Complex Trauma and C-PTSD: Signs and Symptoms

November 22, 2019


We have all heard of PTSD but what is C-PTSD?


 PTSD often happens after one particular event such as going to war or experiencing one life threatening or traumatic situation such going to war and seeing horrible things or being in a car accident where you nearly lost your life.

On the other hand C-PTSD, which stands for complex post traumatic stress disorder occurs as a result of continuous or chronic trauma. So this can be one single thing that happened over a long period of time such as chronic physical, emotional, or sexual abuse or several and diverse traumas that add up over the years. I'ts complex because it has multiple layers, maybe various events, or it went on for so long that it significantly altered our world view. Some examples of events that can lead to c-ptsd include:

  1. Prolonged physical, sexual, or emotional abuse

  2. Being a victim of human trafficking

  3.  Living in a war zone

  4. Being abandoned by your caregivers

  5. Moving around from home to home while growing up and not having a stable home environment

  6. Being a victim of bullying for a prolonged period of time

Complex PTSD is not yet in the DSM-5 which is the diagnostic manual that therapist and doctors use to diagnose mental health conditions. This is because until recently everything was lumped under the PTSD diagnosis however there has been more and more talk lately about making it its own diagnosis because the symptoms are often more severe that general PTSD and vary in some ways. Due to the lack of diagnostic criteria being placed in the DMS-5, many people are wrongly diagnosed with Borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, and other anxiety disorders. because the symptoms can vary from person to person and it often overlaps in symptoms from other disorders. If you have experienced continuous prolonged trauma or multiple traumas in your life over a period of time, it might be a good idea to discuss the possibility of complex trauma with your therapist.


Here are some of the symptoms that you or someone with complex trauma may experience:

  1.  Low self-esteem or unstable self-concept

  2. You might experience difficulties in relationships just as finding it hard to get too close to others or you may feel a lack of connection to others

  3. You might think of your relationships in black or white terms. so you might go from idealizing others and thinking they are amazing to undervaluing others if they hurt you.

  4. You might have difficulty regulating your emotions and you might feel your emotions really really strongly or not at all and feel numb.

  5. You might become a "people pleaser"

  6. You might have developed some harmful coping skills such as self-harm or drugs and alcohol.

  7. You might have a sense that the world is dangerous

  8. You might feel that good things only happen to other people but not for you

  9. You find it hard to fully trust others


You may have many of these symptoms or just some of these symptoms or event some symptoms I didn't mention. Lime I said earlier, this can vary from person to person so if you think you might be experiencing complex PTSD, make sure you let your doctor or mental health therapist know. You might even work with a psychiatrist if your symptoms are severe enough and are interfering with your life to the point where you are not functioning appropriately. 



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 Micheline Maalouf, M.S. is the founder and owner of Serein Counseling, LLC in Orlando Florida.  She specializes in working with individuals who are dealing with anxiety including: generalized anxiety, social anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Micheline is certified in mindfulness and incorporates these practiced into all her sessions with clients to ensure they achieve the best results.  Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.



Call today for a free 15-minute consultation (407) 721-6453






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