Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a condition that results from chronic or long-term exposure to emotional trauma over which a victim has little or no control and from which there is little or no hope of escape, such as in cases of:
· Domestic emotional, physical or sexual abuse
· Childhood emotional, physical or sexual abuse
· Entrapment or kidnapping.
· Slavery or enforced labor.
· Long term imprisonment and torture
· Repeated violations of personal boundaries.
· Long-term objectification (the practice of treating a person or a group of people like an object.)
· Exposure to gaslighting (the practice of systematically convincing an individual that their understanding of reality is mistaken or false) and
· Repeated false accusations
· Long-term exposure to inconsistent, behaviours such as alternating raging and hovering behaviors.
· Long-term taking care of mentally ill or chronically sick family members.
· Long term exposure to crisis conditions.
When people have been trapped in a situation over which they had little or no control at the beginning, middle or end, they can carry an intense sense of dread even after that situation is removed. This is because they know how bad things can possibly be. And they know that it could possibly happen again. And they know that if it ever does happen again, it might be worse than before.
The degree of C-PTSD trauma cannot be defined purely in terms of the trauma that a person has experienced. It is important to understand that each person is different and has a different tolerance level to trauma. Therefore, what one person may be able to shake off, another person may not. Therefore more or less exposure to trauma does not necessarily make the C-PTSD any more or less severe.
C-PTSD sufferers may “stuff” or suppress their emotional reaction to traumatic events without resolution either because they believe each event by itself doesn’t seem like such a big deal or because they see no satisfactory resolution opportunity available to them. This suppression of “emotional baggage” can continue for a long time either until a “last straw” event occurs, or a safer emotional environment emerges and the damn begins to break.
The “Complex” in Complex Post Traumatic Disorder describes how one layer after another of trauma can interact with one another. Sometimes, it is mistakenly assumed that the most recent traumatic event in a person’s life is the one that brought them to their knees. However, just addressing that single most-recent event may possibly be an invalidating experience for the C-PTSD sufferer. Therefore, it is important to recognize that those who suffer from C-PTSD may be experiencing feelings from all their traumatic exposure, even as they try to address the most recent traumatic event.
This is what differentiates C-PTSD from the classic PTSD diagnosis - which typically describes an emotional response to a single or to a discrete number of traumatic events.