What is Complex Trauma? CPTSD and Relationships
What is complex trauma disorder? In addition to having many of the same symptoms of PTSD, complex post-traumatic stress disorder (also known as complex PTSD or c-PTSD) is an anxiety illness.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which was first identified as a syndrome affecting war veterans, can be brought on by a wide range of stressful experiences, including a vehicle accident, natural disaster, near-death experience, or other isolated acts of violence or abuse.
However, some mental health practitioners distinguish between PTSD and its more severe brother, complex PTSD, when the underlying trauma is persistent and repetitive (C-PTSD).
Since it was initially mentioned in the late 1980s, complex PTSD has drawn more attention. However, it is significant to highlight that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the instrument used by mental health practitioners to diagnose mental health issues, does not recognize it as a separate condition.
Complex Trauma Definition – Definition of Complex Trauma
Complex trauma is the phrase used to describe the wide-ranging, long-term impacts of exposing children to numerous traumatic events—often of an invasive, interpersonal type. These occurrences, including abuse or extreme neglect, are severe and widespread.
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Complex Trauma Symptoms in Adults – Living With Complex PTSD
In addition to all of the core symptoms of PTSD—re-experiencing, avoidance, and hyperarousal living with C-PTSD generally also involves:
- Difficulty controlling emotions. A person with C-PTSD frequently loses control of their emotions, which can lead to violent anger, protracted despair, melancholy, and suicidal thoughts.
- Negative self-view. C-PTSD can make a person have a bad opinion of oneself. They could experience helplessness, remorse, or shame. They frequently have the impression that they are totally unique from everyone else.
- Difficulty with relationships. Relationships may suffer as a result of issues with trusting others and having a poor opinion of oneself. Because of what they experienced in the past, a person with C-PTSD may avoid relationships or enter into harmful ones.
- Detachment from the trauma. Depersonalization is the separation of oneself from one’s environment (derealisation). Some people may even lose the memory of their ordeal.
- Loss of a system of meanings. Losing one’s fundamental convictions, morals, religious faith, or optimism for the future of humanity can fall under this category.
All of these symptoms can be life-altering and cause significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational, or other important areas of life.
Complex PTSD in Relationships – Living With C PTSD
Research shows that complex PTSD can impact your life in many ways. CPTSD may lead to:
- A negative self-image or self-perception
- A loss of foundational belief systems
- Emotional dysregulation, like anger, panic, or depression
- Impulsive behavior
- Lowered stress tolerance
- Memory issues
- Personality changes
- Substance use
- The inability to trust or interpret the actions of others
All of these elements may come into play in relationships with family and friends, as you can guess. They might also discourage you from seeking out new relationships, forcing you to isolate yourself instead in order to keep safe.
Research has long suggested that persons who have experienced trauma may also consciously or unconsciously select mates and connections with others who act out their formative years. This occasionally can result in unhealthy or abusive interpersonal dynamics (but not always).
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Complex PTSD and Intimacy
Many of the symptoms of CPTSD may be brought on by relationships since relational trauma is a significant factor in its development. In fact, studies have shown that many CPTSD symptoms are also present in borderline personality disorder (BPD), which is characterized by difficulties forming and maintaining relationships with others.
You may experience difficulties with:
- Emotional regulation in front of others
- Intimacy (physical and emotional)
- Closeness to others
- Trusting other people
For instance, some people might find it simple to ignore a harsh remark and carry on with their day. But if you have CPTSD, it might not be so easy for you.
Your romantic partner can be astonished and perplexed as a result of these happenings because they could cause a strong emotional reaction and possibly an outburst. Others who are affected by this type of emotional dysregulation may find it difficult and upsetting.
Another illustration: You can find closeness challenging if one of your trauma-related ideas is that people are unreliable. You can become distant or withdraw from your lover as a result of this. You might even be dubious of your partner’s words and deeds, or you might search for dishonesty where none exists. A relationship’s foundation may be strained and torn apart by a fear of desertion. Despite the difficulties that many of these symptoms may cause, recovery is achievable. Don’t lose heart.
Dating With C-PTSD (CPTSD relationships) / Dating Someone With Complex PTSD (dating with CPTSD)
Your stress, perplexity, and dread may increase as a result of combining complex PTSD and love relationships. Even in the best of situations, partnerships are difficult. And how many occasions in a person’s life fall under the category of “best of circumstances”? Numerous things could affect your romantic relationship. Certainly among those difficulties is mental health. And interpersonal connections are frequently a trigger for someone who is getting well from Complex PTSD.
In contrast to PTSD, Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is brought on by persistent, repetitive exposure to traumatic events. Chronic abuse may have occurred during these instances, typically during childhood. Adults with untreated C-PTSD experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms. Additionally, because a lot of C-PTSD is brought on by early complex childhood trauma, it can seriously affect your romantic life.
