Most people have heard of post-traumatic stress disorder that afflicts many men and women returning from a war zone. It is characterized by flashbacks, unstable mood, and survivor’s remorse. However, many have never heard of a condition that often develops in childhood and changes the course of the child’s life forever, complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).
For a good definition of CPTSD, we turned to Beauty After Bruises, an organization that offers outreach focused on adult survivors of childhood trauma who have complex PTSD with or without the presence of a dissociative disorder. Their definition of complex post-traumatic stress disorder as follows:
“Complex PTSD comes in response to chronic traumatization over the course of months or, more often, years. This can include emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuses, domestic violence, living in a war zone, being held captive, human trafficking, and other organized rings of abuse, and more. While there are exceptional circumstances where adults develop C-PTSD, it is most often seen in those whose trauma occurred in childhood. For those who are older, being at the complete control of another person (often unable to meet their most basic needs without them), coupled with no foreseeable end in sight, can break down the psyche, the survivor’s sense of self, and affect them on this deeper level. For those who go through this as children, because the brain is still developing and they’re just beginning to learn who they are as an individual, understand the world around them, and build their first relationships – severe trauma interrupts the entire course of their psychologic and neurologic development.”
CPTSD forms in response to repeated interpersonal violence that leaves the victim, a child or adult, feeling trapped with no hope of escape or of imminent death.
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is a developmental trauma disorder (DTD) which is wildly different than post-traumatic stress disorder that normally, but not always, forms in adulthood.
The trauma model states that children who experience chronic sexual, psychological, physical abuse and neglect develop CPTSD. However, it also forms in kids who suffer slavery, human trafficking, working in sweatshops, war or survivors of concentration camp environments and cults. The trauma which causes this disorder may also include having experienced betrayal, defeat, and shame.
The reason children are vulnerable to forming CPTSD is that children do not have the cognitive or emotional skills to understand what is happening to them. Since the abuse and neglect, they are experiencing is normally perpetrated by people they know and trust, to admit to themselves that these same people want to hurt them is akin to emotional suicide so they use other means to manage the trauma.
The psychological implications are enormous leaving the child with a complex mess of their core beliefs about who they are what they are. This tangled mess becomes even more complicated by flashbacks, nightmares and other symptoms that are worse in adulthood.
Often, children experiencing interpersonal traumatic events experience a conundrum in their minds and some choose to dissociate the events away.
CPTSD and PTSD in the DSM-5
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), is the bible of the psychiatric world. However, CPTSD is not mentioned because the author’s believed it was sufficient to lump it together with other trauma-related disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder.
The tragedy of complex post-traumatic stress disorder not appearing in the DSM-V is that mental health providers cannot officially give their clients this diagnosis because it is not accepted by the American Psychiatric Association, the publishers of the DSM-5.
However, there is a growing movement among those living with CPTSD and others who are advocating to have this diagnosis receive its own listing in the next edition. The reason this is vital is that the symptoms of CPTSD are different in many important ways than PTSD.
Now you may be wondering, what’s the difference between complex and the other style of stress disorder, (sometimes referred to as “simple” or “classic” PTSD when being compared or contrasted with complex PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder develops when a person experiences or witnesses something which is frightening, shocking, dangerous, or scary. Most people recover from such experiences, but some people develop short-term or ongoing symptoms including re-experiencing the event(s) through flashbacks or nightmares, avoiding places, events or objects which remind them of what they experienced, or arousal symptoms like being easily startled.
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is different in two crucial ways, the trauma is longer-lasting or repeated, and the symptoms are more severe.
CPTSD can form in both children and adults, but in this series of articles, we are going to focus on children and how what they can face will affect them throughout their life span.
In short, any repetitive situation where the child cannot escape or believes themselves trapped with no hope of escape.
The symptoms of CPTSD can be life-altering and cause severe disabilities such as many different forms of mental health disorders, including borderline personality disorder, dissociative disorders, and somatization disorder. The emotional damage that precludes complex post-traumatic stress disorder can lead to prolonged feelings of terror, worthlessness, helplessness, and the warping of the identity and sense of self in children.
When these children become adults, they have wide-reaching symptoms with not having a solidified understanding of self and problems regulating their own emotions. However, while the emotional state of young children facing overwhelming life experiences is terrible enough, repeatedly being in a position of being in danger continually changes their brains as well.
The amygdalae of these highly traumatized youngsters, due to its constant bombardment from the stress hormones which make the body ready for fight or flight cannot form correctly. This part of the human brain responsible for emotional regulation has been found to be smaller than average by as much as 20% or more when they reach adulthood.
Other parts of the body are affected as well as the body’s inflammatory response to the ongoing influx of stress hormones, harming the child’s systems. Illnesses in adulthood are directly attributable to trauma in childhood, such as problems with immune system disorders, diabetes, and heart disease.
The symptoms of complex post-traumatic stress order may include the following:
- Losing memories of trauma or reliving them
- Difficulty regulating emotions that often manifest as rage
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
- Sudden mood swings
- Feeling detached from oneself
- Feeling different from others
- Feeling ashamed
- Feeling guilty
- Difficulty maintaining relationships
- Difficulty trusting others
- Seeking our or becoming a rescuer
- Feeling afraid for no obvious reason
- Having a feeling of always on the alert
- Becoming obsessed with revenge on the perpetrator
- Feeling a loss of spiritual attachment and either ignoring or depending upon religion for self-worth
What Does Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Look Like?
