The following post contains common terms related to diagnosis and treatment for Complex PTSD (CPTSD), as well as general information terms related to various conditions that result from trauma. Many of these terms can also be used in relation to PTSD as well. Most terms have a link to an external source that contains additional information and explanation.

This is not an exhaustive list, as there are new treatments being developed all the time. We will strive to continually update this post. Please feel free to suggest terms and treatment options by using our contact form. Our team will review your request and consider additions as applicable.

As always, consult your medical or mental health provider for any trauma related questions or treatment options. This list, including all content on this website is for informational purposes only.

Abreaction – The discharge of emotion involved in recalling an event that has been repressed because it was consciously intolerable.

Acting out – Originally an analytic term referring to the expression of unconscious feelings about a therapist or other authority figures

Affect. – “A pattern of observable behaviors that is the expression of a subjectively experienced feeling state (emotion).

Anniversary reaction. –  The experience of reacting with feelings or behavior on the “anniversary” of a previous event.

Amygdala – The Amygdala is a small region of the brain which plays a key role in emotional regulation, emotional memory, and responses to emotional stimuli.

Attachment – The term “attachment” refers to a lasting, emotional/psychological bond that is forged between people.

Body Memory – The term refers to body sensations that symbolically or literally captures some aspect of the trauma.

Boundaries – guidelines, rules, or limits that a person creates to identify for themselves what are reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for other people to behave around them and how they will respond when someone steps outside those limits.

Childhood Abuse and Neglect – Childhood abuse and neglect refer to emotional/sexual abuse/physical abuse perpetrated when a person is a child or teen.

Codependency – a relationship in which an otherwise mentally healthy person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected by an addiction or mental illness.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – a structured form of therapy based on the belief that thoughts – not outside circumstances – control our feelings and behaviors and that our feelings and behaviors are consequently under our own control

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder –  a psychological injury that results from prolonged exposure to social or interpersonal trauma, disempowerment, captivity, or entrapment, with lack or loss of a viable escape route for the victim.

Countertransference – A therapist’s conscious or unconscious emotional reactions to a client. It is a therapist’s job to monitor his or her reactions to a client and to minimize their impact on the therapeutic relationship and treatment.

Cortisol – Cortisol is a stress hormone that is secreted by the adrenal glands and converts protein into energy. When a person feels unsafe or threatened in some manner, the amygdala signals the endocrine system which releases cortisol and causes an increased heart rate and a rise in blood pressure arises in preparation for a defensive response such as fight or fright.

Denial – the practice of believing or imagining that some painful or traumatic circumstance, event or memory does not exist or did not happen.

Dependency – An inappropriate and chronic reliance by an adult individual on another individual for their health, subsistence, decision making or personal and emotional well-being.

Depersonalization/Derealization – This is one of a number of symptoms of CPTSD and is a form of dissociation in which a person feels as though they are not real, that they are disconnected from themselves, and are somewhat distant or detached from what is happening to them.

Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT) – DBT is a psychosocial treatment developed for patients with borderline personality disorder which combines intensive individual and group therapy. Dissociation– Dissociation is a central feature of Complex PTSD in which one or more parts of the person’s psyche becomes fixated on avoiding and/or defending the self from the painful emotions of re-experiencing the trauma.

Dopamine – dopamine acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. Increased levels of the neurotransmitters – serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine – has been found to reduce depression.

Dual Diagnosis – This refers to the co-existence of a mental disorder and substance abuse disorder.

EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a psychological technique sometimes used in the treatment of post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Emotional Abuse – Any pattern of behavior directed at one individual by another which promotes in them a destructive sense of Fear, Obligation or Guilt.

Emotional Flashbacks – Emotional flashbacks (EFs) are one of the most common symptoms of CPTSD and involve mild to intense feeling states that were felt in past trauma and are layered over present-day situations.

Enabling  – a pattern of behavior, often adopted by abuse victims, which seeks to avoid confrontation and conflict by absorbing the abuse without challenging it or setting boundaries.

Family of Choice (FOC) – The family a person chooses to be with.

Family of Origin (FOO) – The family that a person was born or raised in.

Fawn Response – As described by Walker, the Fawn response is one of four defensive reactions to ongoing trauma.Those who fawn tend to put the needs and wants of others ahead of themselves at the cost of the health of their own egos, and the protection of and compassion for themselves.

Fear of Abandonment – An irrational belief that one is imminent danger of being personally rejected, discarded, or replaced.

Fight Response – As described by Walker,  the Fight response is one of four defensive reactions to ongoing trauma.  Those with Complex PTSD who have a fight response tend to react when triggered with anger and contempt.

