How Complex PTSD Compares to Regular PTSD
The first requirement for a diagnosis of complex PTSD is a prolonged period (months to years) of total control by another. The other criteria include symptoms that tend to result from chronic victimization.
These symptoms of chronic PTSD include:
- Changes in the ability to control emotions, which may include symptoms such as persistent sadness, suicidal thoughts, explosive anger, or inhibited anger
- Changes in consciousness, such as forgetting traumatic events, reliving traumatic events, or having episodes in which one feels detached from one's mental processes or body
- Changes in how the person views himself or herself, which may include a sense of helplessness, shame, guilt, stigma, and a sense of being completely different from other human beings
- Changes in how the person views the perpetrator, such as attributing total power to the perpetrator or becoming preoccupied with the relationship to the perpetrator, including a preoccupation with revenge
- Changes in relationships with others, including isolation, distrust, or a repeated search for a rescuer
- Changes in one's system of meanings, which may include a loss of sustaining faith or a sense of hopelessness and despair.
Survivors may avoid thinking and talking about trauma-related topics because the feelings associated with the trauma are often overwhelming. They may use alcohol and substance abuse as a way to avoid and numb feelings and thoughts related to the trauma. Survivors may also engage in self-mutilation and other forms of self-harm.
There is a tendency to blame the victim in these situations. A person who has been abused repeatedly is sometimes mistaken as someone who has a "weak character." Because of their chronic victimization, in the past, survivors have been misdiagnosed by mental health providers as having borderline, dependent, or masochistic personality disorder. When survivors are faulted for the symptoms they experience as a result of victimization, they are being unjustly blamed.
Researchers hope that a new diagnosis of complex PTSD will prevent clinicians, the public, and those who suffer from trauma from mistakenly blaming survivors for their symptoms.