C PTSD and Relationships: 5 Signs C-PTSD is Compromising Your Romantic Connection – Complex PTSD Toxic Relationships
1. Living Together Feels Incompatible
Moving in together might feel like a huge step forward in a relationship for some couples. Cohabitation comes with a significant amount of challenges if your partner is dealing with C-PTSD. They might experience some very extreme mood swings, you never know. You can find yourself defending a harmless statement you made in a flash. Your spouse might enter a dissociative condition in the following second. If one of you has a trauma-related health condition, cohabiting can become more challenging.
2. Lack of Intimacy
Most likely, your C-PTSD partner yearns for intimacy just as much as you do (or anyone, for that matter). They may find it challenging to unwind in the present. You can understand this has the potential to play a significant disruptive role in their sex life if their trauma is the result of sexual assault.
3. Complex PTSD and Lack of Trust
People who have C-PTSD by definition do not easily trust others. After all, they were the victims of a betrayal, possibly committed by a close friend or relative. It can be challenging to not take this sign personally, even though it is not about you specifically.
4. Unregulated Emotions, Complex PTSD, and Romantic Relationships
Unprovoked, disproportionate emotional outbursts are a hallmark of C-PTSD. Needless to say, this can toss a monkey wrench into any relationship.
5. Emotional Distance
Dissociation may be the cause of this gap, as was previously indicated. Additionally, those who suffer from C-PTSD frequently feel extremely alone and misunderstood. No one outside of them can ever understand what they have gone through and how it has affected them. As a result, they may establish very rigid boundaries that will prevent your connection from developing. Trauma survivors frequently experience dissociation, which can exacerbate Complex PTSD and romantic relationships.
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Complex PTSD Relationships: Complex PTSD and Marriage
Complex PTSD’s impacts can ruin intimate relationships and upend life. Your support can enable your partner, who is dealing with this issue, to use therapy to overcome trauma. Discover your roles in your partner’s care and assist them in starting their road to recovery right now.
C-PTSD and Interpersonal Relationships
Interpersonal connections are impacted by complex PTSD, but you can successfully manage the relationship by addressing the underlying issue. The impact of Complex PTSD on interpersonal relationships is discussed in this article along with solutions.
How do interpersonal interactions suffer from complicated PTSD? Complex PTSD patients feel constantly vulnerable and in danger. In an effort to defend themselves, they may engage in abusive, codependent, or narcissistic behavior in their relationships. Understanding and dealing with the underlying issues will help you maintain a healthy relationship.
Complex PTSD in Relationships: Complex PTSD and Trust Issues
While a single traumatic event of relatively short duration, such as a serious accident or a violent assault, may result in PTSD, a mental illness that causes severe recurring anxiety and fear, the trauma that initiates the onset of complex PTSD is prolonged and repeating, lasting for months or years. Long-term physical, sexual, or emotional abuse as well as prolonged incarceration are two examples of this type of trauma. The impacts of Complex PTSD, commonly referred to as C-PTSD, can be stressful for the patient and heartbreaking for their loved partner.
Recovery from C-PTSD requires thorough and attentive professional treatment. Treatment may be required to mend broken or ruined love relationships caused by the painful impacts of complex PTSD, as this illness may lead to trust issues and prevent the forming of interpersonal bonds. Support and empathy from you can help someone you care about recover from C-PTSD and mend damaged relationships.
CPTSD and Relationships: Complex PTSD and Breakups
After a divorce or separation, certain persons tend to be more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD if certain risk factors are present, such as being the victim of intimate partner violence or being exposed to a grave risk of harm or death. The severity standards necessary for the diagnosis of PTSD are not met by this degree of trauma.
Another risk factor for getting PTSD after divorce (complex PTSD and marriage breakdown) is a history of trauma. According to psychiatrist Dr. Susan Edelman, “among those with PTSD from past trauma, the end of a relationship can result in increasing symptoms of post-traumatic stress and psychological well-being.”
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How Complex PTSD Can Affect Intimate Relationships? Complex PTSD and Relationships
Safety is characterized as a condition in which one feels safe and secure and in which the likelihood of risk, danger, or injury is decreased. In addition to feeling physically safe, one can also feel emotionally, cognitively, and psychologically safe.
However, feeling “safe” is distorted when a person is dealing with the effects of CPTSD. People with complex PTSD frequently express feeling insecure in their homes, around their loved ones, in close proximity, and especially in public, including in well-known settings.