There are several and various psychological aspects to CPTSD and we have tried to list as many as we could below with associated explanations.
Problems with Emotional Regulation. Survivors find they have a very difficult time experiencing, expressing, and controlling emotions. Not only are survivors unable to describe, comprehend and label them correctly, feeling emotions is terrifying and might express in a volatile manner.
Survivors may experience persistent sadness, suicidality, or either explosive anger or be incapable of expressing it. Survivors often feel numb and are incapable of leveling out their moods after they have experienced an extreme emotion such as elation or grief.
One common symptom any survivors encounter is the re-experiencing of their childhood trauma through flashbacks. These flashbacks are intrusive and often the triggers causing them are elusive. This symptom is known as an emotional flashback.
Difficulty with Relationships. One might think that when we talk about having difficulty with relationships, we are only speaking about having trouble forming and holding an intimate relationship but that’s not all there is to it.
Survivors often have feelings of isolation and haven’t the knowledge of HOW to form relationships. The fear involved in trusting another human being will not harm them leaves these survivors in a morass of harboring the intense needs to hide away and refuse to try to trust others with also desperately wanting someone to love them.
However, some survivors swing the opposite direction and trust too much leaving them vulnerable to victimization to people who will repeat the pain and abandonment of the past.
Below are listed and described some of the difficulties people living with the diagnosis of complex post-traumatic stress disorder experience.
Difficulties with Self-Perception. Due to the messages given by their childhood abusers, survivors often have problems with perceiving themselves as worthwhile and worthy of dignity and respect. Unfortunately, due to the signals sent by caregivers, many believe they are fundamentally bad or damaged beyond repair. This leaves survivors feeling powerless, hopeless, and helpless. Many survivors take on the role of rescuer, sacrificing their own health and happiness to care for others; while others feel a sense of entitlement that blocks their healing.
There is also a permeating feeling of not belonging in the world that, somehow, they are a mistake and should never have been born. This brings a deep sense of loneliness that may result in isolating from other people.
However, these beliefs and feelings are far from the truth as survivors are compassionate, competent, strong, and intelligent human beings.
Attachment to the Perpetrator. Because survivors have such a low esteem of themselves, many find themselves believing that they are making up things about those who harm them, or worse, that they deserve maltreatment.
Many cannot break free from the influence of their abusers, especially if that person is someone they love like a father or mother. Even though they know the behavior they received as children or are receiving in the present, telling the truth about their loved one feels like a betrayal. These feelings can sometimes translate into suicidality as the survivor struggles with the impression left by their abuser that if they talk about what happened, then they are dirty, nasty, or will be disowned.
Some survivors feel guilt and sadness in leaving their abuser even knowing how badly they are treated by them. Perpetrators groom their victims by giving the impression that they love them and make statements relating to their victim that they will never be loved the way the perpetrator loves them.
Other survivors feel inadequate to manage life without their perpetrators in the picture, following up on messages from the abuser that they cannot live without them.
An Interruption of the Survivor’s System of Meanings. A person’s system of meanings involves their assessment of who they are based on the person’s abilities, weaknesses, feelings, and life. Childhood abuse interrupts a survivor’s sense of self which leads to a struggle to maintain faith or belief that justice, ethics, and morality are unreal. This leaves the survivor with an unfairly contorted outlook on the world.
This distorted vision of their environment often leads to doubt that there is any goodness or kindness that isn’t selfish and that they can never find forgiveness, although they did nothing wrong.
While many people exhibit most of the symptomology listed on this page, they may or may not experience all of them. This is important to understand as survivors are individuals first and have different life experiences. It is also vital to note that comparing one person’s experiences with childhood or other trauma with someone else’s is like comparing an apple to an orange. While they are both almost round and contain seeds, that is where the resemblance ends. One person’s trauma is not better or worse than that of someone else.
My name is Shirley Davis and I am a freelance writer with over 40-years- experience writing short stories and poetry. Living as I do among the corn and bean fields of Illinois (USA), working from home using the Internet has become the best way to communicate with the world. My interests are wide and varied. I love any kind of science and read several research papers per week to satisfy my curiosity. I have earned an Associate Degree in Psychology and enjoy writing books on the subjects that most interest me.
Thank you for understanding and clearly explaining what we experience and why. This will be a great aid to help us help our families and friends understand what we are working so hard to recover from. Not only is it hard on us, it is hard on them as well – especially if they haven’t experienced the same trauma. Sometimes our ability to mask the symptoms and to be highly functioning and “successful” makes it even harder for others to understand. Thanks again!
You are so welcome. Glad I could help. Shirley Davis
Few are aware of this. I had to self diagnose this condition knowing that was more to my situation than than any professional was aware of. Thank God I saw the research done on CPTSD in my investigation. This disorder is valid and childhood trauma seems to be a necessary component for this diagnosis. Drugs do little. I’ve found a helpful truth to alleviate some of this. If you draw a circle with Your memory of who you are in this circle as a small child. Interconnected circles that invade the YOU as a child circle before traumatic events occur is the you that one needs to focus on. All events of trauma invade again the you circle. These traumatic circles are what you did as risky behavior or someone did to you is essential for immoliating symptoms. If you try to address all your traumas en mass you will go back and forth from one event to the other with little help to you. Remember who you are as an innocent child, that’s a good person who’s still there that was victimized.
