What is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Understanding Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Complex post traumatic stress disorder is a variant of traditional post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that develops from more prolonged traumatic events.  While post traumatic stress disorder can cause disruptions in day to day living, the more advanced complex disorder can cause much more disruptions that have a more long lasting effect.  Those suffering from complex post traumatic stress disorder may require more comprehensive treatment plans that could last the duration of their life.

What is the Difference between PTSD and Complex PTSD?

Complex post traumatic stress disorder develops as a result of long term trauma, the events leading up to this diagnosis can last anywhere from months to years of torture and traumatic events.  In these situations, the victim is under the prolonged control of another person or group of people who have very little disregard for the health, care and safety of the victim, causing long lasting psychological effects that can be very difficult to overcome.  Victims of complex post traumatic stress disorder develop a complete lack of trust in anyone, they may disassociate themselves from reality in an attempt to escape the pain and anguish that is felt constantly and as a result, suicidal thoughts are a common occurrence in those with this diagnosis.  Because of the lack of feelings of self worth, these victims believe that the traumatic events were their fault, leaving the victims feeling ashamed and guilty.  The extensive psychological damage caused by prolonged abuse and trauma make therapy and treatment more of a challenge than in someone with common post traumatic stress disorder, which usually involves one specific traumatic event over a shorter period of time.

Causes of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Where victims of PTSD are typically exposed to trauma that has a limited duration, such as a car wreck, personal attack, or tour in a war zone, the complex variation of this disorder develops from a much longer exposure to the event.  People suffering from complex post traumatic stress disorder are victims of horrific prolonged events such as living in concentration camps, prisoners of war camps, long term violence, childhood abuse that lasts the duration of the formative years. Children who are victims of physical or sexual abuse are some of the most intensely affected by the traumatic events. Because you often develop a sense of who you are and how to react and live as a child, this can all be completely distorted when the duration of these years are filled with exposure to detrimental experiences.  Children, who experience this type of long term abuse, may grow up unable to handle situations that are normal to others, leaving the victim angry and confused.

Women, for example, who are forced to work in brothels, against their will, are subject to develop complex post traumatic disorder. The human degradation experienced in these events leave sex workers with a very low sense of self esteem and self worth.  Simply removing the victim from the harmful environment is not a remedy for the damage done during the exposure to the situation.  After being subjugated to this abuse the victim often experience a loss of faith in humanity and can experience thoughts of suicide.

 Complex PTSD Interferes with Quality of Life

Individuals suffering from complex PTSD have spent a long period of time in an abusive and tortuous environment.  When prisoners of war or kidnapped individuals are finally (and fortunately) released, the general public as well as family and friends can’t completely understand the psychological damage involved with Complex PTSD.  While such a disorder can interfere with returning to “normalcy”, with proper diagnosis and care, there is a possibility for the individual to live a desired quality of life.

1 Comment

  1. This article sduons like the authors (of the article, not the study) were surprised to find that the concurrent treatment of co-morbid disorders actually treats both disorders instead of ignoring one. I am not familiar with COPE, but I know that Seeking Safety has demonstrated a lot of good results in reducing BOTH PTSD symptoms and substance use. I could only access a summary of the study, but it seems that there was not much change reported in substance use in the study the COPE intervention just didn’t make it worse.

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