Complex PTSD Symptoms And Treatment

By: Darby Faubion

Updated November 14, 2019

Medically Reviewed By: Melinda Santa

If you're affected by Complex PTSD, the situation might seem hopeless. You might feel stuck or alone. No matter what you're experiencing right now, there are tools to help you move forward. Even the fact that you're reading this article shows that you've taken the courageous step of reaching out and learning more about treating your symptoms.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a trauma-based mental illness. It causes severe anxiety, fear, nightmares, and other symptoms of distress. Anyone who has experienced a traumatic event may develop PTSD. In particular, individuals who have experienced repeated or ongoing trauma may be at risk for developing something called Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD).

While PTSD may develop after a single incident, C-PTSD is a group of complex symptoms that result from long-term traumatic events. Examples of ongoing trauma include long-term physical or sexual abuse, ongoing domestic violence, being a prisoner of war, or being a victim of commercial sexual abuse, including trafficking or prostitution.

In this article, we'll look at symptoms and treatment for Complex PTSD.

Complex PTSD is A Condition Where A Person Has Experienced Repeated Trauma.
Learn Skills to Protect Yourself In Online Therapy.


Symptoms of C-PTSD

Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder usually encompasses the following PTSD symptoms:

  • Avoidance
    • Avoiding places, people, or situations that remind one of the traumatizing event
    • Avoiding thoughts, memories, and feelings of the traumatizing event
  • Re-experiencing
    • Nightmares of the traumatizing event
    • Flashbacks of the traumatizing event
    • Frightening thoughts about the traumatizing event
  • Mood and Cognition
    • Distorted or misplaced thoughts of guilt or blame
    • Negative thoughts about the world or oneself
    • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
    • Problems remembering specific events relating to the trauma
  • Arousal and Reactivity
    • Sleeping problems
    • Feeling stressed and on edge
    • Startle easily
    • Outbursts of anger


In addition to the list above, people suffering from C-PTSD may also experience the following:

  • Difficulty relating to others
    • An ongoing search for a rescuer
    • Distrust
    • Isolating oneself
    • Avoiding close relationships altogether
  • Difficulty regulating emotions
    • Outbursts of anger
    • Persistent sadness and depression
    • Suicidal thoughts
  • Cognitive difficulties
    • Problems with memory (forgetting traumatic events)
    • Feeling disassociated or detached from emotions and self
    • Reliving traumatic events
  • Difficulty with self-perception
    • Perceiving oneself as guilty and unworthy of help
    • An overwhelming sense of shame
    • Perceiving themselves as helpless
    • Feeling different from others
  • Preoccupation with the perpetrator/perpetrators
    • Preoccupation with revenge
    • Preoccupation with one's relationship to the perpetrator
    • Attributing power to the perpetrator
  • Damage to one's belief system
    • Lack of faith
    • Inability to feel hopeful
    • Overwhelming feelings of despair

Because children and teenagers do not have the same coping mechanisms as adults, the symptoms they exhibit after prolonged traumatic events may be a little bit different. For example, children who are six-years-old or younger may also experience the following symptoms:

  • Bedwetting after they have learned to use the toilet
  • Acting out the traumatic event while playing
  • Loss of speech
  • Clinging to a parent or other adult; fear of being separated from them

Older children and teens experience many of the same symptoms as adults along with the following symptoms of C-PTSD:

  • Disrespectful or destructive behavior
  • Misplaced guilt over not being able to prevent death or injury
  • Feelings of or a preoccupation with revenge

Complex PTSD is A Condition Where A Person Has Experienced Repeated Trauma.
Learn Skills to Protect Yourself In Online Therapy.


Complex PTSD Treatment

C-PTSD treatment may be similar to PTSD treatment. However, many experts believe that the treatment for C-PTSD should be more in-depth. Victims may need help re-establishing power and control over their own thoughts and actions. In addition, it's important to develop a strong, positive identity.

Standard behavioral therapies teach coping mechanisms and help individuals to recognize and change their negative thoughts. They also focus on addressing symptoms as they arise, rather than ignoring them and allowing them to get worse.

At times, it may be necessary to use medications to manage C-PTSD symptoms. Some medication regimens may include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and sleep aids.

Antidepressants help to relieve some negative mood symptoms, such as excessive guilt, shame, and blame. Alternatively, anti-anxiety medications are used to help relieve the symptoms of fear, worry, and stress that often accompany a diagnosis of C-PTSD.

Another therapeutic method known as cognitive restructuring therapy focuses on dealing with how the traumatic event occurred and helping a victim to understand his or her thought processes about the event. For many, self-blame, guilt, and shame are a big part of the disorder, so restructuring therapy helps put traumatic events in perspective. It works to ease these feelings by looking at the reality of the situation.


Exposure therapy is a type of psychotherapy that exposes individuals to the trauma they once experienced in a safe way. During exposure therapy, individuals learn to face their fears and control their reactions and impulses. This therapy often works for people who have severe symptoms of anxiety related to their traumatic experiences.

There Is Help

The fear of rejection that often accompanies C-PTSD may cause some people to be apprehensive about seeking help. However, the benefits of talking with someone who can help you navigate the healing process is crucial.

There are many options for talking with a counselor or therapist. For example, some people prefer to meet in-person in a controlled setting. It provides a safe place to explore feelings and learn new tools. Others may prefer to have more control over when and where they communicate with a counselor. In these instances, online counseling is a great option.

BetterHelp, an online counseling platform, can connect you with experienced counselors, doctors, and social workers who can help you address Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental health issues. Their goal is to provide professional help to anyone who needs assistance navigating life's difficulties.

Below you'll find some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

"Ted is an example of what a person is gifted to do!!! Has given me direction to go forward with complex PTSD. It's been a productive year and looking to more growth."

"Dr. Cooley was able to identify my needs and address appropriate therapy. I no longer have PTSD events that are not manageable. He has give me tools and resources to deal with my issues. I became brave enough to make positive change in my life and found I could experience joy and genuine love."


Dealing with any kind of trauma can feel overwhelming, but help is available. If you're affected by complex post-traumatic stress disorder, you can work through your trauma. With help from a qualified therapist, it's possible to learn coping mechanisms and lead a healthy life. Take the first step today.

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