Complex PTSD is the result of long-term trauma lasting months or even years. Examples of situations that can cause the condition include concentration camps, POW camps, long-term domestic violence, and ongoing childhood sexual abuse. While research is still underway, a diagnosis of complex PTSD may be the best way to categorize the symptoms seen in people who have suffered prolonged trauma.
The diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) accurately describes the symptoms that result when a person experiences a short-lived trauma. For example, car accidents, natural disasters, and rape are considered traumatic events of time-limited duration.
Complex PTSD, however, is the result of long-term trauma. These are chronic traumas that continue for months or even years at a time.
The reason complex PTSD is separated from PTSD is that doctors and researchers have found that the current PTSD diagnosis often does not capture the severe psychological harm that occurs with such prolonged, repeated trauma. For example, ordinary, healthy people who experience chronic (long-term) trauma can experience changes in their self-concept and the way they adapt to stressful events.
During long-term traumas, the victim is generally held in a state of captivity. In these situations, the victim is under the control of the perpetrator and unable to flee.
Examples of captivity include:
- Concentration camps
- Prisoner of war (POW) camps
- Prostitution brothels
- Long-term domestic violence
- Long-term, severe physical abuse
- Child sexual abuse
- Organized child exploitation rings.