What is Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?


An informational page on CPTSD (C-PTSD)

What is CPTSD?


Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD, C-PTSD, Complex PTSD) describes the results of ongoing, inescapable, relational trauma. Unlike Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Complex PTSD typically involves being hurt by another person. These hurts are ongoing, repeated, and often involving a betrayal and loss of safety.

PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is often associated with a one-time experience or a single-incident trauma.

It is estimated that 70% of adults or 223.4 million people in the United States have experienced at least one form of trauma in their lifetime, as reported by the National Council for Behavioral Health (NCBH) in 2013. In addition, 90% of childhood sexual abuse victims, 33% of children exposed to community violence, and 77% of children exposed to school shootings develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (NCBH).

Humans require safe people, safe places, and safe things during childhood and adolescence in order for healthy brain development to take place. Many adult survivors of complex trauma, having experienced this loss of safety, had no agency over themselves or their environment during critical times in brain development for extended periods of time. This loss of agency during their early years stunted their growth, depriving them of the opportunity to create the lives they deserved, and has ultimately left many stripped of their sense of worth and sense of self. Without the ability to understand what has happened, young survivors grow up to be adults who live in the same constant state of hypervigilance and suffering, even after escaping physical danger.

Adult survivors of complex trauma often experience amnesia, alienation, chronic mistrust, chronic physical pain, re-victimization, debilitating flashbacks, nightmares, body memories, anxiety, dissociation, trouble with regulating volatile emotions, severe depression, toxic shame, auto-immune disease, along with other deeply distressing and potentially life-altering symptoms.

In addition to the mental and emotional effects of CPTSD, the Adverse Childhood Experiences study shows that individuals who experience higher levels of childhood trauma have increased risks for additional health problems. These include Coronary Heart Disease (13%) and COPD (27%), as well as increased risk for health risk behaviors such as smoking (33%) and heavy drinking (24%).

The severe impact of these aftereffects causes many adult survivors to isolate as a means of coping with their overwhelming feelings of unsafety. The isolation meant to keep them safe often leads to despair and suicidality, which increases the possibility of inadvertently modeling these dangerous behaviors and coping strategies for their own children, thereby creating intergenerational cycles of trauma.

Healing CPTSD requires creating some new daily habits. These new daily habits afford adult survivors the profoundly empowering opportunity to reclaim their sense of agency, and sense of self worth. Once equipped, they can day-by-day create their new lives, and look forward to their future, ultimately resulting in the prevention of complex relational trauma, leaving a legacy of healing for future generations.

Here, at CPTSD Foundation, we are helping to end the cycles of complex relational trauma by providing the safety, life skills, relational education, and reparative experiences needed to create new daily habits, improving every area of life.


Key Differences between PTSD and CPTSD – written by friend of our organization, respected clinician, and guest on the annual We Are Healing Trauma Virtual Summit – Robyn Brickel, MA, LMFT.

Blog Posts on CPTSD


To further expand on the topic of, What is CPTSD, we’ve put together a list of posts from our blog that provide real world examples from our staff writers and guest bloggers. These posts cover a wide range of personal survivor stories, research, cited facts, and other information to help give you a good understanding of just how trauma can manifest into CPTSD and how you can cope, manage, survive, and thrive as a survivor!

Healing CPTSD

The Foundation for Post-Traumatic Healing and Complex Trauma Research (CPTSD Foundation) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit providing virtual, daily, interactive support, evidence-based resources, and a thriving, diverse, inclusive, trauma-informed community where safety and healing become more possible every day.