Defining Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

This Disorder Occurs After Long-term Trauma

Woman With Bruises Sitting On Floor At Home
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What is the definition of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? In short, it is a mental health condition that develops following exposure to chronic, long-lasting traumatic events that generally involve some form of physical or emotional captivity.

Improve your understanding of the disorder with this definition and examples of the common experiences that lead to its development.

Common Causes of Complex PTSD

Complex PTSD is also known as Disorders of Extreme Stress Not Otherwise Specified (DESNOS). Traumatic experiences such as childhood sexual abuse, childhood physical abuse, or domestic violence can cause it to develop. Members of the armed forces who are forced into prisoner-of-war camps are also susceptible to developing complex PTSD.

What do the above experiences have in common? In each of these kinds of events, the victim is under the control of another person and does not have the ability to easily escape. Learn more about the impact such experiences have on victims by becoming familiar with the list of symptoms related to complex PTSD. 

Changes in Consciousness and Other Complex PTSD Symptoms 

A number of symptoms are considered to be representative of complex PTSD. People with the condition tend to suffer from emotion regulation problems. This means they have a hard time managing their emotions. They may experience severe depression, thoughts of suicide or have difficulties controlling their anger.

Complex PTSD patients may also experience changes in consciousness following exposure to a chronic traumatic event. For example, they may repress memories of the traumatic event, experience flashbacks or experience dissociation.

Altered Views of Themselves and Others

People with complex PTSD may also begin to view themselves differently. They may experience symptoms such as feelings of helplessness, shame or guilt. They may also feel detached and different from others.

Complex PTSD patients not only view themselves differently but view the perpetrators responsible for their trauma through a different lens also. They may feel as if they have no power over a perpetrator or that the perpetrator has complete power in a relationship. People with complex PTSD might also become preoccupied with their relationship with a perpetrator. For example, they may entertain constant thoughts of getting revenge on the individual who hurt them.

People with complex PTSD will have altered views of themselves, their perpetrators and the world at large or society generally. That's because people exposed to chronic or repeated traumatic events often lose faith in humanity or have a sense of hopelessness about the future.

Common Relationship Problems

It's difficult for people with complex PTSD to have healthy relationships. Relationships require those involved to let go to an extent and trust others, but complex PTSD patients tend to isolate themselves and distrust others. Isolation makes it hard to find people to connect with in the first place. Distrusting others, on the other hand, makes it hard for individuals with complex PTSD to bond with potential friends or romantic partners.

Ignoring the Symptoms

If you or a loved one has complex PTSD, it's important that you pay attention to the symptoms. Ignoring the situation will only make the condition to worse. Find a mental health provider to get tips about healthy coping strategies.