CPTSD or Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

CPTSD or Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

There is no such thing as a straightforward trauma. This applies even more considering CPTSD. Each and every trauma has its own complexity. Going through a car-accident seems simple to analyze but the nervous system’s responses are extremely rapid and complex.

Furthermore, your responses are very depended on what you have gone through previously. You can go through a severe car-accident and rebound fairly well. Or, you can you go through a similar car-accident and be absolutely destroyed afterward. Often, because of a history of abuse or traumatic episodes already. Having a traumatic history will further impact you and the car accident might be the last drop in the bucket that leads to CPTSD.

CPTSD and its Relationship to Childhood Trauma

Most complex post-traumatic stress disorder is constituted of repeated exposure to traumatic events or episodes. And, often relates to childhood experiences. In other terminology; this kind of trauma is also referred to as developmental trauma disorder.

Trauma has a certain set of defined reflexes, in terms of the nervous system and psychological responses. There is a sense of helplessness and loss of control which is infused with a core emotion of anger, sadness or fear. From from there on the surplus unrestrained energy further dissociates into a coping emotion and coping mechanisms.

When we talk of multiple episodes and traumatic incidents, as in CPTSD, then you also get a variety of set survival reflexes imprinted into your nervous system and psyche.

How It Can Go from Bad to Worse: CPTSD

Let me highlight this with an example:

Karuna is an unplanned, unwanted child by both parents. Her father is never there for her, and her mother is nagging and overbearing. Karuna has learned that it is best to passively hold still and keep quiet. Her overwhelming core emotions are deep sadness at not being noticed, loved, nourished or wanted. Her coping emotion is fear of openly speaking up and being openly vulnerable. With this pattern set in her psyche, she enters adolescence. She gets into a situation where she is with a man and although she doesn’t consent to have sex with him emotionally, she is unable to speak out and stop him. The experience turns out to be very upsetting for her. This experience really topples her delicate emotional balance which develops into full-blown CPTSD with severe symptoms of depression, dissociation, hyper-vigilance, and so on.

The Complexity of Multiple Trauma

When working with CPTSD, you have to be aware that there are multiple traumatic incidents or episodes at play. As a therapist, you have to be able to differentiate between what connects with what as the different feelings, emotions and periods will often associate with one another making treatment of Complex Trauma more arduous to untangle.

You can certainly work through complex post-traumatic disorder and trauma. It is hard work and won’t be easy, but the payoffs are more than worth it if you want to get your life back!

» Dive deeper into this topic by reading The Trauma Essential Series →

Do you have CPTSD or complex post-traumatic stress disorder? Leave your comments below.

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  • Barbara says:

    Thank you for such an informative post, as a child abuse victim, its always nice to understand the issues that can escalate from the abuse, huge hugs xx.

  • Laoch says:

    I could do with some support. I’ve think I’ve just sabotaged my support group. The story of my life running away, letting know-one close and then regretting it.

    • Roland says:

      Hello Laoch. This sounds familiar in the light of c-ptsd. What is it that sabotage is trying to protect? Is there the fear of being hurt again at some level? Can you learn from your sabotage rather then resist it further and feel/process the emotional layer that is just under it. Hope this helps, Roland

  • Rob says:

    Your posts are always insightful and helpful to me. I’m curious to know what your background is.

  • Pat says:

    I am 66. I have cut contact with both parents. I was adored by my dad as the only girl with 3 brothers. My mom was a conscientious mother but showed me no affection at all. Her constant verbal abuse, accompanied by harsh discipline, and real spitting spite coupled with never-ending favouritism shown to one brother and demands that I be available to serve her 100% of any time at home, tickling her hair for hours on end while she sobbed in bed, despite my dad being an exemplary husband, with years of her dissatisfaction with her life in general were just more than I could stand. I wet the bed until I married. Five years ago my parents instructed me that they expected me to move in to care for my mother when my dad died. It is never going to happen! I was told to stay where I am and continue with the “crap” I am doing. My mother has apparently influenced my eldest so she now refuses to speak to me. This is just awful!

  • Paulette says:

    I am 56 years old and have struggled all my life with what I now know is cptsd. I endured so much violence as a child by being physical abused by my mom and witnessing constant regular violence and abuse because of alcohol. I’ve seen several councilors through the years and I still struggle with severe anxiety that I can’t seem to get rid of. Maybe it’s not anxiety. I’m not sure. I don’t know which book to request first. I’m looking forward to someone really understanding what I’m dealing with and hoping the books help.

    • Roland says:

      Hi Paulette. Anxiety is often a front and is directly related to suppressed anger. When anger is owned anxiety often reduces dramatically. As to the ebooks, you might want to consider buying all 4 as a package. Regards

    • Pete says:

      Exactly the same life I had. im 49 and only just been told i have cptsd. ‘after demanding answers for the last 30 years’

  • Sue says:

    I completely identify with the young girl in your example & instead of feeling the anxiety,shame & guilt,catapulting me back to my childhood & the trauma, your posts have enabled me to recognize it & stop!
    I have been able to face the fear & I am, going through it, even paying to get a diagnosis of dissociative identify disorder & CPTSD. Just knowing why & what is wrong with me,has completely altered my perception & I am able to see a way forward. I have general anxiety disorder, social anxiety, panic attacks, etc, but just knowing that, that, is what it is, is beyond a relief. No-one in my family or extended family really cares to understand & most of my friends have disappeared, I don’t want them back & the very fact that my family don’t care, is why, I ended up with this,in the first place.
    But the one thing I have, that I never knew before, is Me + all the others, too. Together, we are each others’ friends.
    Your posts have changed my life, Thank you,Roland.

  • Leah says:

    Can C-PTSD be imprinted on an infant birthed to an individual with C-PTSD like traumas of the Holocaust survivors reportedly have. I have C-PTSD, had a difficult traumatic time during my pregnancy so my child may have suffered intrauterine trauma, and a very difficult birth on top of it so she may even have suffered birth trauma. How damaged might she be?

  • Claire says:

    Hi Roland,
    Thank you for this article, it helps me to understand how precious traumas Impact my thought process and why I make the decisions I do. Thankfully, I know I’m not strong enough to drink alcohol at the moment (never had a problem, but know I could easily slip into one as an escape method), but as I work in a pub, it’s tempting. 15 months without any alcohol isn’t bad I reckon (loads of chocolate and sweets instead though – i guess this is my addiction now)