Since persons with CPTSD have frequently and severely experienced betrayal from those closest to them, their feeling of safety is seriously disrupted. This may be the result of childhood abuse, such as when a parent or other adult repeatedly neglected to meet their emotional or physical needs or mistreated them physically, emotionally, or sexually. In addition, it could occur in our adult life as a result of having been duped by a friend or significant other through “smear campaigns,” infidelity, “discards,” or other situations that could have exacerbated prior trauma. When trust is broken, the effect is a sense of unease, threat, and vigilance.
When someone has CPTSD, intimate connections are frequently the ones that suffer the greatest damage since those closest to them frequently serve as the source of their vulnerabilities and worries. For instance, a person with CPTSD may have emotional triggers as a result of their partner’s worry (complex PTSD triggers in relationships), which they may interpret as condemning or shameful. They might be puzzled or angry, which might make them feel uncomfortable and make them hypervigilant.
As a result, many people will flee, turn away, become hostile, or act out. This can then lead to sadness, self-doubt, and increased shame, which exacerbates the symptoms of CPTSD. If ignored, this pattern may repeat itself repeatedly.
How to Help Someone With Complex PTSD? Complex Trauma and Relationships
If your partner has CPTSD, recognize that you cannot change or fix their past, as much as you’d like to. If possible, try to focus on moving forward.
You may find it useful to be deliberate and consistent in your actions and communication. Being predictable may make it easier for your partner to trust you and build a secure attachment.
Hold space for their emotions
Acknowledge their emotions so that they feel supported and heard. You can try mirroring language and asking questions. For example, “I hear you saying you want to be left alone. Do I have that right?”
Learn coping techniques
It may make you feel empowered to find helpful ways to support your partner when they’re having a triggered moment or a flashback, such as deep breathing exercises or going for a walk together.
If your partner is in active treatment, you can also support them as they learn coping strategies and new techniques, and practice new behaviors with you.
Try to remember not to take things personally. If your partner has an angry outburst or withdraws after a triggering event, know that it’s not about you. They’ve been through a lot, and they are doing the best they can.
Loving someone with any mental health condition can be, at times, overwhelming. Be sure to establish your own boundaries and practice regular self-care. Recognize that not every day will go perfectly or be without difficulties.
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How to Explain C-PTSD to Someone Who Doesn’t Have It?
Nowadays, post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a term that most people have heard of. People frequently associate flashbacks and conflict zones with PTSD. Strong, broken guys scared of pyrotechnics, along with guns and bombs. Of course, that is PTSD, just like I have it.
After experiencing a variety of scenarios, including war, crises, vehicle accidents, terrorist attacks, as well as sexual assault, abuse, medical procedures, activism, and advocacy, to mention a few, people might develop PTSD. If you have complex post-traumatic stress disorder, you were traumatized by a scenario that persisted rather than a single event.
PTSD is not about the gravity of the situation. It’s about the fear, the stuck-ness, the inability to extricate yourself, the inability to make things better
CPTSD Therapist and CPTSD Treatments
If you or someone you love has symptoms of CPTSD, you are not alone and treatment is available. Healing often takes a long time, but there is hope. You can manage the symptoms of CPTSD with a combination of psychotherapy, medication, and support groups.
Talking with a therapist in the context of psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), enables one to recognize unhealthy thought patterns and replace them with constructive coping methods. According to research, certain PTSD treatments that have been suggested for CPTSD are beneficial. These consist of:
- Prolonged exposure (PE) therapy
- Cognitive reprocessing therapy (CPT)
- Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
The National Center for PTSD states that these treatment methods can help people with co-occurring illnesses like substance use disorder, dissociation, BPD, and sleep difficulties.
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) can be especially beneficial since it equips you with the skills necessary to effectively manage stress and interact with others.
Because it enables people to safely reprocess traumatic memories in a different way, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) has been recommended for use in CPTSD treatment. More study is required because this is a contentious issue in the field of evidence-based treatment.
The symptoms of CPTSD may be treated and lessened with medication. In addition to therapy, a mental health practitioner might advise you to take antidepressants like Zoloft, Paxil, and Prozac.
You and your loved ones may benefit from support groups. The CPTSD Foundation provides online groups that offer reassurance and encouragement in an effort to foster healing. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) can also assist you in finding support groups for you and your loved ones.
Search Depression Treatment: Ketamine Infusion Cost & Other Resources
 Understanding PTSD Treatment. National Center for PTSD. (n.d.). https://www.ptsd.va.gov/PTSD/understand_tx/index.asp
 Giourou E, Skokou M, Andrew SP, Alexopoulou K, Gourzis P, Jelastopulu E. Complex posttraumatic stress disorder: The need to consolidate a distinct clinical syndrome or to reevaluate features of psychiatric disorders following interpersonal trauma? World J Psychiatry. 2018 Mar 22;8(1):12-19.