Flight Response – As described by Walker, the Flight response is one of four defensive reactions to ongoing trauma.  Those with Complex PTSD who engage in a flight response try to move away from and distract themselves from their feelings.

Freeze Response – As described by Walker (n.d.), the Freeze response is one of four defensive reactions to ongoing trauma.  Those with Complex PTSD who use a freeze response often Isolate themselves from others, and to dissociate or distance themselves from their pain and fear.

Gaslighting – The practice of brainwashing or convincing a mentally healthy individual that they are going insane or that their understanding of reality is mistaken or false.

Harassment  – Any sustained or chronic pattern of unwelcome behavior by one individual towards another.

Hypervigilance – refers to a tendency to constantly scan the environment for threats.

Iatrogenesis – When a medical treatment or psychotherapy causes an illness or aggravates an existing illness. In psychotherapy, this may occur as a result of the comments, questions, or attitudes of the therapist. .

Identity Disturbance – A psychological term used to describe a distorted or inconsistent self-view. Although the link below is for schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder, it is also relevant to CPTSD.

Impulsiveness – The tendency to act or speak based on current feelings rather than logical reasoning.

Intermittent Reinforcement – when rules, reward or personal boundaries are handed out or enforced inconsistently and occasionally.

Intimidation – Any form of veiled, hidden, indirect or non-verbal threat.

Invalidation – The creation or promotion of an environment which encourages an individual to believe that their thoughts, beliefs, values, or physical presence are inferior, flawed, problematic or worthless.

Low Self-Esteem – A common name for a negatively distorted self-view which is inconsistent with reality.

Manipulation – The practice of steering an individual into a desired behavior for the purpose of achieving a hidden personal goal.

Minimization – To downplay, belittle, trivialize, or discount another person’s (or your own) feelings, thoughts, or opinions.

Narcissist– A person who behaves with a pattern of selfishness, grandiosity, need for admiration, self-focus and a lack of empathy or consideration toward others.

Neglect – A passive form of abuse in which the physical or emotional needs of a dependent are disregarded or ignored by the person responsible for them.

Norepinephrine – a neurotransmitter in the brain. Increased levels of the neurotransmitters – serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine – has been found to reduce depression.

Normalizing – a tactic used to desensitize an individual to abusive, coercive, or inappropriate behaviors.

“Not My Fault Syndrome” – The practice of avoiding personal responsibility for one’s own words and actions.

Numbing A symptom common to individuals with CPTSD. It represents an individual’s attempt to compensate for intrusive thoughts, memories, or feelings of the trauma by shutting down and becoming numb to internal or external stimuli.

Physical Abuse – Any form of voluntary behavior by one individual which inflicts pain, disease, or discomfort on another, or deprives them of necessary health, nutrition, and comfort.

Reparenting – First termed by Pete Walker (2013) this is a term to describe the process of serving as one’s own parents to heal from the attachment disorder which commonly develops in Complex PTSD.

Repression – An unconscious defense mechanism that occurs when unacceptable ideas, images, or fantasies are kept out of awareness.

Revictimization – Describes the experience of a survivor being victimized or traumatized after the original trauma.

Sense of Entitlement – An unrealistic, unmerited, or inappropriate expectation of favorable living conditions and favorable treatment at the hands of others.

Serotonin –  acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. Increased levels of the neurotransmitters – serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine – has been found to reduce depression.

Shaming – The difference between blaming and shaming is that in blaming someone tells you that you did something bad, in shaming someone tells you that you are something bad.

Silent Treatment – A passive-aggressive form of emotional abuse in which displeasure, disapproval, and contempt are exhibited through nonverbal gestures while maintaining verbal silence.

Sleep Deprivation  – The practice of routinely interrupting, impeding, or restricting another person’s sleep cycle

Social Anxiety Disorder – Social Anxiety Disorder is a mental health condition where a person becomes anxious when faced with interacting in social situations.

Toxic Shame – Refers to a belief that you are inferior and/or unlovable as a person. Shame is something everyone experiences from time to time when we make an error; toxic shame is the belief that you are the error.

Trauma – An event or experience that is deeply disturbing on an emotional or psychological level.

Trauma-Informed Care – an organizational structure and treatment framework that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma. Trauma-Informed Care also emphasizes physical, psychological, and emotional safety for both consumers and providers, and helps survivors rebuild a sense of control and empowerment.

Trauma Response – Walker outlines four basic defenses that most people use in life, but which in CPTSD become fixated and maladaptive due to ongoing trauma. These include the Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fawn and a number of hybrid types.

