PTSD & C-PTSD: An Introduction
Updated: Jun 4
C-PTSD stands for Complex PTSD, or Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It usually occurs after months or years of exposure to a traumatic series of events. Whereas PTSD stems from the traumatization of a single event which caused extreme distress to the individual. During a scary, shocking, or life threatening event it is normal to experience the fight, flight, or freeze response. In an individual with PTSD this reaction does not “shut off.” The individual will have recurring and inescapable memories and intrusive thoughts, and suffer from arousal and reactive symptoms.
C-PTSD typically develops in childhood, but it is possible for adults to develop the condition as well. Being at the mercy of someone who exercises extreme power or control over your life, with no definite end in sight, can wreak havoc on the mind and break down one’s sense of self, causing one to doubt his or her own conscience and intuition. In children the development of neurological and psychological processes can be interrupted and thrown off course, as the relationship the child is forming with himself and the world around him becomes greatly skewed.
For children the onslaught of PTSD usually begins within the caregiving structure the child in which the child is raised. Apart from the traumatic event and the abuser there is an added layer of interpersonal trauma, as the child grows up believing he or she is innately flawed. Along with the traumatic event, there can also be a fear of speaking up about the event. The child can adopt intermittent or avoidant attachments styles which were modeled to them by caregivers. Additionally a greatly overwhelming sense of shame can be prevalent - as the child is not able to separate himself from the trauma.
With PTSD and C-PTSD the individual’s nervous system is in a constant state of arousal, as it is always expecting danger even in the advent of no threat. Anxiety and hypervigilance are common in those who suffer from PTSD and C-PTSD. This can manifest itself as someone being jumpy, anxious, or irritable, as if their reactions are oftentimes intensified and disproportionate to the circumstance. Nightmares, flashbacks and intrusive thoughts are also common, as are depression, irritability, and avoidance. Changes in mood, engaging in destructive behavior, insomnia, and real or perceived feelings of isolation can occur as well.