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What is Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post written by Kailey MarcAurele

Many people already know about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but not many people are familiar with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).

While PTSD results from a single traumatic event, CPTSD is a result of repeated trauma over months or years. These traumas are often “invisible” and harder to see than a single traumatic event like an accident. These hidden traumas can have lasting negative effects on the brain.

CPTSD is still a relatively new condition, so some doctors aren’t aware of it. In fact, I was diagnosed with PTSD, but I think it’s really CPTSD. I checked off all of the boxes when it came to the symptoms of PTSD. The only problem is I didn’t have any tragic events in my life. It was from repeated trauma. That repeated trauma was enough to cause me to have symptoms of PTSD.

Despite being a relatively new condition, CPTSD is starting to become more widely recognized by doctors.

Signs of CPTSD

The symptoms of CPTSD overlap with those of PTSD, but there are additional symptoms that come with CPTSD.

Symptoms of PTSD:

  • Reliving the traumatic experience
  • Avoiding certain situations
  • Changes in beliefs and feelings about yourself and others
  • Hyperarousal
  • Somatic symptoms

Symptoms of CPTSD:

People who have CPTSD usually have the PTSD symptoms listed above as well as these additional symptoms:

  • Lack of emotional regulation
  • Changes in consciousness
  • Negative self-perception
  • Difficulty with relationships
  • Distorted perception of abuser
  • Loss of systems meanings

What Causes CPTSD?

As mentioned above, complex PTSD is typically a result of repeated trauma over several months or years.

Repeated and long-term trauma include:

  • Ongoing physical abuse, emotional abuse, or sexual abuse
  • Ongoing childhood neglect
  • Consistently being ignored
  • Not having your needs met
  • Constant arguing
  • Gaslighting

These repeated traumas can have lasting effects on the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex. These areas of the brain play a large role in our memory function and how we respond to stressful situations.

How Is Complex PTSD Treated?

Below are treatment options for complex PTSD:


This involves talking with a therapist either alone or in a group. Typically, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is used. This type of therapy helps you identify negative thought patterns and gives you the tools to replace them with healthier, positive thoughts.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR systematically allows you to process traumatic material and resolve lingering emotional, mental, and somatic distress.


Medication can help manage complex post-traumatic stress disorder. However, medication works best when combined with another form of treatment. Typically, medications traditionally used to treat depression are prescribed. Some antidepressants used for CPTSD are:

  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)

Helpful Online Resources:

Living with Complex PTSD Facebook Group

General Information About CPTSD

In-depth Information About CPTSD and Its Effects

Information about EMDR for Complex PTSD

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