Many people are familiar with the acronym PTSD, but fewer know about complex PTSD. Both conditions are the result of exposure to traumas, but complex PTSD is a more severe condition that can develop when the trauma is prolonged or repeated.
PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, occurs when someone experiences a traumatic event. The event could be a one-time occurrence, such as a car accident, or it could be repeated exposure to traumas, such as in the case of soldiers who have been in combat. Symptoms of PTSD can include flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal.
Complex PTSD is similar to PTSD in that it is also caused by exposure to traumas. However, complex PTSD is distinguished from PTSD by the fact that it occurs after prolonged or repeated traumas. Complex trauma can occur in cases of child abuse, domestic violence, human trafficking, and war. The symptoms of complex PTSD can be more severe than those of PTSD and can include self-harming behaviors, dissociation, and feeling as though one’s personality has changed.
Complex PTSD vs. PTSD: The Differences
PTSD develops after a single, traumatic event. C-PTSD, on the other hand, develops after exposure to long-term trauma, such as child abuse, domestic violence, or war. In addition, C-PTSD includes all of the symptoms of PTSD, plus additional symptoms related to changes in self-identity and self-direction.
C-PTSD is a relatively new diagnosis; it was first included in the DSM-5 in 2013. Because of this, there is still much research needed to better understand the condition. However, we do know that C-PTSD can be debilitating and significantly reduce quality of life. If you have experienced long-term trauma, it is important to talk to a mental health professional to see if you might have C-PTSD.
Treatment for Complex PTSD vs. PTSD
Treatment for both conditions typically includes some form of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy. Some people with complex PTSD may also benefit from medication to help with anxiety or depression. The most important thing is to find a treatment that works for you and that you feel comfortable with.
If you think you may have either condition, it’s important to seek professional help. A qualified mental health professional will be able to give you a diagnosis and help you find the best course of treatment.
Symptoms of Complex PTSD and PTSD
PTSD symptoms can be divided into four main categories: intrusive thoughts, avoidance, negative changes in mood and thinking, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. People with PTSD may relive their trauma over and over again through intrusive thoughts or nightmares. They may also try to avoid anything that reminds them of the trauma or numbing their emotions altogether. These symptoms can make it hard for people with PTSD to go about their everyday lives.
Complex PTSD also shares many of these symptoms with regular PTSD. However, there are two key differences that set complex PTSD apart. First, complex PTSD generally occurs after exposure to prolonged or repeated trauma, such as in cases of child abuse or domestic violence. Second, complex PTSD often leads to problems with self-regulation, which can manifest as impulsivity, self-harming behaviors, or suicide attempts. Complex PTSD can also cause problems with relationships, resulting in isolation and mistrust.
C-PTSD is a relatively new diagnosis, but it is important to be aware of the difference between C-PTSD and PTSD so that you can get the most accurate diagnosis and treatment if you have experienced long-term trauma. If you think you might have C-PTSD, talk to a mental health professional.