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Complex and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder - CPTSD & PTSD

Complex and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can develop following the experiencing of many traumatic events, there are many paths to trauma island as I refer to the isolation which trauma brings.  As human beings we filter the information coming in from our environment and we attribute personal meaning to make sense of what just happened.  When our senses have become overwhelmed we find ourselves in an unknown place psychological and emotionally we no longer feel balanced, safe or secure in our own skin.  When this happens we may develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as we move away from the traumatic experience and back into life. 


If we experienced the trauma in childhood, we may not even have had time to develop a sense of who we are and be at the mercy of the people who care for us for our very survival.   If those very people are abusive, threatening or neglectful then we have a childhood which is focused on surviving only.  A child who is not safe or doesn’t feel safe has no time to think about school work, forming friendships or having  a  fun time, their every waking minute is consumed with trying to avoid the trauma.  Consumed with trying to stay alive which for a child is extremely difficult since s/he hasn’t got the cognitive capacity or the power or control to stop what is happening to them.  These children may go on to develop Complex Post Traumatic Stress (CPTSD) in adulthood and may not associate their present condition to their abusive childhood.   Additionally, to this they may very well be also suffering any number of mental ill-health issues, physical issues and have low self-esteem, worth or feel valueless.  CPTSD is just that complex, complicated and confusing and may take years to work through before peace is created.

"Trauma is a deeply distressing and

disturbing experience"

 Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is triggered by frightening and terrifying events. Either by experiencing the event yourself or by being a witness to frightening and disturbing events"

What is the difference between PTSD & CPTSD?


Post traumatic stress disorder otherwise know as (PTSD) -  if you have experienced something which was very frightening to you such as a car accident, or witnessing a serious road accident, have experienced a sexual assault or violent personal attack, been the victim of a mugging or been robbed.  If you have been involved in a natural disaster or witnessed someone else being killed or maimed or had a near miss of or threat to your own life. Or hearing about a friend or close family member died in tragic situations  such as being murdered or completed suicide.  If  you have been involved in an overwhelming traumatic situation such as a member of the public services attending fires or  visually traumatic events where people have died.  If you find yourself experiencing  the following symptoms:


  • Re-experiencing the event in your mind over and over again.

  • Involuntary intrusive thoughts.

  • Flashbacks and/or nightmares, recurrent dreams.

  • Feeling emotionally numb.

  • Survivor guilt.

  • Avoiding places connected to or which remind you of the traumatic event.

  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating.

  • Feeling on edge or like something awful is about to happened at any minute.

  • Irritated, angry or unstable emotions which are out of character.

  • You develop panic attacks and/or phobias or OCD which you did not experience before the trauma took place.


If you experience any of these symptoms for at least a month you may be experiencing PTSD, this may begin almost straight away following the trauma, you will notice  the symptoms don't go away or get worse over time.  Or symptoms may not appear for  weeks or even months later when you find it difficult to associate your stress with the traumatic event.  PTSD usually occurs in  people following or being a witness to 'one' event which was overwhelming to overall safety or perceived as threatening to your overall life security. 


Not everyone experiencing a traumatic event will go on to develop PTSD but if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms then it may be a good idea to get checked out by a medically trained person such as your GP and/or contact a professional counsellor.

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) is similar to PTSD and is the result of being exposed to trauma which was repeated more than one time and/or inflicted continuously. The person usually feels hopeless and helpless to do anything to stop what is happening, for example if you  was a witness to someone else dying from illnesses such as cancer or if you supported your child through ill health and you knew they were going to die and they died.  If a person was alone when repeatedly traumatised for example a victim of bullying and/or experienced the trauma for a long time such as domestic violence, the person abusing you is one of the most significant people in your life.  If  one of the people you are the closest to completed suicide for example a spouse, child, parent or sibling or you lived for any length of time with the threat of or suicidal attempts.   If you was held captive with no way of escaping such as being a prisoner of war, a victim of a kidnapping or was trapped thinking or feeling you were going to die.   If you are or were a member of the armed forces and saw, heard or did things which are out of normal living expectations.   


If the trauma happened when you were a child for example the victim of childhood sexual abuse, neglect, physical and emotional abuse and/or you are still in contact with the person who abused you.  If you were adopted or fostered away from your family of origin,  you grew up  in a home environment with a parent or carer who misused alcohol/drugs.  If the person abusing was your parent or carer the person who was meant to protect you, then you may have suffered a psychological injury,  developmental disorder or subsequently suffer with mental illness or unexplained somatic symptoms.   It may take years or decades for CPTSD to be recognized by the sufferer or those around the person; which is equally so for medical personal such as your GP or even therapists if they are not experienced in the dynamics of CPTSD.  The affects will be deeply held by the person and leak out in their way of being, their behaviour, the way the person thinks, feels, how they make decisions.  How they build and maintain healthy boundaries, self-esteem and confidence may be none existent and you may hear or even say "this is how our so and so is or "I've always been this way".  The person suffering CPTSD may have little value for self or others and may feel frightened to be in the world at all.  Their experiencing of life may be frightening or terrifying to them and they will be suffering from any or all of the symptoms of PTSD and in addition:

  • Have soft or none existent boundaries and feel unable to protect self.

  • Their sense of meaning and/or beliefs may be skewed.  

