What are the 17 symptoms of complex PTSD?

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In the intricate realm of mental health, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has long been recognized as a profound psychological condition triggered by traumatic experiences. However, within the spectrum of PTSD lies a distinct subset that encompasses an array of complexities, known as Complex PTSD (C-PTSD). Individuals grappling with C-PTSD often endure a multitude of symptoms that go beyond those associated with traditional PTSD. This blog post aims to shed light on the seventeen distinctive symptoms that are commonly associated with Complex PTSD, providing a comprehensive understanding of this debilitating condition.

What are the 17 symptoms of complex PTSD?

Emotional Dysregulation

In the turbulent landscape of C-PTSD, emotional dysregulation serves as an unwelcome companion. These individuals experience intense, overwhelming emotions that can fluctuate rapidly. Their emotional responses may seem disproportionate to the situation at hand, leaving them feeling misunderstood and disconnected from others. Such emotional turbulence can manifest as persistent feelings of anger, sadness, fear, and guilt, making it challenging to navigate daily life.

Distorted Self-Perception

Complex PTSD often leaves individuals grappling with a distorted self-perception. Deep-seated feelings of shame, worthlessness, and self-blame permeate their sense of identity. This distorted self-perception is often a consequence of the prolonged exposure to traumatic experiences, where the victim internalizes negative beliefs about themselves, leading to a diminished sense of self-worth and an inability to see their own strengths and virtues.

Chronic Feelings of Guilt

Guilt becomes a constant companion for those suffering from C-PTSD. Individuals with complex trauma often bear an overwhelming burden of guilt for their perceived role in the traumatic events they experienced. Even when logic dictates otherwise, their minds are clouded by relentless self-blame. This unyielding guilt seeps into all aspects of their lives, hindering their ability to find solace and forgiveness within themselves.

Hypervigilance and Constant Alertness

The aftermath of complex trauma instills in individuals a perpetual state of hypervigilance. This heightened sense of alertness, although initially developed as a survival mechanism, becomes an exhausting burden. Those with C-PTSD are constantly scanning their surroundings for potential threats, unable to relax and find respite from the underlying fear and anxiety that accompanies this condition. The ever-present hypervigilance can lead to sleep disturbances, chronic fatigue, and a compromised sense of safety.

  • Intrusive Thoughts and Memories:
    Intrusive thoughts and memories haunt the minds of individuals grappling with C-PTSD. Vivid flashbacks transport them back to the traumatic events they endured, often feeling as though they are reliving the experience. These distressing thoughts and memories intrude upon their daily lives, triggering intense emotional and physical responses. The inability to escape these intrusive thoughts leaves individuals feeling trapped in a cycle of distress and emotional turmoil.
  • Intense Avoidance:
    To protect themselves from further harm, those with C-PTSD develop a coping mechanism centered around intense avoidance. This avoidance manifests in various forms, including avoiding people, places, or situations that serve as painful reminders of their trauma. This behavioral pattern can severely restrict their ability to engage in normal activities, maintain relationships, or pursue personal growth, further isolating them from the world around them.
  • Loss of Trust and Difficulty Forming Relationships:
    Complex trauma can erode an individual’s ability to trust and form healthy relationships. The betrayal experienced during traumatic events leaves deep scars on their psyche, making it challenging to let others into their lives. Fear of vulnerability and potential retraumatization hinders their capacity to establish and maintain close connections, perpetuating a sense of loneliness and emotional detachment.
  • Emotional Numbing:
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Emotional Numbing

In the realm of C-PTSD, emotional numbing becomes a defense mechanism against the overwhelming pain and distress. Individuals with C-PTSD may find themselves disconnected from their emotions, experiencing a sense of emptiness or numbness. This emotional numbness acts as a shield, protecting them from the intensity of their feelings. However, it also hampers their ability to experience joy, intimacy, and a sense of connection with others.

Hyperarousal and Startle Responses

Hyperarousal is a hallmark symptom of Complex PTSD. Individuals may find themselves in a constant state of heightened arousal, always on edge and easily startled. Even seemingly innocuous stimuli can trigger intense physical and emotional responses, such as a racing heart, rapid breathing, or an overwhelming sense of fear. This perpetual state of hyperarousal can be exhausting and further exacerbate anxiety and hypervigilance.

Dissociation and Depersonalization

In order to cope with the overwhelming intensity of traumatic experiences, individuals with C-PTSD may dissociate or experience depersonalization. Dissociation involves a disconnection from oneself or the surrounding environment, creating a sense of detachment. Depersonalization, on the other hand, is characterized by a feeling of being detached from one’s own body or having an altered perception of oneself. These dissociative experiences serve as a means to temporarily escape the distressing reality, but they also contribute to a fragmented sense of self and further complicate the healing process.

Identity Fragmentation

Complex trauma can fragment an individual’s sense of identity. They may struggle with a lack of coherent self-concept, experiencing shifts in their values, beliefs, and goals. This fragmentation can result from the profound impact of traumatic experiences on one’s sense of self, leading to confusion, a loss of purpose, and difficulty in establishing a stable and cohesive identity.

