The existence of PTSD is more widely known than ever. Post-traumatic stress disorder has entered popular knowledge perhaps mostly due to its connection to soldiers returning from war zones. Even so, many folks now understand what creates trauma and how it impacts people of all ages. This is important because it helps us better identify when a problem may be present.

There may be a downside to this new awareness. PTSD does not present in one obvious way. For example, there’s a related condition that demands equal attention. Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) is a severe disorder arising from a different form of trauma.

What Causes C-PTSD and How Does it Differ From PTSD?

In general, PTSD is caused by a traumatic event. Such events may include:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Accident, injury, or illness
  • Natural disaster
  • Abandonment
  • Divorce or separation
  • Sexual, physical, or emotional abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Victim of a crime

To put the “complex” into C-PTSD means the trauma is repeated, prolonged, or long-term. We’re talking about situations from which the victim has no escape. Some of the events on the above list can qualify if they are ongoing. In addition, here are some traumatic events more specific to C-PTSD:

  • War-related crises from long-term service in the field to prisoner of war (POW) camps to detainment camps/concentration camps
  • Torture (war-related or not)
  • Forced confinement
  • Being manipulated into sexual acts  or prostitution
  • Childhood exploitation (including long-term physical and sexual abuse)
  • Persistent bullying or exposure to narcissistic abuse

The likelihood of developing C-PTSD is increased if the repeated trauma took place at a young age — particularly if it was at the hands of a caregiver or someone you know. Obviously, there are strong similarities between PTSD and C-PTSD. But it is essential to differentiate the causes and the health problems they might induce.

Health Problems That Might Indicate a Struggle with Complex PTSD

Epidemiologic research and studies regarding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) indicate that PTSD and C-PTSD are linked to significant negative health outcomes. Some of which include:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • arthritis
  • asthma
  • chronic pain
  • diabetes
  • digestive disorders

People with C-PTSD, due to the prolonged tension in the body, may also experience physical problems that seem to have always existed but are actually born out of the trauma. Extreme stress plays a large role in the development and maintenance of many health problems. Some of these include

  • elevated blood pressure and heart rate
  • persistent fatigue
  • debilitating muscle tension and cramping
  • recurring nausea and digestive system problems
  • “traveling” joint or back pain
  • migraine headaches
  • sleep disorders

Why Does This Happen?

So, in order to understand the connection between Complex PTSD and health problems, first, consider the symptoms shared by both PTSD and C-PTSD that might contribute to and exacerbate these problems. They can best be understood when broken into four broad categories:

1. Intrusion

These signs may arrive in the form of intrusive thoughts about the traumatic events. Also, watch out for nightmares and flashbacks.

2. Avoidance

Consciously distancing yourself from anything or anyone that might trigger distressing memories. This could mean avoiding conversations and individual people along with particular activities and situations.

3. Mood-Related

You may:

  • Block out or forget the traumatic details
  • Maintain distorted beliefs about who is to blame
  • Blame yourself
  • Lose interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Stop experiencing joy or optimism

4. Reactivity

This could mean taking part in reckless behavior or displaying sudden outbursts of anger. You’re easily startled and always on high alert. Such symptoms carry over to impact sleep patterns and your ability to concentrate.

Problems Unique to Those With Complex PTSD

Low Self-Image

People with C-PTSD often feel worthless and hopeless. They blame themselves for the suffering they’ve endured. This can further manifest in severe guilt. You lose touch with core values and beliefs.

Emotional Dysfunction

Your feelings have become unpredictable. From anger to sadness to a deep sense of detachment, you may feel as if you live in a dream world. In more extreme cases, thoughts of suicide are common.


Often, C-PTSD can lead victims to withdraw. Do you find it difficult to relax, sustain a relationship, or trust others? People with C-PTSD often, unknowingly, seek out abusive partners and/or rescuers. Additionally, you may stay preoccupied with thoughts about your abuser — possibly even thoughts of revenge or other toxic thinking.  This only compounds the areas and related health problems. I’m here to help you recover.

If you fear you may be struggling with C-PTSD, don’t wait to reach out for professional help. Learn how to resolve your complex PTSD and health problems Please read more about trauma therapy. As a step toward rebuilding, I invite you to set up a consultation soon. Let’s connect and talk about your specific goals and needs.