 

Somatic Symptoms:

C-PTSD can manifest in physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, chronic pain or tension, and other somatic complaints without any clear medical cause.

Short and Long-Term Effects of C-PTSD

C-PTSD has short-term and long-term effects on individuals’ mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Common short-term effects may include:

  • Intense emotional distress
  • Difficulty functioning
  • Interpersonal relationship difficulties
  • Insomnia and sleep disturbances

When C-PTSD goes untreated, it can cause several long-term effects. Prolonged exposure can contribute to various physical health problems, such as chronic pain conditions, cardiovascular issues, gastrointestinal disorders, and decreased immune system functioning.

Individuals struggling with the long-term impacts of untreated C–PTSD might turn to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism for managing overwhelming emotions. This can lead to co-occurring substance dependence and addiction.

Some people also develop self-destructive patterns like self-harm and engaging in high-risk activities caused by persistent feelings of worthlessness. Ongoing symptoms of C-PTSD have significant negative impacts on the individual’s daily functionality, preventing them from having fulfilling relationships, experiencing difficulty in maintaining employment, and making activities difficult to enjoy.

Another long-term effect of C-PTSD can be persistent emotional dysregulation, leading to difficulties in managing and expressing emotions appropriately. People can also experience frequent mood swings, relationship conflicts, and a sense of disconnection from themselves and others.

Furthermore, sustained exposure to reliving traumatic experiences may erode an individual’s self-worth and self-esteem. They may struggle with feelings of shame, guilt, or incompetence as a result of the trauma they have endured. Untreated C-PTSD can increase the vulnerability to developing other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, and dissociative disorders.  

C-PTSD versus PTSD

C-PTSD and PTSD are both psychological conditions that develop as a result of experiencing trauma. However, C-PTSD is typically associated with prolonged exposure to trauma compared to a single traumatic event or short-term exposure. 

Both disorders also share symptoms related to intrusive thoughts and memories with heightened emotional reactivity. Yet, C-PTSD encompasses a broader range of symptoms due to its chronic nature. The impact on identity and self-esteem is also slightly different, with it being more significant for those with C-PTSD. 

Another difference between the two is people with C-PTSD have more difficulties forming and maintaining interpersonal relationships. Whereas PTSD usually does not exhibit long-term effects concerning these relationship patterns.

Another key difference regards feeling trapped or helpless. Those with C-PTSD often struggle to seek outside help and believe there is no way out. On the other hand, those with PTSD usually do not experience these emotions as intensely. 

Treatment for C-PTSD

It’s essential to recognize that treatment for C-PTSD is highly individualized. Treatment involves a multidimensional approach that targets the various symptoms and underlying causes of the condition. Some comment treatments that can help those with C-PTSD include:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Medication
  • Self-care Strategies
  • Holistic Therapies
  • Group Therapy
  • Support Groups
  • Education

Healing from complex trauma can be a long-term process requiring patience, persistence, and ongoing support. 

Co-Occurring C-PTSD and Addiction Treatment in Pompano Beach, FL

Don’t let C-PTSD and addiction control your life any longer. At Retreat of Broward in Pompano Beach, FL, we understand the unique challenges faced by those with C-PTSD and addiction. We provide a safe and supportive environment with personalized treatment plans where healing can take place. Take the first steps toward recovery by contacting us today.

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