PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a type of anxiety disorder that may develop after a person has experienced a traumatic event. However, there is also complex PTSD, which may be diagnosed by a healthcare professional if a person has experienced prolonged or repeated trauma over months or years.
PTSD is generally related to a single event, while complex PTSD is related to a series of events or prolonged trauma. Symptoms of PTSD can emerge after an individual has experienced a traumatic event such as physical assault, sexual abuse, or car accident.
PTSD affects 7-8 percent of Americans at some point in their lives. These symptoms are a result of changes in some regions of the brain that deal with emotion, memory, and reasoning — the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex.
The symptoms of complex PTSD can be more detrimental and intense than those of PTSD. Types of ongoing trauma that may lead to complex PTSD include:
- Childhood neglect
- Any abuse in early childhood development
- Domestic abuse
- Human trafficking
- Prisoner of war
- Living in a region affected by war
Although complex PTSD (CPTSD) is a newer development and not recognized by the DSM 5 as a separate condition, some researchers suggest it is, and note it has similar symptoms to Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). These two tend to overlap quite a bit. There are some differences, though — for example, those who suffer from complex PTSD have negative self-images, while people who suffer from BPD have a self-image that changes frequently.
Another difference is that people with complex PTSD find it difficult to get close to people and have feelings of inadequacy when it comes to connecting with other people; individuals with BPD tend to either idolize or undervalue relationships. It is possible for people that experience complex PTSD to also suffer from BPD.
Symptoms of CPTSD can include:
Lack of emotional regulation – There is an imbalance in emotion at a daily level. It is hard to calm down once angry, or can be difficult to get out of extreme sadness. When these emotions and others are experienced, they are felt deeply and explosively.
Change in consciousness – Forgetting that trauma even occurred, or not feeling like you are connected to your physical body, let alone your emotions. When talking about the trauma, you may feel like you are speaking in the third person, which is also a form of dissociation.
Negative outlook of one’s self – Feelings of inferiority, guilt, or shame may occur. This may feel so real that you feel separate from other people or believe they won’t understand you.
Difficulty maintaining relationships – You may feel social anxiety to a debilitating degree. You might have difficulty trusting others and being honest with people. Additionally, you could find yourself in an abusive relationship because that is what you think you deserve.
Distorted perception of an abuser – Becoming obsessed about your relationship with your abuser or constantly fantasizing about revenge on your abuser. This can also include letting your abuser take complete power over you.
Losing your value systems – Maybe you had strong religious convictions you had some strong values at some point, however, they were replaced with feelings of despair and hopelessness. Your perception about the world turns morbid and is a scary, negative depiction instead.
Of course these symptoms can vary between individuals. You may experience loss of the need to socialize with other people while someone else might constantly put themselves in dangerous social situations. They can also change within you.
There may be a mismatch in your actions versus your thoughts, as well. For example, you may know logically that it is a bad idea to hang around your abuser; however, you may find yourself pining for their affection or not being able to break completely free of them.
The likelihood of developing CPTSD can depend on your brain’s regulation of neurochemicals and hormones concerning stress, but can also be a lot more probable in individuals who:
- Have an underlying mental health problem like anxiety or depression
- Have inherent personality traits or “temperament”
- Are living an inconsistent and chaotic lifestyle
- Are surrounded by dangerous people
How It Can Be Treated
Psychotherapy is generally the best solution for people who suffer from CPTSD. Psychotherapy involves talking with a therapist alone or in a group. It also includes the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This can help identify negative behavioral patterns and thought patterns.
A healthcare professional may suggest doing dialectical behavioral therapy, which is a type of CBT therapy. EMDR can be a really good form of therapy, as well. With this type of therapy, you’ll be asked to briefly think about a traumatic moment while moving your eyes from side to side.
Other techniques include having someone tap on your hands instead of having to move your eyes. Over time, this process may help to desensitize you to traumatic memories or thoughts. Your doctor may also recommend medication, if they deem it necessary.
If you would like to better understand CPTSD or think you may be suffering from it, contact us today at (844) 857-5992. At Avalon Malibu, we treat patients who suffer from PTSD and utilize tailored therapeutic methods to better help individuals recover. We offer a variety of treatment options, including cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical therapy, EMDR, and more.