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What is C-PTSD?

Complex Trauma is the label assigned to repeated exposure to traumatic events or situations, typically involving interpersonal trauma and a lack of escape or support.  

Childhood Neglect, Domestic Violence, Loss, Cultural Trauma and Covid are just a few examples of Complex Trauma. 

For some people, Complex Trauma can lead to Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD).  A disorder that can affect the body in a similar manner to how a stroke leaves a lesion on the brain.

C- PTSD is the body continuing to defend against a threat that belongs in the past, The body cannot stop the ‘defence’ cycle without deliberate intervention.  

As such, C-PTSD symptoms emerge without context, disrupting our day-to-day lives, originating in past experiences with which we have no memory of. 

Or it fuels a (manic) episode where intellect & insight are futile. The logical brain has been forced to subordinate to the body’s ongoing need to defend’ itself.

C-PTSD effects our entire reality: 

  1. Our 5 Senses, Brain & Body

  2. Programmed Powerlessness

  3. How we Perceive the world 

  4. Emotional (dis)Regulation

  5. Interpersonal Relationships

  6. Our Relationship with Work

Adults with C-PTSD have a very different brain-body combination with which they experience the world. When compared to those raised in a loving home and now operate life with a healthy and well-nourished brain-body system, adults with C-PTSD often feel like they don’t belong. 

Work is a common coping mechanism used to conceal and avoid dealing with one’s inner conflict.  Prolonged avoidance of unresolved trauma, while moving through life in survival mode, will typically produce dis-ease in the body, forcing the person to finally intervene with the body’s ongoing ‘must-defend’ mode. 

For someone with C-PTSD, this cartoon is more accurate than not when it comes to describing how seemingly normal days, feel for them.


The complex trauma affected brain-body combination has become hard wired for survival, and directly influences the person’s:

  1. Pleasure centers; shutting them off while survival is made paramount

  2. Intrusive thoughts, distorted communications and heightened mistrust

  3. Unpleasant implicit memory (flashbacks) triggered through 5 senses; smell, sound etc

  4. (Over) reactions to seemingly normal situations or ‘dead-inside’ numbing

  5. Negative self perception

  6. Impaired interpersonal relationships preferring self-isolation that we trick ourselves into believing to be ‘solitude’. 

  7. Coping strategies more akin to addictive behaviours

  8. The need to run - for people with C-PTSD, the Past is all that is Present. Their comfort zone is moving towards ‘future plans’ (that seldom arrives). Sometimes, they are almost impossible to keep up with.

  9. The opposite end of that spectrum also applies, the need to stop everything and endlessly distract as days becomes years.

The complex trauma affected person often feels: 

  1. Not safe, can’t trust’ - a hallmark trait for C-PTSD.

  2. Overwhelmed easily, with bouts of ‘explosion’.

  3. Riddled with anxiety, fear, shame, guilt and depression.

  4. Mysteriously locked into a self-made prison that is physiologically impossible to exit, despite the doors being wide open. 

  5. Compelled to avoid “Being Present” - so, mindfulness can FU! 

  6. Lost to illnesses that are not easy to label: inflammation, chronic and autoimmune disease are often present in adults with C-PTSD. 

  7. The need to self-soothe, often with harmful coping strategies; self harm, substance abuse, sex addiction, comfort eating, endless distractions,  numbing activities, and work.

  8. Gut wrenching fear, intense heart break, and a chest occupied by ‘elephants’. So dissociation is par for the course. We happily disconnect mind and body so we don’t have to feel anything. 

People with C-PTSD who are using work to channel their inner conflict, are very good at looking the part... 

...“Highly Functioning, Secretly in Despair”. but only for so long.


C-PTSD at Work

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