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 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
Not sure what to do next?
If you or someone you know are finding it difficult to manage mental health issues, try the healthdirect Symptom Checker and get advice on when to seek professional help.
The healthdirect Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self-care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
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 has little control and is 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.
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Last reviewed: February 2019