I hope whoever reads this can see the good you that’s still there. Focus on that part of yourself and don’t try to fix all things that really can’t be fixed. You deal with what you can handle bit most importantly focus on who you were because that’s who you are. Your not a compilation of things that happened. Your good and you can manage this with clear eyes towards the good person you are. God bless us all.
Wow man I’m crying because I’m 57 and just now getting a feeling I know what’s wrong with me now! Nothing, I am a good person like I thought I was it’s evil people trying to make me feel and terrorizing me into thinking I’m a bad person.
I’m sorry if we offended you. We agree you are NOT a bad person. We support you. Shirley
No no no, it’s not your fault I’m a terrible writer and I can hardly express myself grammatically. A 5th grader would be easier to understand then me. So, it’s not you at all. I found myself identifying personally to the letter of this diagnosis like someone finally sees me I’m understood. I’m NOT what some horrible people try to make me out to be for their own personal pleasure and gain. It was like the greatest sense of identity awareness ever. I thank you from the bottom of heart for giving me a defenition of who I am and why. Thank you.
I’m so glad we helped instead of hurt you. Good luck on your life journey and avoid negative people if you can. Shirley
I disagree with the last sentence.
The notion is that people are competing about the gravity of their trauma is sign of social apathy, not empathy.
While i agree that with the apples and oranges principle, which means that people with different traumas have different needs,need different kinds of treatment and should Not be all put into the same bag, yet that is EXACTLY what you did in the next sentence.
The idea that all people with traumas somehow “percept” the same amount of pain is ridicilous.
This is exactly the kind of thing you can expect from the “happy people”.
Its too said that you didnt have the courage to say, that a lot of of traumatized people are exaggerating and playing the victim card, cause then i would at least know youre honest.
Its the same like when white people blame black people for playing the racist card without realizing that their(the white people”s) behaviour is actually racist. I mean what are they supposed to do, Not play the card? Like did they ever think about what choice do those people actually have?
If you are a victim, you are supposed to just shut up and suffer and accept the martyrdom?
Because thats what happens a lot of the time.(If not most, and we will never know how many people died in silence, cause we only see the tip of the iceberg)
The victims get ignored (in better case) or straight up discriminated against or both.
Those same dumb ignoring people are usually those who think theyre helping,while while hurting you even more somehow, and then when they dont get gratuity for their “help” they just turn their backs and say you cant be helped.
After a while you lose all trust in humanity as society loses trust in you and thats a point of no return.
Also i dont think adding new names and diagnoses is very helpful. I think helping the people who need help is helpful.
Material help, not just therapy, and the material must come first.
Therapy is useless if you cant afford it, and does nothing for your material situation.
Majority of psyciatrists are blindly prescribing pills like they were oxy,without really knowing how they work,and being manipulated and brainwashed by the pharmacological industry about their effectivity/benefits.
There are drugs routinely prescribed to people, that have seriously harmfull side effects, played off by the media,and the doctors themselves as something mundane,no problem(HOW???), and do 0% good for the patients apart from numbing them(as in making them tired, not feel better,just feel less – if you wanna call that “good”) yet they still take them like nice docile sheep and then get heart attacks, all sorts of internal health defects,and they accidentaly kill other people while driving cars, cause they were tired and on the pill.
Wow. This is all so true. Validating to read. Thank you.
It is gratifying to know that I was able to help you! Thank you for the comment. Shirley
How is this different from Reactive Attachment Disorder or Developmental Trauma?
How is this different from Reactive Attachment Disorder or Developmental Trauma Disorder?
Reactive attachment disorder and developmental trauma disorder are basically describing the same phenomenon of what happens with children who are abused. CPTSD has similarities to both but affects adults, not children who have survived child abuse. That is the only distinctions I can find. Thank you for reading and commenting on our blog. Shirley
I’m in my 50’s and just getting to understand the depth of my childhood traumas. I was separated from family and put into various homes for the first four to five years until my father could get out of the military . Many horrible things happened that I’m only not getting to work on.
Hopefully I’ll get some help and keep my family together.
Thank you for your comment. I hope you are able to get some peace. Shirley
I didn’t realize I had ptsd until I was in my 40s and now that I’m over 50 I see this. Reading the description of CPTSD is like reading about my life. The ashamed one that tries to fix everything. I get confused because although I spent years in counseling in my late 20s I didn’t understand why I still has nightmares and memories the started appearing in my life now. Now that o thought my life was done with looking back.
Your words in this article hit me hard. Maybe I’m not insane after all. Crystal clear and to the point. I’m a shut in and having an impossible time finding help. You took the words out of my soul that my mouth could never explain. Thank you.
Thank you for your kind comment. I’m glad I could be some help to you. Shirley
Thank you so much for this resource. It will be incredibly helpful as I begin to love forward with my healing. Blessings
Thank you for sharing! It feels wonderful to know that someone finally understands what we go through.
