Explains what complex PTSD is, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support.
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD, sometimes abbreviated to c-PTSD or CPTSD) is a condition where you experience some symptoms of PTSD along with some additional symptoms, such as:
"At times I felt nothing was going to end the distress, experiencing more than 10 flashbacks a day... It was a long process of recovery, with lots of bumps along the road, but the right medication and long-term therapy with someone I came to trust, has changed my life."
If you have complex PTSD you may be particularly likely to experience what some people call an 'emotional flashback', in which you have intense feelings that you originally felt during the trauma, such as fear, shame, sadness or despair. You might react to events in the present as if they are causing these feelings, without realising that you are having a flashback.
The types of traumatic events that can cause complex PTSD include:
You are more likely to develop complex PTSD if:
"Developing PTSD after experiencing domestic violence was not something I was prepared for. Physically I left my old home. Mentally I am still there. The prison is no longer that house – it is my mind. My thoughts. My memories."
"My PTSD is rooted in the abuse I received as a teenager, and I have spent most of my adult life running away from it... I have suffered from anxiety and depression as a consequence."
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) – the organisation that produces guidelines on best practice in health care – has not yet developed recommendations specifically for complex PTSD. They caution that the existing guidelines for PTSD weren't developed for this kind of diagnosis.
You may find standard treatments for PTSD helpful, but many people with complex PTSD need more long-term, intensive support to recover. As part of your treatment you should also be offered support for other problems you experience, such as depression, drug and alcohol use or dissociation. The treatment you are offered may depend on what's available in your local area.
See our treatment for PTSD page for more about the treatments available, which may be useful for complex PTSD. Or visit our page on self-care for PTSD for tips on how to look after yourself when you have complex PTSD.
We also have a page for friends and family of someone with PTSD, with ideas on supporting someone who is struggling.
This information was published in January 2021. We will revise it in 2024.
References and bibliography available on request.
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