12 Signs of CPTSD: Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

12 SIGNS OF CPTSD: Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder


Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) is a psychological condition that can arise after enduring prolonged and severe trauma. Unlike traditional PTSD, which is often linked to a single traumatic event, CPTSD is marked by recurring trauma over an extended duration. In this article, we will examine the 12 indicators of CPTSD, illuminating the emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms associated with this condition.

1. Hyperarousal and Hypervigilance

Hyperarousal and Hypervigilance refer to two psychological states that involve heightened levels of alertness and responsiveness.

Hyperarousal is a state of increased physiological and psychological activity. It is commonly associated with conditions like anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or even certain medical conditions. In this state, individuals may experience an elevated heart rate, rapid breathing, increased muscle tension, and a heightened sense of alertness. They may feel constantly on edge, easily startled, and find it difficult to relax or fall asleep.

Hypervigilance, on the other hand, is a state of heightened alertness and vigilance towards potential threats or dangers in the environment. It is often observed in individuals with anxiety disorders, PTSD, or those who have experienced trauma. People in a hypervigilant state tend to be excessively watchful, constantly scanning their surroundings for any signs of danger. They may have difficulty concentrating on other tasks as their attention is primarily focused on potential threats. This state of hyper-alertness can lead to feelings of exhaustion, irritability, and difficulty in social interactions.

Both hyperarousal and hypervigilance are responses to perceived threats, although they can be exaggerated or disproportionate to the actual level of danger present. These states can significantly impact an individual’s daily functioning, making it important to seek appropriate support and treatment if necessary.

Individuals with CPTSD often experience a constant state of heightened arousal. They may feel constantly on edge, easily startled, and have difficulty relaxing or sleeping. Hypervigilance, a state of heightened alertness, is commonly observed, leading to an intense need to scan and assess their surroundings for potential threats.

2. Emotional Dysregulation

” Emotional Dysregulation” refers to a condition where an individual struggles to effectively manage or regulate their emotions. This means that they may have difficulty controlling their emotional responses or reactions in various situations. It can manifest in different ways, such as experiencing intense and prolonged emotional states, having difficulty expressing or understanding emotions, or having difficulty adapting to changes in emotions. This dysregulation can lead to difficulties in relationships, social interactions, and overall emotional well-being

CPTSD can lead to significant challenges in regulating emotions. Individuals may find themselves experiencing intense and overwhelming emotions that can fluctuate rapidly. These emotional ups and downs can be triggered by seemingly insignificant events and may be difficult to control or manage.

3. Intrusive Thoughts and Flashbacks

Intrusive thoughts and flashbacks refer to unwanted and distressing memories or images that suddenly pop into a person’s mind without any control or intention. These thoughts and flashbacks can be related to a traumatic event, past experiences, or even random and unrelated situations. They often occur unexpectedly and can be very vivid, causing significant distress, anxiety, or discomfort to the person experiencing them. These intrusive thoughts and flashbacks can be intrusive and disruptive to a person’s daily life, making it difficult to concentrate or engage in regular activities. It is important for individuals experiencing such symptoms to seek professional help, as they may be indicative of underlying mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other anxiety disorders like CPTSD.

Intrusive thoughts and flashbacks are common symptoms of CPTSD. These intrusive memories can resurface unexpectedly, causing distress and a re-experiencing of the traumatic event. Flashbacks can be so vivid that individuals may feel as if they are reliving the trauma all over again.

4. Avoidance Behaviors

To cope with the distressing memories and emotions associated with their trauma, individuals with CPTSD often develop avoidance behaviors. This may involve avoiding certain people, places, or situations that remind them of the trauma. Unfortunately, avoidance can also hinder their ability to heal and move forward.

5. Negative Self-Perception

Negative self-perception refers to the way an individual views themselves in a negative or unfavorable light. It involves having a distorted or low opinion of oneself, often focusing on perceived flaws, weaknesses, or failures. This negative self-perception can impact various aspects of a person’s life, including their self-esteem, confidence, and overall well-being. It may lead to feelings of self-doubt, worthlessness, and a lack of belief in one’s abilities or potential. Negative self-perception can be influenced by internal factors such as personal experiences, beliefs, and thoughts, as well as external factors like societal expectations and comparisons with others. Addressing and challenging negative self-perception is important for personal growth and cultivating a healthier, more positive self-image.

A distorted and negative self-perception is commonly seen in individuals with CPTSD. They may struggle with feelings of shame, guilt, and worthlessness, often blaming themselves for the trauma they endured. These negative beliefs about themselves can significantly impact their self-esteem and overall well-being.

6. Difficulty Establishing and Maintaining Relationships

The effects of CPTSD on interpersonal relationships can be profound. Trust issues, fear of abandonment, and difficulties with emotional intimacy are commonly observed. Individuals may struggle to form deep and meaningful connections with others, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

7. Chronic Fatigue and Sleep Disturbances

CPTSD can take a toll on one’s physical health. Chronic fatigue is a common complaint, as the constant state of hyperarousal can exhaust the body. Sleep disturbances, including nightmares and insomnia, are also prevalent, further exacerbating fatigue and impacting overall well-being.

8. Dissociation

Dissociation refers to a psychological process where an individual detaches or disconnects themselves from their thoughts, feelings, memories, or even their own identity. It is a defense mechanism that the mind uses to cope with overwhelming or traumatic experiences. During dissociation, a person may feel like they are watching themselves from outside their body, or they may feel like they are in a dream-like state. It is a way for the mind to create a sense of distance from distressing emotions or situations. Dissociation can occur as a temporary response to stress, but it can also be a symptom of certain mental health disorders such as dissociative identity disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder.Dissociation is a coping mechanism frequently seen in individuals with CPTSD. During traumatic experiences, they may disconnect from their thoughts, feelings, and even their physical sensations. This can result in a sense of detachment from reality, leading to difficulties in maintaining focus and concentration.

9. Chronic Pain and Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms are not uncommon in individuals with CPTSD. Chronic pain, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and other unexplained physical complaints are often reported. The mind-body connection is at play here, with the emotional distress of CPTSD manifesting in physical symptoms.

10. Self-Destructive Behavior

Due to the overwhelming emotional pain they experience, individuals with CPTSD may engage in self-destructive behaviors as a means of coping. This can include substance abuse, self-harm, or engaging in risky behaviors that further endanger their well-being.

11. Feelings of Hopelessness and Despair

CPTSD can lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair. The sense of being trapped in a cycle of trauma and its aftermath can be incredibly overwhelming. Individuals may struggle to envision a positive future and may question their ability to recover and find happiness.

12. Hypervigilance in Relationships

CPTSD can impact an individual’s ability to navigate and trust in relationships. Hypervigilance can extend to interpersonal interactions, leading individuals to constantly look for signs of potential harm or betrayal. This can strain relationships and make it challenging to develop a sense of safety and security.


CPTSD is a complex and debilitating condition that can have a profound impact on an individual’s life. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of CPTSD is crucial in seeking appropriate support and treatment. If you or someone you know exhibits these signs, reach out to a mental health professional who can provide the necessary guidance and support on the path to healing and recovery.

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