Excellent, well covered article. However, there is a enormous difference between ptsd and CPTSD. I do my research and from that it is my conclusion that survivors and victims that reach adulthood, Thank God. They have a full spectrum of defective psychological components due to the babies developing brain has a foundation that therapy can help cope and always trying different methods. The end result is a total Lack of TRUST, innately conceived. While I have been told trust is earned. I try my best. However, other developmental major issues are hyper-Vigalence which cause extreme ADD, being a victim at an early age by caregivers I was physically attacked by my peers who would hunt me down on my bike home 2 to 3 times a week, for 2-3 years, constantly humiliated by teachers in front of my peers and never had friends for more than a year and a half. Primarily my fault. I overindulge my time, ask inappropriate questions to the norm, and so badly want people to like me. It has and always will be a problem. I have a projected normal voice to this day because I want to be heard something that I have done since a baby from neglect. In fact my father nicknamed me tiger because by the time he came home from work I was hysterical and my cry was like a scream. In addition to cognition problems I acquired from being shaken by my mother. I became cross-eyed, so my sensory organs did not cohesiveness work right. I had surgery at age 4 and P/T, but I still had cognition problems which needed all the exercising of my entire body. Playing with friends was a losing proposition. That fact also screwed up my social skills. I could go on but there needs to be a CPTSD organization that is lobbying the DSM-V board because while it symptoms can be treated, they are and will never be resolved. The blueprint, vulnerability, and an infants blank is necessary for a restoration. That will not happen any time soon. Meanwhile adults who are mis diagnosed treated for some mental illness with medication makes it worse because the inner dynamics of our brains, neurotransmitters, adrenal glands and the input from the exterior affects our brains differently. Please advise me of such an organization. I am in Los Angeles. I would like to help this mandatory need to protect those people that will probably need SSI OR SSDI at some point. Thank you Schmeg
Have you looked into Peter Levine, Irene Lyon and the likes? Peter Levine’s Somatic work is geared towards nervous system regulation, or dys-regulation which is what has happened to us with CPTSD.
By healing the nervous system, the body tends to do the rest by itself. If we can learn to sit with what comes up and not try to run, numb it out, or disassociate. That requires all the pre-work which takes time, but within 7 years, when our cells have all been renewed, if we do the work in the meantime… we can fully heal. I have just now learned about all this, and have started researching it deeper on a daily basis. It seems very promising, as the ANS, CNS and nervous system at large, is responsible for controlling everything. So it makes perfect sense when we don’t have the capacity to regulate it like normally, that our body won’t function as it should.
I wish you all the best. Stay safe and be well!
Thank you. Shirley
Thanks for the resources. It’s DSM-5 not DMS-5 as you have in the sub heading.
Whoops! Thanks for pointing out my typo. I’ll go fix it. Shirley
Thank you for this clear and informative text. Very helpful. FYI, one more typo in “Seeking our or becoming a rescuer.”
My husband has CPTSD from sustained childhood trauma that apparently wired his brain differently than the norm. I have lived with him for forty years and see this abnormal wiring. As a younger man he took LSD and said for the first time he felt “normal.” Are there any clinical trials or professional prescribing LSD in micro doses for this condition.
I honestly do not know. However, I did find an interesting article that talks about research for this purpose.
Less than 5 hours ago, my wonderful new therapist of 3 mos proposed this new “frame” for the many difficulties I’ve had
during my life! It was in the context of discussing the many psychiatric diagnoses I’ve been given over time: bipolar, major depression, generalized anxiety, panic, ADD, eating disorders, sleep disorders, various personality disorders and so on.
Six hours ago I’d never heard of CPTSD and now I’m in a state of shock. My initial reaction was to burst into tears because it just “felt” so right somehow when she said it. Such is the power of simply “naming” something. Validation, finally. (Btw, I’m 68 y/o.)
As soon as our session ended and I’d pulled myself together (sort of), I came online and found your blog. Wow.
Suddenly, it’s ALL making sense….Thank you so very much!
Reading this was quite a ride. I broke out in tears at least 5 times reading this. Im 36 and since i was 15, it was all just a big mess. I endured quite a lot of mobbing at my workplace. Pretty harsh stuff. It was not fun. What made my situation worse is that my parents where on the side of the mobbers, cause they thougt i was just lazy. So i came home from work, from one torment into the next. It was especially bad when i lost a job due to being not able to be at that place anymore because of intense panic attacks in certain triggering situations. This meant that for the next 2 to 3 weeks our house tranformed into a even more toxic place. It took me six years to get out of there because of my financial situation (couldn´t keep a job longer then a few weeks, had about 30 of them). This post would grow about 20 pages long for all the BS that happened, but it was hell on earth, emotionally. I tried to kill myself 2 times, once per shotgun and once by bridge jump. Good thing im a coward, i think. This was a household without love. I was in and out of mental institutions 3 times. Medication never really worked, it made it worse over time. So i just lived with it and made the best of it. But a few weeks ago there was a family gathering (my fathers 70th birthday). My father was quite intoxicated (normal thing) and he boasted in front of the whole audience that he “always keeps trouble away from his children and has his hands over them the whole time”, with this really hate-inducing, self-loving tone. I cant really explain, but something snapped inside me. This was three weeks ago. It started slowly with occasional light panic attacks, but ended with a visit to the ER with a really severe one yesterday. The hardest ones are those emotional flashbacks. It teleports you right back into the hardest time of your life, without control over anything. It shows you things that your brain locked far far away, things that hurt really deep. It just snatches you out of reallity, its really scary. I start treatment for PTSD in one and a half weeks and i cant wait for it to begin. Because this article is like a description of my life. Thank you for posting this article, i just feel sad that you will never know how much reading through this helped me understand me and my life so much better.
(Sorry for mistakes, no native english speaker)
I’m so glad we could help you! Take care. Shirley
This is as close as I have ever seen someone describe what I been telling the people around me about myself for decades. Where I have a hard time getting people to understand I have CPTSD and not any of the other labels they try to apply to me.
