Complex PTSD vs PTSD: What’s the Difference?


Were you affected by severe trauma, and do you fear certain situations? Have they caused you to isolate yourself from others? Do you feel depressed or have low self-esteem?

Post-traumatic stress disorder, also called PTSD, can have a lasting impact on your life. Unfortunately, you may feel too ashamed to seek help. However, you’re not alone.

Many people have PTSD during their lifetime, but recently the definition of PTSD has changed. Sufferers may need to talk to a doctor to find out if they’re dealing with classic PTSD or if they have something new: Complex PTSD.

Keep reading this guide if you want a clearer understanding of the differences between complex PTSD vs PTSD.

Duration of Trauma

Post-stressful Stress Disorder (PTSD) generally begins after one stressful event, like a natural disaster, car accident, or time in a war. The event is usually short, but it can have long-lasting effects on the person.

On the other hand, long-term and repeated worry cause Complex PTSD (C-PTSD). This can include long-term abuse, violence in the home, not taking care of a child, or being held kidnapped for a long time. C-PTSD generally happens when many upsetting things happen over a long period and combine confusingly.

Types of Trauma

Different kinds of upsetting events can cause both PTSD and C-PTSD. But worrying about other people is usually what causes C-PTSD. This can include being severely and repeatedly abused physically or sexually as a child, getting hurt by a partner, being sold as an enslaved person, or being tortured. How the tragedy happened in a relationship and how often the person was exposed to violence from others can cause different C-PTSD symptoms.

PTSD, on the other hand, can be caused by a wider range of stressful events, such as crashes, natural disasters, seeing violence, or being in a situation where your life is in danger. Even though these things may also affect other people, C-PTSD is marked by a long-term trend of upsetting relationship events.


Both PTSD and C-PTSD have similar core symptoms, like disturbing thoughts, dreams, flashbacks, trying to avoid triggers, and a higher level of stress. On the other hand, people with C-PTSD tend to have more different symptoms. They may have trouble keeping their feelings in check and have strong, changing feelings that are hard to deal with.

C-PTSD can also make it hard for people to trust each other, set and keep healthy limits, and make and keep good bonds. Also, C-PTSD may have more obvious physical symptoms than PTSD, such as constant pain, GI problems, or confusion.


People with C-PTSD may have a twisted view of themselves because they have been through long-term and severe stress. On the inside, they may feel shame, grief, or a lack of worth and see themselves as broken or damaged. These bad ideas about themselves can greatly affect how they feel about themselves and who they are.

People with PTSD, on the other hand, usually don’t think as much about themselves. When someone has PTSD, they often see themselves as bad because of the stressful event and how it made them feel, not because they are generally bad.

Interpersonal Difficulties

Complex PTSD, called C-PTSD, makes it hard to get along with others. People with C-PTSD have trouble trusting, getting close to, and making good relationships with others because of the nature of the experience. They might struggle to set boundaries, tell people what they need, and keep relationships safe. People can feel weak and afraid in all their relationships if they are repeatedly hurt or lied to in their relationships.

People with PTSD, on the other hand, may also have trouble getting along with others, but this is not a key part of the problem. In PTSD, the main focus is on the upsetting event and how it made the person feel afterward, not on their difficult relationship problems.

Core Beliefs

Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) can greatly affect how a person thinks about themselves, other people, and the world as a whole. These views are mostly based on shame, guilt, worthlessness, or a strong sense of being broken or flawed. These bad core beliefs can lead to a skewed view of oneself and change how one interacts with others and moves through the world.

People with PTSD, on the other hand, may have negative thoughts and beliefs about the stressful event. Still, these beliefs are usually more focused on the event and its effects than on wider and more widespread misconceptions of how they see themselves.

Emotional Dysregulation

People with complex PTSD have a lot of trouble keeping their feelings in check. People with C-PTSD often have strong, erratic, and hard-to-control emotions. They might find it hard to control their anger, sadness, or fear and feel like their feelings are taking over.

Even though people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can also have trouble controlling their feelings, it is not as common or as bad as it is in C-PTSD. In PTSD, emotional problems are often caused by memories of the stressful event and are more closely linked to that event than to a general pattern of emotional instability.

Treatment Approach

Both PTSD and C-PTSD can be treated in similar ways, but the focus and depth of the treatment may be different. Both conditions can be helped by therapies that focus on trauma. But people with C-PTSD generally need more treatment to deal with the difficult social and mental problems of long-term stress.

People with C-PTSD may gain from schema therapy, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), or psychodynamic techniques. These ways deal with how stress affects a person’s sense of self, relationships with others, and ability to control their feelings.

On the other hand, treatment options for PTSD tend to focus mostly on processing and integrating painful memories and coming up with ways to deal with symptoms related to the traumatic event.

Unraveling the Layers of Complex PTSD vs PTSD

While the differences between complex PTSD vs PTSD can be difficult to understand, the key points to remember are that C-PTSD may involve more prolonged and more severe symptoms.

It is of the utmost importance that those who experience any type of trauma seek help. If you are struggling with a mental health condition, please get in touch with a medical or mental health professional for advice and support.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. If you found it helpful, be sure to check out our blog for more informative resources.

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