Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (c-PTSD)

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (c-PTSD)


Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (c-PTSD or complex-PTSD) is a type of mental health condition that occurs following ongoing or prolonged trauma.


Complex-PTSD is a mental health condition that occurs

following ongoing or prolonged trauma. This may be from childhood traumas or abuse, domestic abuse or violence, regular exposure to danger, human trafficking, serious health issues, repeatedly witnessing abuse or violence, etc.

It’s important to note that c-PTSD can impact anyone. It is not a choice nor a sign of weakness if an individual experiences this condition. Everyone’s journey and experience with trauma is different, it doesn’t make anyone’s experiences any less valid.


Symptoms of complex-PTSD include symptoms of classical PTSD, with additional symptoms. These additional symptoms include:

  • Emotional dysregulation or difficulty controlling emotions
  • Feeling angry or distrustful
  • Feelings of emptiness or hopelessness
  • Feeling different from other people
  • Dissociative symptoms
  • Avoiding friendships or relationships or finding them difficult
  • Physical symptoms, such as headaches or chest pains
  • Chronic nightmares
  • Feeling completely different from other people and that no one can understand their traumatic experiences
  • Feeling damaged or broken
  • Impulsivity
  • Feeling unsafe

Emotional flashbacks are more common in complex-PTSD than classical PTSD. This involves feeling the same emotions and thoughts one experienced during the traumatic period.


Treating c-PTSD may feel daunting at first, but finding proper support can help an individual live a life free of their trauma. Treatments may include:

  • Medications: For some individuals, antidepressants or sleep medications can be useful when treating c-PTSD symptoms.
  • Psychotherapy: There are a range of therapies that have been found to be useful for those who have experienced trauma and have c-PTSD, these are cognitive processing therapy (CPT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), somatic therapy, internal family systems therapy, emotional freedom techniques (EFT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), prolonged exposure therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), stress inoculation therapy (SIT), narrative exposure therapy (NET) and family or group therapy.

People may experience some or all of the above symptoms. In some individuals, there may be additional symptoms including psychosis, depression, and others.

NB: Complex-PTSD is often misdiagnosed as borderline personality disorder (BPD), as there can be a lot of overlap between symptoms. If you have any questions or concerns about these conditions for yourself, it is best to contact a mental health professional or trauma specialist.

I have a loved one experiencing complex post-traumatic stress disorder, how can I help?

If you have a loved one who is struggling, simply having an open conversation about how you can best support them can mean the world. There are some ways you can support a loved one, but also remember that you are a friend, family member, partner, etc and not a professional. You can’t expect yourself to be everything for everyone.

Ways to support a loved one include:

  • Learning about this trauma and complex-PTSD is immensely helpful. It can help you and your loved one to better work with what they’re going through.
  • Be mindful of them and their triggers. Asking them how you can support them and what to do when they’re triggered can be a big help to both of you.
  • Perhaps offer to help them with chores, send them a message to let them know you’re thinking of them, or something else to help with their day-to-day life.
  • Be patient and supportive of them.

It’s important for those struggling to know that you can fight and recover from complex post-traumatic stress disorder. You can find ways to heal from it. There is always hope and people who care about you who will support you on your journey.

Voices of Hope wants you to know that your life has value and you absolutely deserve help, care and support. You can fight c-PTSD. You can heal from it and live the life you want and deserve. We understand how difficult mental illnesses can be, but you are worthy, and you are strong. You can get through this. Reach out and keep fighting. You are not alone in your fight. We believe in you. And remember that there is ALWAYS hope.

Resources and links:

Voices of Hope does not offer direct mental health services and our team is not comprised of trained mental health professionals. If you require assistance, we recommend visiting our resources page for helpful information.

If you are in immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, or need advice for someone in your life that is at risk of immediate harm to themselves please contact your local emergency services.