I was tortured and still am being tortured and abused by peers all around me, for having hearing loss and learning disability. I been lit on fire and had my arm broken on separate occasions with chronic torture occurring even right under the noses of authority figures where I have begged for help to have it stopped. ANd the authority figures refuse to do anything because they are part of the institutional discrimination people with disabilitiees face on daily basis. What is worse is because the abuse is disability related and done by people within society and its a large ever changing group of people causing the abuse the trauma never stopped once I left childhood. ITS ongoing to this day and is in fact endangering my life as we speak due to abuse related to pandemic shutdown. where I am unable to wear mask safely due to other medical complications. I am currently homeless and on SSDI under another label for panic disorder which was closest fit at the time to the CPTSD but in itself is the wrong diagnosis where CPTSD is the correct one and been describing for decades. EVEN before the talk of making CPTSD official in the international diagnostic 11.
Part of why I decided to reply is you helped me understand a critical haunting I have had since puberty. When I dream of intimacy There are always external factors that are trying their damn-est to separate us from consensual intimacy. And its been haunting me for decades with the most recent last night. The revelation came when reading about the intimacy and interpersonal relationships. and that is when it clicked and finally understood why that theme been haunting me chronically my entire life since puberty. therapists in the past had no answer for me because they are ignorant of CPTSD. One of the things I find most disturbing is there are NO specialist that specialize in disability related abuse and trauma that leads to CPTSD. I have asked MAYO clinic if they knew of anyone who specializes in the area of CPTSD for those who suffered disability related trauma of abuse by peers in society throughout their lives, never ending abuse. There are NONE in the 5 state area around MN. that I been able to locate NOR has MAYO and they are affiliated with almost everyone in this region of the country.
I am also trying to get my SSDI fixed because my therapist of a decade up and left. And I am having trouble locating others who specialize in this area in particular related to abuse towards those with disabilities where our support network to deal with it is essentially non existent. MAYO has already screwed it up due to ignorance and labeled me under a completely inappropriate label. because they failed to hear: I only treat others with suspicion AFTER they do me harm. I do NOT believe people are out to hurt me. there is a very distinct difference. Because the nature of my abusers could be anyone in society I come into contact with and won’t know they abuse me until after they do it. And that is when I adjust to the new and real threat to my safety. example I no longer sit where people can approach me from behind. because that is how I was lit on fire and had my arm broken. it was done through stealth from behind because I couldn’t hear them approach due to my hearing loss. and when it occurred the entire class of 30 or more students was watching and did nothing to stop it from happening. The one who lit me on fire was never punished. because they did it to a disabled kid. Unworthy in societies eyes thanks to Eugenics Ideology still being present to this day.
Is there any chance you might know of resources??? I would greatly appreciate it. since my situation is unique in who the abusers are the standard resources may not help in my situation though. because I can never escape the abuse ever when its society itself doing the abuse. Where I developed CPTSD as a consequence.
Last note I believe CPTSD is actually a normal response to a hostile environment. that is unique to the individual. those in society around those who went through chronic traumas are viewing those with CPTSD through biased eyes because they don’t share the lived experience of a hostile environment to which the victim lived through or is still living through.
like my standing with my back to wall or standing sideways to keep eye on people behind me to ensure others don’t try to do stealth attack has prevented me from being injured again. thus I adapted to my hostile environment. but to everyone else who has not experienced that, think I am weird or broken and thus try to apply the incorrect label to me as a result. When All I am doing is adapting to long term unending abuse that comes at any moment without warning.(hostile environment) but they don’t experience it when standing right next to me because they are NOT the target of the abuse.
Ps the way i describe the CPTSD change to people is My original self died when I was 5 years old. where I was abused by fellow classmates and the teacher. over 3 month period in first grade. I felt the change in my view of the world. I KNEW conscientiously that I was changing. I felt my original self dying. The care free happy kid who to that point never seen or felt abuse Wanting to interact with those around him. Poof the transition was extreme. Even my mother noticed and pulled me out of school hoping the time away would heal the wounds caused by the abuses doled on me daily for being person with disabilities. Like having my hand hit hard with a ruler because I was naturally left handed due to learning disability. Where the attack always came from behind without warning as the teacher passed on her patrol during learning how to write session.
Treated as inferior because I scored 80 on IQ test where the IQ test was a left over pseudoscience from eugenics era. Where I ultimately graduated in top 1/5th of high school graduate year despite my hearing loss and learning disability. and scored nationally in top 1% among hard of hearing and deaf as part of national testing for equal education of those with hearing-loss disabilities. . This in ways made the abuse worse because people around me view those with disabilities shouldn’t be allowed to compete with able bodied counterparts. And should be excluded from the entirety of society as unworthy. YES these things have been said to my face repeatedly by different people.
So at least for me I understood the changes I was going through. where I applied my own understandings of what was happening to me. I don’t see CPTSD as a mental health disorder a disorder at all. I see it as a normal reaction to a really screwed up situation where those around us lack empathy and understanding. And are incapable of really understanding what it is to have CPTSD. Hasn’t anyone else other than myself bothered to ask this question.
