Complex PTSD develops in response to chronic traumatisation over the course of months or years. The trauma can include emotional, physical or sexual abuse. There are exceptional circumstances in which adults can develop Complex PTSD, but it is mostly seen in those whose trauma occurred in childhood. When children go through prolonged trauma the brain is still developing and it interrupts the natural course of their psychological and neurological development.
Psychological effects of Complex PTSD include hypervigilance, this is where the person is always on high alert both mentally and physically as they are constantly on the lookout for danger. They may have a hyper awareness of sounds, facial expressions or the atmosphere in a room. They may have an exaggerated startle response, or they may be ‘triggered’ by people arguing or shouting. This means that the nervous system is triggered into producing all the chemicals necessary and getting the body ready for the fight, flight, freeze or fawn response. Complex PTSD means the person can feel easily overwhelmed and less resilient to life’s issues. They may worry extensively about what may happen, they may have nightmares and flashbacks to the trauma, and they may feel depressed or hopeless about the future. They can also be irritable and quick to anger and may have problems sleeping.
Individuals with Complex PTSD are also vulnerable to physical symptoms that cannot be explained medically but are caused by their internal pain and stress. These somatic symptoms can include neck and back pain, headaches and migraines, gastrointestinal problems including irritable bowel syndrome. They may develop fibromyalgia which involves muscle pain, fatigue, and problems with sleep, memory, and mood.
Complex PTSD very often co-occurs with dissociative disorders. Other common conditions it co-occurs with include borderline personality disorder, depressive or bipolar disorders, anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, eating disorders and addictions.
Counselling will help an individual with Complex PTSD.