The term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is used so much in popular culture that many people don’t understand what a real trauma diagnosis actually means.

Click on each box to learn more.

PTSD is a condition that is caused by a traumatic event

PTSD is characterised by:

  • a physiological stress response to reminders of the trauma. Triggers can be sounds, situations and/or smells.
  • re-experiencing phenomena (flashbacks)
  • intrusive thoughts/feelings related to the trauma
  • nightmares

Complex PTSD/ C-PTSD is caused by being trapped in situations of repetitive trauma

Along with the symptoms of PTSD, complex PTSD makes it difficult for people to regulate their emotional responses.

One way to look at the behavioural and emotional parts of this disorder, is to understand that the things that someone did to survive when they were trapped, often aren’t useful or are even problematic once they are no longer in that situation. The patterns forged in survival are very hard to break though, and it often takes a lot of time and therapy to ‘unlearn’ these behaviours.

It can:

  • Make people hypervigilant, which means that your brain is constantly trying to look for threats and danger, because bad things used to happen to you all the time.
  • Make it difficult to trust other people and have close relationships and friendships. Disrupt your memory of the past, and make remembering new things difficult.
  • Make sleep, concentration and remembering things hard.
  • For some people, it also causes struggles around substance use, dissociative disorders, and depression.

Explaining how you feel

People with C-PTSD are often misdiagnosed with other conditions that may have some similar symptoms such as BPD, ADHD or ASD. Sometimes people may have these conditions at the same time.

There is so much stigma around these conditions, and people are often labeled and judged for struggling to cope with debilitating symptoms rather than being provided with the right help.

Some of our survivors have found the following scale useful in understanding and communicating their symptoms when they are unwell with C-PTSD:

Thriving: Calm and steady with minor mood fluctuations  Able to take things in stride  Consistent performance  Able to take feedback and to adjust to changes of plans  Able to focus  Able to communicate effectively  Normal sleep patterns and appetite. Surviving: Nervousness, sadness, increased mood fluctuations  Inconsistent performance  More easily overwhelmed or irritated  Increased need for control and difficulty adjusting to changes   Trouble sleeping or eating  Activities and relationships you used to enjoy seem less interesting or even stressful  Muscle tension, low energy, headaches. Struggling: Persistent fear, panic, anxiety, anger, pervasive sadness hopelessness   Exhaustion  Poor performance and difficulty making decisions or concentrating   Avoiding interaction with coworkers, family, and friends  Fatigues, aches and pains   Restless, disturbed sleep  Self-medicating with substances, food, or other numbing activities. In crisis: Disabling distress and loss of function  Panic attacks  Nightmares or flashbacks  Unable to fall or stay asleep  Intrusive thoughts  Thoughts of self-harm or suicide  Easily enraged or aggressive  Careless mistakes and inability to focus  Feeling numb, lost, or out of control  Withdrawal from relationships   Dependence on substances, food, or other numbing  activities to cope.

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