Trigger –  a stimulus such as a smell, sound, or sight that triggers feelings of trauma.

Vicarious Traumatization– Sometimes called compassion fatigue, is the latest term that describes the phenomenon generally associated with the “cost of caring” for others (Figley, 1982).



Treatment Options for CPTSD and PTSD


Psychotherapy. “Psychotherapy is a general term for treating mental health problems by talking with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or another mental health provider.

During psychotherapy, you learn about your condition and your moods, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Psychotherapy helps you learn how to take control of your life and respond to challenging situations with healthy coping skills.

There are many types of psychotherapy, each with its own approach. The type of psychotherapy that’s right for you depends on your individual situation.

Psychotherapy is also known as talk therapy, counseling, psychosocial therapy or, simply, therapy.”,%2C%20feelings%2C%20thoughts%20and%20behaviors.

EMDR. “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a psychotherapy treatment that was originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories (Shapiro, 1989a, 1989b).”

“EMDR therapy is an eight-phase treatment. Eye movements (or other bilateral stimulation) are used during one part of the session. After the clinician has determined which memory to target first, he asks the client to hold different aspects of that event or thought in mind and to use his eyes to track the therapist’s hand as it moves back and forth across the client’s field of vision. As this happens, for reasons believed by a Harvard researcher to be connected with the biological mechanisms involved in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, internal associations arise, and the clients begin to process the memory and disturbing feelings. In successful EMDR therapy, the meaning of painful events is transformed on an emotional level.”

CBT. “Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a common type of talk therapy (psychotherapy). You work with a mental health counselor (psychotherapist or therapist) in a structured way, attending a limited number of sessions. CBT helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.”

 “Cognitive-behavioral therapy may be done one-on-one or in groups with family members or with people who have similar issues. Online resources are available that may make participating in CBT possible, especially if you live in an area with few local mental health resources.

CBT often includes:

  • Learning about your mental health condition
  • Learning and practicing techniques such as relaxation, coping, resilience, stress management, and assertiveness”

DBT. “Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a modified type of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Its main goals are to teach people how to live in the moment, develop healthy ways to cope with stress, regulate their emotions, and improve their relationships with others.

DBT has evolved to become an evidence-based psychotherapy approach that is used to treat many conditions. Settings in which DBT are often used include:

  • Group therapy where patients are taught behavioral skills in a group setting.
  • Individual therapy with a trained professional where a patient’s learned behavioral skills are adapted to their personal life challenges.
  • Phone coaching in which patients can call the therapist between sessions to receive guidance on coping with a difficult situation they are currently in.”

IFS. “Internal Family Systems is an approach to psychotherapy that identifies and addresses multiple sub-personalities or families within each person’s mental system. These sub-personalities consist of wounded parts and painful emotions such as anger and shame, and parts that try to control and protect the person from the pain of the wounded parts. The sub-personalities are often in conflict with each other and with one’s core self, a concept that describes the confident, compassionate, whole-person that is at the core of every individual. IFS focuses on healing the wounded parts and restoring mental balance and harmony by changing the dynamics that create discord among the sub-personalities and the Self.”

Somatic. “Somatic therapy is a form of body-centered therapy that looks at the connection of mind and body and uses both psychotherapy and physical therapies for holistic healing. In addition to talk therapy, somatic therapy practitioners use mind-body exercises and other physical techniques to help release the pent-up tension that is negatively affecting your physical and emotional wellbeing.”

“Somatic therapy combines talk therapy with what are sometimes considered alternative forms of physical therapy. The therapist helps you revive memories of traumatic experiences and pays attention to any physical responses you have once the memory is recovered. Physical techniques, such as deep breathing, relaxation exercises, and meditation are then used to help relieve symptoms. Some of the adjunctive physical techniques that may be used with somatic therapy include dance, exercise, yoga, or other types of movement, vocal work, and massage.”

Equine Therapy. “Healing from trauma is a process that can be daunting, especially when there is a lack of trauma-specific treatment options available in a particular area. Survivors who have exhausted traditional talk therapy modalities and ​who do not have access to specialized trauma therapies often seek out alternative methods like equine-assisted programs to continue their journey of recovery, or to supplement existing trauma treatment.”

Additional information on the study of equine therapy:

Music Therapy. “Music therapy is an effective intervention for working with traumatized children and adults. It helps reduce anxiety, offers emotional relief, and facilitates life-affirming social interactions, to name just a few of its benefits. The purpose of this article is to shed light on how music therapy addresses trauma for anyone interested in a music career that truly changes lives.”

Additional information on the study of music therapy: