There has been some controversy regarding the difference between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex PTSD amongst researchers.
During the early 1990s, the psychologist Judith Herman noted that individuals who had suffered severe, long-lasting, interpersonal trauma, ESPECIALLY IN EARLY LIFE, were frequently suffering from symptoms such as the following:
– disturbance in their view of themselves
– a marked propensity to seek out experiences and relationships which mirrored their original trauma
– severe difficulties controlling emotions and regulating moods
– identity problems/the loss of a coherent sense of self
– a marked inability to develop trusting relationships
– adoption by the victim of the perpetrator’s belief system
Furthermore, some may go on to become abusers themselves, whilst others may be constantly compelled to seek out relationships with others who abuse them in a similar way to the original abuser (i.e. the parent or ‘care-taker’)
It is most unfortunate that prior to the identification of the disorder that gives rise to the above symptoms, now referred to as complex PTSD, those suffering from the above symptoms were NOT recognized as having suffered from trauma and were therefore not asked about their childhood traumatic experiences during treatment. This meant, of course, that the chances of successful treatment were greatly reduced.
Research has now demonstrated that the effects of severe, long-lasting interpersonal trauma go above and beyond the symptoms caused by PTSD.
Complex PTSD Symptoms :
The main symptoms of complex PTSD are as follows:
1) severe dysregulation of mood
2) severe impulse control impairment
3) somatic (physical) symptoms (e.g. headaches, stomach aches, weakness/fatigue)
4) changes in self-perception (e.g. seeing self as deeply defective, ‘bad’ or even ‘evil’)
5) severe difficulties relating to others, including an inability to feel emotionally secure or empowered in relationships
6) changes in perception of the perpetrator of the abuse (e.g. rationalizing their abuse/idealization of the perpetrator)
7) inability to see any meaning in life and existential confusion
8) inability to keep oneself calm under stress/inability to ‘self-soothe’
9) impaired self-awareness/fragmented sense of self
10) pathological dissociation
The DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV) first named complex PTSD as DISORDER OF EXTREME STRESS NOT OTHERWISE SPECIFIED (DESNOS). Now, however, complex PTSD is listed as a SUB-CATEGORY of PTSD.
Whilst it is certainly true that there is an OVERLAP between the symptoms of PTSD and complex PTSD, many researchers now argue that PTSD and complex PTSD should be regarded as SEPARATE and DISTINCT disorders.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).