HOW did our ancestors survive in a world that is hostile to them? what changes did they have to go through to be able to survive and eventually procreate? And that is when it dawned on me this is normal reaction to hostile environment. problem is rest of society is broken by fixating on a too narrow definition of what normal is Thanks mostly to the eugenics ideology movement and the elitist belief they are superior and everyone else has to try and be like them. When in reality to ensure the survival of the human race normal is actually a wide range of messy. CPTSD being one of them. because its an adaptation to external stressors that endanger our safety to point of potentially preventing our ability to procreate and keep the species going. IF you didn’t jump to a sudden commotion, you were eaten by a mountain lion. (hostile environment. ) Failure to react to commotion is what is broken. because you then lose your life. or sustain injury. We were never meant to live in an industrialized society. Where MOST danger was removed. the mechanism is still there wired into us to ensure survival in hostile environment. Problem is most of us humans forget that and forget that reactions to a perceived hostile environment is normal response. its the lack of accepting that, that causes us to be forever parallelized and unable to move forward. and realize its part of living. YES its harder for some compared to others. BUT here is the thing. WE need to stop comparing everyone. And stop trying to force people to fit very specific square boxes. STOP trying to force everyone to fit Eugenics very narrow definition of “Normalcy” We are diverse and we need to learn to embrace that. That our experiences are different. and recognize that because we live in an industrialized society with narrow 1 way of doing things others will need help to get through life. WE all contribute to ensuring that society doesn’t adjust to differences.
We need to change our values as a society. through that we can begin to heal. Change the situation and a lot of the stressors subside. And things start to normalize. And we need to learn to be more open and share our personal experiences. and we also need to stop bashing those who do share. because what they are sharing may be actions to which you helped contribute too. and thus starts the process of changing self to make the world less hostile towards others who you view as different.
what happened to the other post? had 2 back to back Can you at least email and explain why it was removed? What good is expanding awareness of CPTSD if you won’t let those of us who have it actually share our experiences?
you allowed post talking about trying to end their life.
Thank you. I would say this describes me. I was molested repeatedly by my brother at an early age (who had been molested by a party outside the family), have a very erratic mother who could possibly be BPD, and was bullied from preschool to post-graduation, when my best friend turned strange and highly abusive (possibly schizophrenic from his odd behavior and paranoias). When all the pieces started coming together, I realized I am still that child. I’m 43 and could never grow up because I’m still living like everyone is going to hurt me. It’s amazing because even if I want to draw a picture or do something artsy (I like art), I don’t do anything because my subconscious says that if someone sees it, they’re going to tear me down. Even with no logical context. I have no friends or partner because I don’t trust anyone, and I don’t know how to interact with anyone. I remember crying most days and my mom making fun of me for crying, even mocking my crying sounds. I just want to hide. Fortunately I got into trauma therapy and am going to start a year-long DBT program in my area. I hope this helps. I’m currently being treated for depression, GAD, and panic disorder, but I relate to all the symptoms (except rage — it comes out in other ways). I was recently diagnosed with PTSD from childhood as well, but I think this C-PTSD is as accurate as anything. I feel frustrated and angry that being treated poorly affected my brain development. Reading the other stories on this page frustrates me, too. No child should be treated such, EVER. My brother was an early alcoholic, bipolar, ADHD, and suffered terribly, and committed suicide a year before covid. If anyone is reading this and feels they also did not develop “correctly” from childhood, my heart is with you and I wish you recovery and wellness in everything you do. Peace
It’s not like I’ve been professionally diagnosed with any mental disorder by a professional or anything, (well, Autism, but that’s not necessarily a mental disorder I think. Either way, it’s not relevant). Though I know I have /something/. I know it’s bad to self-diagnose, but I read this, and I checked off every single thing on the list. (I should probably see a psychiatrist about this before making any assumptions-) Thank you for writing this article and bringing awareness to CPTSD. Without this website, I wouldn’t have even known CPTSD was a thing- I came to tears a bit reading this-
Thank you for writing this article, i am recently married and my wife has opened up tp me about her childhood trauma as well as adult trauma. I had no clue about ptsd nor the c-ptsd. I am trying to learn how to help her through episodes and be the best help possible so i am educating myself.
Thank you seems so inadequate but i cannot think of a better word to use as i continue my journey of learning about this.
I’m glad we could help. Shirley Davis
I experience great anxiety and fear that stems from being ashamed around some certain people should they think I’m sexually attracted to them. Is that issue considered as having CPTSD?..I’ve never found a therapist who can treat this specific problem, that I’ve had all my life, having hit 40 years now. Is there another type of therapist that could treat CPTSD besides ones that are just described as one who treats anxiety?
CPTSD usually forms in childhood from childhood trauma. It can form in adulthood if say you were a prisoner of war or living in a war zone. Finding a therapist who treats CPTSD is difficult but not impossible. Have you tried Psychology Today’s find-a-therapist pages? You can search by area and disorder to find the therapist that may be able to help you. You’ll notice there aren’t many mentioned, that’s because the American Psychiatric Association hasn’t officially recognized CPTSD as a diagnosis. Instead, if you find no one treating CPTSD, ask for a therapist that treats childhood trauma or trauma-related disorders. I wish you luck in finding the therapist you need. Shirley
This is the most complete and helpful article about CPTSD that I have ever read. I have never resonated or agreed so much with the descriptions of everything to do with my own CPTSD than this article.