  • Issues of trust including trusting others, being unable to trust self or  trust the safety of the world.

  • Distorted perception of the abuser i.e. thinking/believing they are the opposite of what they actually are, becoming preoccupied with the abuser and/or trauma bonded to the abuser or abusers.

  • They may be preoccupied with thoughts of revenge or victimize others.

  • May experience re-victimization over and over again and don't believe they have a right to be treated equally or believe they are worthless or unworthy.

  • Feelings of shame and guilt which is inappropriate or which is toxic.

  • Don't know how to self-care or just don't take care of self.

  • Difficult emotions and not being able to control them.

  • Difficulty in concentrating or losing concentration.

  • Periods of losing time, unable to recall the trauma in any detail, out of body experiences, episodes of memory loss, or feeling detached from your own body, otherwise known as dissociation.

  • Have dialogues with or separate parts of self who behave or misbehave unbeknown or separately to the person (host) otherwise known as Dissociative Identify Disorder (DID).

  • Relationship difficulties with others and/or with self, enmeshed, co-dependant relationships or dependant on others.

  • Isolating self from friends and family or continually searching for someone to rescue or fix them, external locus of evaluation.

  • Known and unknown physical on-going symptoms headaches, chest pains, stomach pains, muscle pain.

  • Long term mental health issues i.e. personality disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, high anxiety states.

  • Taking part in risky and/or destructive behaviour such as extreme sports, alcohol or drug misuse, self-harming.

  • Feeling continually helpless (Learned helplessness) and/or feel continually hopeless.

  • An overall feeling of wanting to end their life which never leaves and which is sometimes frightening to the person.

  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts to complete suicide.

All of the above are symptoms of being abused and/or traumatized, they are the end result of another's behaviour towards a vulnerable and innocent child or person.  Left unhealed as the child grows or the person goes forward they are still symptoms of being abused and traumatized and not  attention seeking, bad teenage behaviour or a weird adult.  They are symptoms which need healing in the same way as the symptoms and injuries of a car crash in need of support, care,  nurturance, understanding and patience. 

CPTSD is shattering to the core of a persons being, they become disconnected and fragmented in their inner world.  This evokes great fear and the focus of a child who has been abused and traumatized is survival.  This detracts the child, young person and consequently the unhealed adult from life itself.  Life becomes a cycle of existing to survive or escape from the felt fear,anxiety and dysfunction.  The child is the victim who has learned to take the blame and shame from their abusers as their own.  It does not belong to the child who was abused it belongs at the feet of the abusers.  The abuser uses manipulation techniques such as trauma bonding, gaslighting, secrets which are powerful and the natural vulnerability of the child to keep the child silent.  Since the child has learnt from the abusers they are worthless, powerless, unbelieved, unbelievable and dirty the child keeps the abusers secrets.  In a false belief  all that was wrong, all that went wrong or the pain and upset of the abuser is their fault.  Since the child's abusive  experiences are not validated, swept under the carpet and probably never spoken about this adds to the child's confusion and builds self-doubt, "did it really happen since no one mentions it"?  This creates, builds and maintains , shame and guilt.  Where self-esteem, confidence and assertiveness ought to be. The child is effectively brainwashed into thinking they are worthless, dirty, helpless, unlovable, bad, rotten to the core.  What they are though is vulnerable, abused, fragmented, disconnected and injured.



This can echo in a healed persons life if  they come into contact with manipulative people  through their work or when meeting new people.  Constant effort through awareness will be needed to ensure one doesn't fall into the manipulators trap. 

Complex post traumatic stress disorder is exactly that complex you will more than likely not be able to heal on your own and it will be a good idea to be checked out by a medically trained person such as your GP you may need further support from a Psychiatrist depending on what your symptoms are.  Healing from CPTSD must be thought of in the long-term there are no quick fixes. 


In addition you may experience all symptoms of grief on top of the other complex issues and other dynamics for example trauma bonded to your abuser/s.  The trauma bond will need to be unattached from and healed before any other lasting healing can take place.


Healing from CPTSD will also involve healing from any unhealthy coping strategies you learnt in your quest to cope with and manage the effects of your trauma/s.  For example, misuse of alcohol or substances, self-harming, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, interpersonal relations, the relationship you have with others and intrapersonal relations i.e. the  relationship you have with yourself. 

These too are symptoms of being abused and traumatized.



Abuse  and trauma create a ripple effect and once the hand grenade has been thrown the impact is catastrophic to a growing child, teenage and maintained falsely by the adult.   As the waves

of grief for a lost childhood, lost love, care and affection, guilt, blame and shame takes hold.  The life of an abused person takes on a life of its own, one of not living and not being dead - living dead!



You don't need to be alone on your healing path access an experienced and  compassionate supporter make today the first step to  your mental wealth


Consider contacting me to support you on your healing path and together we will find a way forward at your pace.  Contact me for professional, experienced and compassionate caring support.

Whatever you choose to do talk to safe people if you don't know who's a safe person employ a professional counsellor to help you define who is safe and who is not.  Secrets hold us stuck, they are powerful they can keep people disconnected.  In the hands of  manipulators  they are one of their greatest tools used in destruction not construction of a persons phycological and emotional world. Don't live your life in silence because your voice matters, you matter

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