Witnessing or experiencing trauma can scar you for life. Sometimes the trauma we face is a one-time event, and other times it could be an ongoing issue we are facing. Suffering from such a condition can leave us mentally vulnerable and could after our lives in many aspects. PTSD is a medical condition recognized to occur from a traumatic experience. PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has been a medically recognized psychiatric illness. Its more complex form has recently starting to get recognition as well, known as Complex PTSD. 

In this article, we will explore the two mental disorders.

Trauma can certainly leave a deep impact on your life. After a traumatic incident, one may feel on edge and suffer from feelings of extreme sadness, guilt, and fear. Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has symptoms that overlap with those of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD and CPTSD are both anxiety disorders extracted from traumatic events. Essentially, Complex PTSD is an enhanced version of PTSD. Their symptoms may take years to surface but may keep altering the child/adult’s personality and behaviors.

PTSD causes intense anxiety and fear, as well as other disturbing symptoms. PTSD is likely to occur after a distressing event such as a death in the family, having a car accident, experiencing an earthquake, or being sexually harassed. When the trauma is repeatedly occurring, or if it is ongoing, it is classified as a complex post-traumatic disorder. Both CPTSD and PTSD create feelings of anxiety, anger, and fear despite the traumatic event being a thing of the past. Although the two appear to be similar, CPTSD and PTSD do have some distinctions.

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PTSD is caused by witnessing or experiencing a majorly traumatic incident in one’s life. Some common events that could trigger PTSD include car crashes, sexual violence, war, natural disasters, terrorist encounters/event, the death of someone close, or some other serious event causing injury or illness. Events that are likely to cause CPTSD include abuse, neglect, abandonment, domestic violence, being tortured or kidnapped, living through war, etc. Such events are usually those which are ongoing or witnessed for a longer period.

Firstly, as mentioned, PTSD emerges after a traumatic event has occurred, and the person gets triggered and experiences distressing symptoms when a similar event takes place or if he/she is reminded of that particular event. This is where the most primary difference between the two lies. Complex PTSD involves trauma that is ongoing and/or may happen frequently. An example of CPTSD is prostitution, long-term physical abuse, childhood neglect, domestic violence, human trafficking, etc. 

PTSD can emerge in a person who has undergone a vehicle accident, violent harassment and/or assault, extreme physical illness, and even by mothers after the process of childbirth. After each of these incidents, PTSD can either occur immediately or even take weeks, months, or years. Of course, every single person doesn’t get PTSD after a distressing incident. 1 in 3 people is liable to develop PTSD after a traumatic event. Thus, some people become victims of PTSD while others do not. The reason for this difference is yet to be discovered. Women are also more likely to develop PTSD than men. 

Complex PTSD is usually a result of childhood trauma, unlike PTSD, which can occur due to any event at any stage of life. Furthermore, Complex PTSD is more likely to develop instead of PTSD if the traumatic incident took place at an early age by someone close to the person (e.g., a caregiver), especially someone who is encountered regularly. CPTSD is likely to be more severe if the person was alone during the occurrence of the traumatic event, if the person who caused the trauma is still in contact with them, and if the traumatic incident occurred for a long duration.

PTSD was also discovered earlier than CPTSD, that is, in 1980. Psychologists have concluded that PTSD occurs after one traumatic incident, while Complex PTSD occurs after repeated exposures to trauma which may also be long-lasting or ongoing.

The symptoms of PTSD include horrifying flashbacks, nightmares, guilt, and feelings of isolation. The person may also have insomnia as well as have trouble maintaining concentration. These seemingly harmless symptoms are severe enough to create hindrances in one’s daily life.

The symptoms of Complex PTSD also include feelings of shame and guilt and difficulty concentrating, but also have additional symptoms including; emotional instability and difficulty controlling feelings, distancing from friends and family and having hardships in one’s relationships, stomach aches, dizziness, and chest pains. Mistrust is another symptom, and so are feelings of hopelessness – these are a few of the other symptoms of self-negativity the person adapts.

Complex PTSD may also cause the person to have suicidal thoughts and engage in destructive behavior like finding solace in drugs, alcohol, and self-harm. Disconnection from oneself and the world around them may also occur, which can make them forget about their trauma but keep the disastrous symptoms alive. A child experiencing complex PTSD can end up having issues with his / her self-confidence and have major behavioral changes. They may also gradually distance themselves from others and stop trusting them, finding peace within isolation.

The impact of complex PTSD is more than that of PTSD, in psychological and developmental terms, and so the consequences of CPTSD are a lot more lasting and variable. This is because childhood experiences, especially those which are frequent and recurring (for example, ongoing abuse), affect a person far more severely than those which occur only once (for example, a car accident). It is immensely life-altering, so much so that CPTSD can even cause a person to be completely carefree and ignorant towards previously significant dealings such as one’s beliefs, values, and religion.  

In diagnosis, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) clumps the symptoms of both PTSD and CPTSD together, even though CPTSD has more severe symptoms and the symptoms of PTSD are more basic and do not show the true intensity of CPTSD symptoms. 

Lastly, both complex post-traumatic stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder require the attention, guidance, and fortification of a professional. However, for obvious reasons, Complex PTSD demands more extensive, intense, and frequent treatment sessions than PTSD treatment sessions.

Treatment for both CPTSD and PTSD are similar. Physiotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two are used to treat those with PTSD. Getting therapy can help you get greater insight into the trauma you face and could aid in overcoming it. It could also enable your coping mechanism and could help identify the tools you need to ease the symptoms. 

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Medication like anti-depressants could prove to help manage symptoms. One difference in treatment is the fact that those suffering from CPTSD might take longer to recover and would require long-term therapy. 

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