Thank you for doing such an amazing job at defining what people living with CPTSD go through. It often feels like people oblivious to CPTSD think we are weak or damaged when we respond to dangers that other people cannot see, and/or don’t otherwise put any bearing on how damaging certain behaviours are to people when we point them out because they don’t relate or believe. I wish we could improve the overall understanding in society that everyone has, to help people do better at being open to other people’s beliefs and cognitions, even if it doesn’t fit with their own mental models about how people think and work.
I hope we can get CPTSD into the DSM-5, as that will probably be a big help. The way the world is today, the way I see other people parenting their children, I feel we’re on the verge of a CPTSD epidemic in the next generation or two. There’s going to be a lot of people struggling as adults because of the abandonment and trauma they’ve experienced as children, and they’re going to need help recognising, dealing with their trauma, and helping to develop coping strategies to help them form healthy relationships with themselves and other people.
I think people too easily dismiss how important it is how we relate to one another. It doesn’t take much of a lack of empathy or open mindedness to create situations that are toxic or triggering for other people. It only takes the most subtle actions and moments of lack of empathy to create a situation where untreated CPTSD survivors can spiral out of control and trigger responses that aren’t socially acceptable, and it’s almost always the CPTSD survivor who ends up with the blame for the situation. We really need raised awareness to avoid these situations so everybody understands the role they play in social outcomes, and in doing so we will be a much stronger and healthier society.
Again, thank you so much for such a beautiful and succinct writeup of CPTSD. Thank you and everyone who is currently fighting to have this condition officially recognised; you people are amazing and I hope we can create a world where you don’t have to fight so hard for recognition and can focus more on helping CPTSD survivors adapt and flourish.
I feel overwhelmed reading this, it describes me as a person perfectly and has given me an understanding towards how I feel and act. I thought I was just damaged beyond repair, broken, worthless. I suffered physical and emotional abuse throughout childhood to early adolescence, by my ‘father’. From early memories, the abuse didn’t start until my sisters arrived when I was aged 4/5, however my siblings didn’t receive the treatment I did, which led me to have doubts I was biologically my fathers daughter as I got older. The need to understand why I was being treated that way grew more intense and after overhearing a conversation between my mum and another family member, I asked my mother if he was my dad. She told me I was being silly, of course he was! I was told he wasn’t my dad a year or two later. Subsequently throughout school I wasn’t interested, never went to school, was bullied when I did, didn’t fit in at all. I was very much a rescuer to my first partner, who was aged 29 whilst I was 18. I provided everything for 2 years and then finally snapped and left him. At 21 I got into a relationship that moved so fast. A few months in and the violence started, after a few years the violence wasn’t as frequent but instead replaced by emotional abuse. This relationship lasted 8 years. I was so proud of myself for leaving, I found myself, had confidence I’d never seen before. I got caught up in a whole new popular life and started taking and drugs. I got into whirlwind relationships with unsavoury guys, who used me, mentally abused me, made me fear for my life, coincidentally both guys held knives to my throat at the end of ‘relationships’. At this point, I didn’t feel phased, I just thought this kind of treatment was my life now. I’d had more beatings off men than hot dinners, not just within a relationship either. it didn’t bother me anymore, it was normal for me, it’s all I’m worthy of. So when I met my current partner, and he showered me with love and affection I fell hook line and sinker, is this was real love is? I’ve never had this treatment before – wow! I put all my effort into this relationship, but signs were there from the start, I had enough experience to spot them early on, but I ignored them – I’ve never had this attention before. I opened up to him about my life, previous abuse, regrettable decisions I’d made, current mental state, which I’d never opened up to before. All this info was then used against me after a short while, I began to believe I was looking for abusive traits and exaggerating his behaviour. Life in general detiorated, I was being evicted with no legit job or benefit claim, my house burgled twice, wrote off his friends car, had threats made against my life, friends who betrayed me, I cut off my family, was arrested and have serious charges I’m under investigation for. My life crumbled and he was there to make sure I was completely dependent on him. He told me constantly that I brought everything on myself, only him that has helped, I’m stupid, I don’t listen, I only think about myself. He controlled me, at one point I wasn’t allowed a phone, use of his laptop, I wasn’t allowed to use the toilet or watch tv or have the light on when he wasn’t in the room. And he’d leave for hours on end. He won’t sleep in the same bed, starts arguments before bed so I don’t sleep cause of overthinking. Contradicts his rules so he can shout at me for doing wrong. Gaslighting has progressed from differences in previous conversations to now telling me how I feel or what I’ve done. Recently it’s gotten to the point I anything i say or do is wrong and creates an argument. Thankfully i have my own place again but the transition from being with him 24/7 to alone was hard. He’d use taking me home to be on my own as a punishment, as he knew the psychological affect it had on me. Sending me home with no gas or electric or phone, or money or food, to be left for hours if not days. It was such a debilitating period, to find myself after 8 years of an abusive relationship, confident and empowered to absolutely dependant on a person who intentionally treats you worse than you’ve ever been treated, who’s manipulated or manufactured everything in order to reach this situation, in such a short space of time. I couldn’t leave as I had nothing and no one for support, even though I could see what was happening he’d trapped me. In the last month or two I’ve gained some independence and confidence back, meaning we don’t spend much time together at the moment, when we do spend time together I literally can’t breathe without doin something wrong or being told how stupid I am. He puts words in my mouth, won’t listen to my points or