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  • Writer's pictureSusan Stubbings

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - What it is, how it affects and how to heal from the affects.

Updated: Jan 11

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD)


C-PTSD is primarily an anxiety disorder caused by repeated long-term trauma or trauma which was repeated over time, for example Childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect and attachment failures or a combination of all.  A victim of Domestic Violence or witnessing Domestic Violence as a Child can also be the root cause of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, as can being a victim of Human or Sex trafficking, Slavery and Torture.  

Stress responses can include:

  • Emotional dysregulation

  • Hyper-aware of danger, always on high alter waiting for the next traumatic occurrence.

  • Feelings of unsafety, not having a sense of safety or and constant feeling insecure.

  • Feeling in pictures, nightmares, flashbacks or feeling flashback as if the trauma is happening here and now.

  • Heightened emotional responses - for example, others may label you over sensitive or highly strung.

  • Impulsivity, passivity, aggressiveness, or all three – excessive reactivity to negative emotional stimuli leading to aggressive behaviours such as angry out-bursts and rage.

  • Difficulty with identity of Self – or difficulty in having a sense of self.

  • Difficult forming or keeping relationships.

  • Toxic Shame & Guilt – these belonging to the perpetrator/s.

  • A negative sense of self-worth with persistent feelings of worthless and failure.

  • Low self-esteem, confidence and low mood or depression or numbing out.

  • Being shy, withdrawn, quiet person with a loud inner critic keeping you stuck.

  • Mood swings, suicidal thoughts and fantasies.

  • Memory loss, gaps in memory or no gap between then and now.

  • Passive suicidal - a feeling of wanting to die but not making any plans.

  • Dissociation, feelings of detachment from self, or feeling of unreality.

A note about the last two affects: Passive sucidality and Dissociation.

Both are valid and both hurt and cause pain, disorientation and confusion. We may need to remember that help is just a phone call or email away, you are not alone.

Passive suicidality - is an overall desire to die, without making plans and without taking any action to end life. Its very common when experiencing C-PTSD it manifests for example, in suicidal thoughts, feeling, images, sensations and daydreams. You may hear in your mind "I hope I get run over by a bus", "I wish I was never born", or "I can't take it anymore". This is the psyche wanting to end the abuse, pain, hurt, confusion and disorientation that trauma brings and in my experience can be the ultimate coping strategy. However, there are many many other healthier ways to cope and heal from C-PTSD, to regain a sense of control over what is happening to you. The difference between passive suicide and suicidal ideation is you have no plans to end your life. However this can change quickly and if you are suicidal then please reach out and gain support, you can contact Samaritans on 116 123 calls are free or contact your GP or go to your nearest A&E department if you feel in crisis and feel you may act on your thoughts or feelings.

Dissociation - Is a normal response to overwhelming situations it is a creative coping mechanism the brain activates when we are overwhelmed and unable to cope with what is happening to us. The younger you were when you were traumatised the more likely your brain is to utilise dissociation, you can feel like unreality, like you are disconnected from yourself, your body and the world around you, it can feel like you're in a dream world or have difficulty in remembering and have gaps in your memory. Know that you were traumatised but not remember any details, the time or age you were, who was there or what actually happened. When dissociating you may feel like you are floating away, in the corner of the room looking down or looking in from the outside and have a feeling of not being in your body. You might feel nothing and be numbed out altogether for a while, or feel it hard to define who you are or don't feel you have an identity. YOU DO this is just another coping strategy your brain activates automatically and you can heal from this too. Contact me here if you want to work through any dissociation.

C-PTSD is a relatively newer diagnosis, and some professional don’t even acknowledge its existence as a separate diagnosis from PTSD, however there are several differences for example, the emotional dysregulation, the self-identity issues and often difficulty and problems of forming and staying in relationships. There is no ‘test’ which can tell us if a person has C-PTSD, but its fairly common after chronic traumatic events. Most trauma psychologists such as Janine Fisher, Pete Levine or Pat Ogden believe in its affects, as do I.

Traumatic stress can alter the way our brain works for example Janine Fisher talks about the Pre-frontal cortex the part of our brain which deals with decision-making, planning, personality expression and controlling our behaviours.

The pre-frontal cortex shuts down and goes ‘offline’ this stops us thinking and our bodies take over, which causes our stress responses of fight, flight, freeze, attach, collapse.  This is our nervous systems habitual responses, or the ‘procedural learned patterns’ which adapt to the situation it finds itself in order to survive.

As an adult these patterns are outdated and often stunt our growth and development, keeping us stuck at the age our patterns were created, often in childhood.  Our behaviours are driven by our procedural memory which is automatic in nature and are well established patterns of emotional and cognitive responses.

Its Complex!

Trauma informed therapy works to address these patterns by working with:

  • The here and now experiences of the trauma i.e. how past trauma is affecting your life now.

  • Implicit memory rather than explicit i.e. what is known v what is not known.

  • Neuroregulatory interventions that stabilise arousal.

  • Working with and nurturing your 'Window of tolerance' and expanding your ‘comfort zone’ without re-traumatizing. 

  • Reflecting upon trauma related images, thoughts, feelings, body sensations, evoked Somatic sensations which appear in the moment-by-moment relating in the therapy hour are noticed, fed-back, explored and understood.

  • Learn how your individual body responded to trauma and stress.

  • Learn how to manage symptoms and heal from the hurt, pain you are left with.


Trauma informed therapy with me is compassionate, creative, experienced, knowledgeable and understanding of what you are experiencing. I won't judge you or think or feel you are going mad, because you most probably are not, but it can feel like it. If you identify with anything you have read here then please contact me and together as a team we will work. To heal the affects of trauma, regain safety, control, regulate your nervous systems, understand and become self-aware, one step at a time. Beginning with supporting you to 'feel' safe before we reflect upon anything else.

Please note: if you believe or have been told you need to forgive your abuser/s perpetrator, well I can tell you, you don't. It’s not necessary to forgive abusers because what they did was wrong and nothing can change that. You don't need to forgive yourself either for what happened because you didn’t do anything wrong the guilt and shame belong to the abuser/s not you. All the affects you are experiencing is the result of what happened to you and not what's wrong with you, the affects are whet we will work with to heal your life. Contact me here if you wish to start swimming to shore and heal.

It is a healing journey of acceptance of what happened to you, the affects you are left with and that you as a child or victim are not to blame.... Believe!

It is a journey of healing and becoming who you want to be and choose to be.

If you feel ready to begin healing contact me here.

I offer a free half hour telephone or video call so you can meet me before our first session. 


Contact me at or telephone, text, WhatsApp message on 07867938630 and lets connect and realise the possibilities and your potential. 

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