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The Different Ways Complex PTSD Can Present Itself

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Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) can be tricky in its presentations in a person.

For some individuals and clinicians, C-PTSD isn’t easy to identify.

• What is PTSD?

Many folks have gone through a lot of diagnoses or co-diagnoses before they’re able to see the underlying issues of trauma at the core of the psychological stress. When a clinician or therapist asks you the general questions upon intake they may be asking something along the lines of, “Do you feel irritable more often than not?” or “Do you feel afraid in your daily life?” You may be thinking that you’re not sure.

While these are obviously important indicators, when we’re thinking in crisis mode and when our brains have been through something traumatic, it’s hard to even conceptualize what “feeling irritable” may look like in your day-to-day life. What exactly are some things I may be doing if I’m feeling afraid, you may wonder?

Some of the most common symptoms of C-PTSD can show themselves in a variety of ways including:

  1. Experiencing a negative emotional state when in crowds. Whether it’s feeling angry or fearful, being in a big group of people makes you feel vulnerable, nervous, or unsafe in some way.
  2. Over-heightened senses. Does a ringing alarm in the distance make your jaw clench? Sometimes sensitivity to sounds and lights can make people’s anxiety and stress levels rise quickly without really noticing it.
  3. Having lots of nightmares. Nightmares or night terrors are common among sufferers of CPTSD. Not specific images, memories or sounds necessarily, but bad dreams that leave you feeling afraid, angry, generally negative when you’re sleeping.
  4. Racing heartbeat for a seemingly unexplained reason? That’s another sign of C-PTSD. The body remembers that it’s supposed to be afraid so every once in awhile, it throws your heart into a Fight Flight mode making your heart race.
  5. Exaggerated startle response. You could be going about your normal routine and having a grand old day but if someone pops around a corner unexpectedly or a loud noise bangs unexpectedly, you’ve already jumped out of your skin.

People say knowing is half the battle but it can be so hard to recognize these things in ourselves that for us, a questionnaire may bring up more questions than answers.

Emotions are fluid and they ebb and flow throughout the days with us.

Being careful about paying attention to the physical body can help guide us on our psychological journey by giving us the chance to realize the ways in which our bodies hold onto fear and trauma.

It’s the little ways in which C-PTSD can present itself that can really make things a challenge in daily life.

By being aware that some of our behaviors and feelings are related to it though, at least we can have a bit of good traction to help us keep our feet on the ground and to help those who are trying to help us understand us a bit better.

So next time you’re thinking about your symptoms for whatever reason, don’t forget to include feelings you have that you may not perceive as being related directly to trauma and as always, keep your therapist in the loop.

Photo Credit: SIphotography/Getty Images

Originally published: May 2, 2021
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