Complex post-traumatic stress disorder describes the long-term effects of severe, prolonged or repeated trauma, particularly due to child abuse or domestic violence. This has a wide range of effects on personality, identity, memory, mood change and emotional regulation.
Complex PTSD symptoms
Complex PTSD describes a more severe and long-term condition that can occur after prolonged and repeated trauma, particularly in childhood. Trauma can cause problems with memory and disrupt the development of a person’s identity and their ability to control emotions and form relationships with others.
Symptoms of complex PTSD are similar to the symptoms of PTSD. They include:
- an inability to control the emotions
- periods of losing concentration (dissociation)
- blanking out or losing memories
- difficulties with a sense of identity or body image
- physical symptoms that can’t be explained medically, such as headaches, stomach aches, dizziness and chest pains
- disturbed relationships and cutting oneself off from other people
- an inability to trust others
- being vulnerable to abuse or exploitation
- self-harm, suicide attempts and substance abuse
- feeling ashamed or guilty
- difficulty controlling emotions
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What causes complex PTSD?
Complex PTSD can be caused by any type of severe and long-term trauma, and usually involves situations where the victim is held captive and unable to escape.
The types of traumatic situations which can cause this disorder include:
- long-term childhood physical or sexual abuse
- long-term domestic violence
- concentration camps or prisoner of war camps
- prostitution, brothels or sex trafficking
- organised child exploitation rings.
Complex PTSD recovery
A diagnosis of complex PTSD should only be made by a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist who gets to know the person over a period of time.
The main form of treatment for complex PTSD is long-term psychological therapy. This helps people slowly regain their trust in others. Then they can gradually start making friends, finding a job and finding hobbies.
Last reviewed: February 2017