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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Post

Do You Have C-PTSD

Updated: Jul 2, 2021

You have most likely heard the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – also known as PTSD. It is used to describe the mental and emotional anguish suffered by those who have experienced sudden trauma. PTSD is often experienced by soldiers as well as those who have been victims of rape and other crimes, and even victims of house fires and car accidents.

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) describes a condition that very much presents like PTSD, the difference being the sufferer experienced prolonged periods of abuse or neglect. This could happen as a result of childhood neglect or the abuse suffered at the hands of a narcissistic partner.

Diagnosing C-PTSD

Diagnosing C-PTSD is tricky because the symptoms are usually not very unique. That is to say, someone who is suffering from C-PTSD may be experiencing anxiety and lethargy, but these symptoms match other mental health issues.

But it is very important to accurately diagnose C-PTSD because of the necessary treatment measures. The main difference between C-PTSD and other mental health issues – say, bipolar disorder – is that C-PTSD is a result of things that were done TO an individual, and not an intrinsic problem. In other words, someone suffers from C-PTSD because of abuse and neglect at the hands of another and not because of genetically determined brain chemistry.

To help correctly identify C-PTSD, a therapist must uncover an accurate history to understand if:

  • The individual has experienced multiple prolonged traumas that have lasted for months (or even years)

  • The traumas were caused by someone the individual had a deep interpersonal relationship with and/or someone who was part of their primary care network (most commonly a parent or caregiver)

  • These traumas were experienced as permanent features of life, with the individual unable to see any end in sight

  • The individual had no control or power over the person traumatizing them

Symptoms of C-PTSD

As I just mentioned, the outward symptoms of C-PTSD may match other mental health disorders. Those symptoms include:

  • Flashbacks and nightmares in which the trauma is relived.

  • Avoiding people, places, and situations that remind them of the trauma.

  • Dizziness or nausea when remembering the trauma.

  • Hyperarousal: This is a state of high alert and one they often lived in.

  • A belief that the world is a dangerous place.

  • A loss of trust in self or others.

  • Difficulty sleeping and concentrating.

  • Being startled by loud noises.

Treatment for C-PTSD

Because trauma is stored in the body (not just the mind), ordinary talk therapy may not be sufficient for some people. Treatment for C-PTSD often requires a comprehensive, integrative treatment approach that goes deeper than words alone can. Some of these treatments include EMDR, IFS (parts work or ego states), and somatic therapy like Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP) or Somatic Experiencing (SE).

DBT Group Psychotherapy

DBT group therapy that focuses on skills to help regulate emotions, deepen mindfulness of the present moment (so not pulled into past or fast-forwarded into the future), and improving relationships can be a nice compliment to individual therapy


Some individuals may need to be on medications for a while to reduce their anxiety or other symptoms so that they can make better use of the depth work needed to address C-PTSD. A therapist can work with you to determine if this is the best course of action.

If you believe you are suffering from C-PTSD and would like to explore treatment options, please be in touch. I’d be happy to discuss how I may be able to help.

Stephanie Post, PsyD. at Higher Self Psychotherapy specializes in anxiety therapy, depression therapy, self-esteem therapy, and in trauma therapy online anywhere in California and in the Marina neighborhood of San Francisco. She uses EMDR therapy, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, and IFS therapy to help clients thrive.

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