evidence of innocence. I can tell my new found independence is aggravating him, the confidence in refusing to accept his gaslighting tactics is resulting in arguments that don’t make sense as the points he makes are aged or have been totally reconstructed. It makes me laugh cause he’s clearly clutching at straws. I could go on forever about his behaviour and traits. I started writing down his actions and words just to prove to myself it’s happened because there’s so many things that are that crazy it’s hard to believe it happened. Also because I was starting to doubt myself and my sanity. I’m finally beginning to pull myself out of the abyss he’s created; realisation he has done all this manipulatively and intentionally has helped, But there’s occasional glimpses of the guy I fell for which makes it all so much harder to cut him out completely. I hate myself for letting him do this. I’m trying to get away from it all but I’ve ended up so off the rails im in self destruct mode. I’m gunna be going to prison, my drug use is so much so I’m putting my life at risk. I’m floating through life. I feel lonely, misunderstood, ashamed, isolated, crave reciprocated love, respect and support but don’t trust anyone, i feel uncomfortable around people, always expecting betrayal and ulterior motives. I can be so hyperactive, positive, and fun for days then retreat to a miserable depressed self isolated state where I won’t reply to texts. There’s no grey area. No reason for the moods. I’ve no attention for anything, I can’t watch tv or Netflix as I can’t concentrate. I used to binge watch series but now I can’t even finish an episode. I’ve got halfway through episodes and had to stop because I’ve no idea what happened, no other distractions around me. I phase out of conversations and just stop listening and have to ask people to repeat. I forget what I’m saying in the middle of a sentence and can’t remember my train of thought. I sometimes start talking about something irrelevant in the middle of my sentences, mostly things that I didn’t even know I was thinking about at that moment but the words come out of my mouth without hesitation and without any kind of grammatical sense which can be worrying an confusing for me. I regularly have spells of feeling like there’s someone else in the room when I’m alone with my partner – I now understand this to be out of body experiences. I just feel lost in life, that there’s no point, I’ve lost faith in humanity, I’ve lost faith in myself. I just don’t care anymore I’ve given up, I’m just existing. I know my behaviour is dangerous but I’m not bothered, I thought I was overdosing on drugs but just carried on using, wasn’t bothered if I did overdose – it is what it is. I have phases where I take control and research stuff like this to get a better understanding and hope that there’s a way out, but then I brush it away, I’ve no motivation or strength to change, I keep telling myself I’m having fun but really I think I’m just seein how much I can actually take before my body gives up, because in my head im too scared to end it purposely myself.
It certainly sounds like you have encountered some narcissism along the way. I’m so sorry you have gone through so much. All too often, people who have lived and grew up in an abusive home seek them out, as you said. Have you considered getting some therapy? It is not right for everyone, but it is worth trying. You are NOT broken beyond repair. We believe in you. You are not alone. Shirley
I thought my violent ex was narcissistic until I met my current partner. Until recently I was under the impression being narcissistic was just gas lighting and constantly finding faults/putting people down.
I used the word in an argument with my partner and his reaction was insane, telling me I’d called him a monster. It was only after that I researched into it (and thus discovered cptsd) which gave reason for his reaction, but then also the realisation he knows exactly what it is, therefore he knows exactly what he’s doing. It’s overwhelming to think everything he’s done has been planned, it even makes me wonder if some of the situations that supported my suddenly deteriorating lifestyle, were actually orchestrated by him. It’s crazy I want to feel betrayed and hurt, but I’m so numb to emotions it’s like I’m looking in at someone else’s life or reading a story, I know how I should feel but I don’t feel connected. I suppose that’s how I feel in life to be honest. I have people I recognise but have never spoken to before, voicing concerns about my lifestyle. Makes me anxious and agitated and uncomfortable – are they looking for gossip or genuinely want to help? Why aren’t supposed friends offering conversations like this? Is it cause they know how dysfunctional I am and can’t commit to support? Can’t be arsed? Too much effort? Just not worthy of prolonged attention? I get told I’m fun to be around, a loyal an respectful girl, such a nice, kind helpful person by people who don’t know me, but haven’t had a ’close/best’ friend stick around longer than a few months and certainly none that have really been there for me at my lowest points. Just feels like I’m a horrible person not worthy of equal friendships or relationships. But I know I’m a good person I wouldn’t intentionally hurt or betray anyone. Or am I really a bad person and it’s my messed up head that twists everything to make me believe I’m good? Am I psychotic? Am I a narc? I don’t know what to think anymore everythings a battle between attempted logical thinking/telling myself it’s just me overthinking I’m bein silly and my gut instinct telling me I’m gunna get hurt or they have an ulterior motive. But then I tell myself to be cautious and then act the total opposite way, welcoming them into my life, waiting to be proved wrong that im just paranoid and not everyone is out to get me. Then get hurt. Why do I still hold hope that I’ll find a person who recognises me and won’t hurt me? Even now I’ve isolated myself, I have to really go against my will and keep people at arms length, stop myself from engaging and remind myself I can’t trust my judgement on others.
I’m sorry for me offloading here, I’ve never laid it all out like this before. My fingers hurt from typing lol I can’t afford private therapy and usually GPs in the uk prescribe/push meds at the first opportunity. It also makes me anxious about how I’d even explain or start to explain to a doctor, I’d be paranoid they wouldn’t believe me cause I’ve pretty much self diagnosed from Google. And I’m really struggling with the concept of time atm, time has no value or purpose to me, I don’t sleep much if at all, everything blurs into one, I miss every appt I make for everything.
I will have to look into that. Both sound interesting. Believe it or not, I have never heard of either term. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Shirley