  • Chronic Shame and Self-Blame:
    Shame and self-blame are deeply ingrained in the psyche of individuals with C-PTSD. They carry an overwhelming sense of shame, believing that the trauma they endured was somehow their fault or that they deserved it. This chronic shame further perpetuates feelings of unworthiness and hinders their ability to heal and move forward.
  • Difficulty with Emotional Regulation:
    C-PTSD often disrupts the capacity to regulate emotions effectively. Individuals may struggle to manage and express their emotions in a healthy and balanced manner. They may experience emotional outbursts, have difficulty calming themselves during moments of distress, or resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms to cope with overwhelming emotions. Learning and implementing effective emotional regulation strategies becomes a crucial aspect of their healing journey.
  • Somatic Symptoms and Chronic Pain:
    The somatic manifestations of C-PTSD can be profound. Individuals may experience chronic physical pain, unexplained medical symptoms, and somatic complaints. The connection between trauma and the body is intricate, and the unresolved trauma can manifest as physical discomfort or illness. Addressing the somatic symptoms becomes imperative in the holistic treatment of C-PTSD.
  • Distorted Perception of Time:
    Complex trauma can distort an individual’s perception of time. They may experience a sense of timelessness or have difficulty recalling the sequence of events accurately. This distortion can further contribute to a fragmented sense of self and create challenges in establishing a coherent narrative of their experiences.
  • Impaired Self-Care and Health Neglect:
    The overwhelming burden of C-PTSD often leads to impaired self-care and neglect of one’s physical and mental well-being. Individuals may struggle with maintaining a healthy lifestyle, neglecting exercise, nutrition, and engaging in activities that promote self-care. This neglect can further exacerbate symptoms and hinder the healing process.
  • Feelings

Feelings of Isolation and Alienation

Complex PTSD can lead to profound feelings of isolation and alienation. The deep-rooted trauma and its associated symptoms can make individuals feel as though they are fundamentally different from others, unable to relate to or connect with those around them. This sense of isolation can be incredibly isolating, perpetuating a cycle of loneliness and reinforcing the belief that they are alone in their struggles.

  • Difficulty with Trusting Authority Figures:
    Due to their traumatic experiences, individuals with C-PTSD often struggle with trusting authority figures. Past betrayals or abuse may have shattered their trust in those in positions of power or authority. This distrust can extend to therapists, medical professionals, or any individual who holds a position of influence. Rebuilding trust becomes a complex and delicate process on the path to healing.
  • Self-Destructive Behavior:
    In an attempt to cope with overwhelming emotions or to numb the pain, individuals with C-PTSD may engage in self-destructive behaviors. These behaviors can take various forms, such as substance abuse, self-harm, reckless behavior, or engaging in toxic relationships. Self-destructive patterns can further perpetuate the cycle of trauma and hinder progress in recovery.
  • Difficulty with Intimacy and Intimate Relationships:
    Establishing and maintaining intimate relationships can be immensely challenging for individuals with C-PTSD. The fear of vulnerability and the deep-rooted mistrust can make it difficult for them to open up and form deep connections. Intimacy can trigger feelings of fear, abandonment, or a sense of being engulfed, leading to a push-pull dynamic within relationships.
  • Chronic Feelings of Despair and Hopelessness:
    Living with the complexities of C-PTSD can often lead to chronic feelings of despair and hopelessness. The weight of the trauma, coupled with the persistence of symptoms, can make it challenging to see a way out or believe in the possibility of healing. Cultivating hope becomes an essential aspect of the recovery journey, providing individuals with a glimmer of light in their darkest moments.
  • Impaired Cognitive Functioning:
    C-PTSD can impact cognitive functioning, affecting memory, concentration, and decision-making abilities. Individuals may struggle with memory lapses, difficulties in focusing or retaining information, and experiencing a foggy or disorganized mind. These cognitive impairments can hinder their daily functioning and further contribute to a sense of frustration and self-doubt.
  • Feelings of Overwhelm and Sensory Sensitivities:
    Complex trauma can lead to heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli. Individuals with C-PTSD may find themselves easily overwhelmed by loud noises, crowded spaces, or certain smells, triggering intense emotional and physical responses. This hypersensitivity can make it challenging to navigate everyday environments, further exacerbating feelings of distress and isolation.
  • Disrupted Sense of Safety and Trust in the World:
    The experience of complex trauma can disrupt an individual’s sense of safety and trust in the world. They may develop a pervasive belief that the world is inherently dangerous and that they are powerless to protect themselves. Rebuilding a sense of safety and restoring trust becomes an essential aspect of the healing journey.


Complex PTSD encompasses a vast array of symptoms that can significantly impact the lives of those affected. Understanding the multifaceted nature of these symptoms is crucial in providing support, empathy, and effective treatment to individuals grappling with C-PTSD. By shedding light on these seventeen distinctive symptoms, we can foster a greater understanding of this complex condition and work towards creating a more compassionate and supportive environment for those on their path to healing.

What are the 17 symptoms of complex PTSD?
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