Most of my clients experience noticeable relief when I explain Complex PTSD to them. The diagnosis resonates deeply with their intuitive understanding of their suffering. When they recognize that their sense of overwhelm initially arose as a normal instinctual response to their traumatic circumstances, they begin to shed the belief that they are crazy, hopelessly oversensitive, and/or incurably defective.
Pete Walker - "CPTSD: From Surviving to Thriving"
It is important to keep in mind that the symptoms of CPTSD develop as Walker points out, "a normal instinctual response" to ongoing exposure to trauma. CPTSD is a stress disorder, not a weakness or defect of character nor it it a personality disorder although it is often misdiagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder.
Symptoms Shared by CPTSD and PTSD
According to Cloitre et al (2016), CPTSD shares three main symptoms with PTSD which include:
- Re-experiencing the past – in the form of nightmares and flashbacks. While in PTSD flashbacks tend to be visual, in CPTSD they are often emotional. That is, a sudden, overwhelming rush of emotions such as anger, shame, humiliation, abandonment, and of being small and powerless much like a child would feel when abused. These are referred to as Emotional Flashbacks (EFs). and can last for minutes, hours or even days (Walker, 2013) .
- Sense of threat - constantly on guard or hypervigilant, strong startle reaction
- Avoidance - of thoughts, feelings, people, places, activities relating to the trauma (e.g., dissociation, derealization)