People diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have typically experienced a short-lived traumatic event such as a car accident. Mental health professionals have begun to assign a diagnosis of complex PTSD to those who have experienced traumatic events that were repeated or chronic. Long-term domestic violence, sexual or physical abuse, or being held in captivity are all traumatic experiences associated with complex PTSD. The symptoms of this type of PTSD include difficulty managing emotions, changes in consciousness and personal relationships, and a distorted view of oneself and the perpetrator.
Classic PTSD is associated with experiencing or witnessing an event that causes a reaction of horror, helplessness, or intense fear. Events associated with complex PTSD last a long time and typically involve emotional or physical captivity. The captive victim is dependent on and under the control of another person and cannot escape the situation.
Symptoms of this type of PTSD include the loss of any sense of safety, self-worth, and trust. Those with this form of PTSD may also display a tendency to be victimized repeatedly. It is the loss of a sense of self or a distorted view of oneself characterized by shame, guilt, and detachment that distinguishes complex from classic PTSD. This symptom of complex PTSD can make it difficult for patients to respond to the routine distress of infants, for example.
A person with complex PTSD may also adopt a distorted view of the perpetrator. There may be a feeling of complete helplessness and lack of power even after the perpetrator has been imprisoned or punished. The relationship with the perpetrator can also become an obsession.
Regulating emotional responses becomes a difficult task for people with this form of PTSD. Depression and suicidal tendencies are often coupled with bursts of rage. Repressed memories, flashbacks, and dissociation may also manifest.
The symptoms of complex PTSD will make it hard for a person to cultivate healthy relationships with others. The tendency to self-isolate can limit any development of personal relationships. Being generally distrustful of other people presents another obstacle to those with this type of PTSD.
The treatments for classic PTSD are considered to be as effective for complex PTSD, though the recovery process for the latter condition may be prolonged. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are often prescribed along with prazosin, a drug that helps suppress nightmares. Psychotherapy may also be an effective way of identifying and correcting self-destructive behaviors and thought patterns.
Any individual who has witnessed or experienced a short-term or long-term traumatic event should consider seeking help from a mental health professional. If left untreated, complex PTSD can become debilitating. Many suffers are at a greater risk for self-medicating by abusing substances or deliberately self-harming.