What Are Common Triggers for Complex PTSD and How to Manage Them?

What Are Common Triggers for Complex PTSD and How to Manage Them?

The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a common mental health disorder, are well known to the public. However, a lesser-known PTSD diagnosis, known as complex PTSD, is caused by persistent trauma and typically manifests in childhood. It is important to understand the distinctions between PTSD and CPTSD in order to get the best care possible for either condition. Complex Post-Traumatic Stres\s Disorder (C-PTSD) can develop in individuals who have experienced prolonged and repeated traumatic events, such as ongoing abuse, neglect, or exposure to violence.


Both PTSD and CPTSD are capable of inducing nightmares, insomnia, and flashbacks. A perceived or actual threat of violence, death, or injury can cause PTSD and CPTSD. While PTSD and CPTSD have many of the same diagnostic criteria, certain symptoms set them apart. Early recognition and appropriate treatment by mental health professionals are essential for managing symptoms and facilitating healing and recovery.

Frequency of the presenting trauma is believed to represent the primary distinction between PTSD and CPTSD. CPTSD is brought on by repeated trauma, whereas PTSD tends to happen after one traumatic event. While CPTSD frequently develops as a result of childhood trauma, PTSD can develop after trauma at any age.

PTSD and C-PTSD are related mental health conditions that are triggered by exposure to traumatic events. While they share similarities, they also have some distinct differences.

What Is CPTSD?

Differentiating between PTSD and CPTSD is not a new concept.. CPTSD as a separate diagnosis was first proposed by Judith Hermann in the late 1980s, but it was only added to the most recent version of the ICD-11 in 2018. It is a psychological condition that develops in individuals who have experienced prolonged and repeated traumatic events, often involving interpersonal abuse, neglect, or captivity over an extended period.

Contrary to PTSD, which is thought to result from a single traumatic event, CPTSD is thought to be the result of ongoing trauma that typically manifests in childhood, such as child abuse, sexual assault, or domestic violence. In these circumstances, the person frequently feels entrapped or powerless to flee the traumatic circumstance. CPTSD is considered a more severe and complex form of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and it is characterized by a range of symptoms that can significantly impact a person’s emotional well-being and daily functioning.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) does not yet recognize CPTSD as a distinct diagnosis, but it is still crucial to distinguish it from PTSD. Early recognition and appropriate treatment can significantly improve the well-being and quality of life for individuals living with CPTSD.

Complex Diagnostic Standards for PTSD

Since the two disorders are not yet distinct in the DSM-5, CPTSD and PTSD have many of the same symptoms and diagnostic criteria. The following requirements must be satisfied for a CPTSD diagnosis to be made:

  • The individual was put in danger of passing away, being killed, suffering a severe injury, or being sexually assaulted. This can happen directly, through witnessing the trauma, learning that a close friend or family member experienced trauma, or indirectly through first responders, police officers, etc.
  • Avoidance of situations that trigger traumatic memories. This can include reminders of the trauma as well as thoughts or feelings connected to the trauma.
  • Two or more of the following conditions must exist: negative thoughts or feelings that started or grew worse after the trauma, such as forgetting important details of the trauma; having excessively pessimistic beliefs about oneself or the world; placing excessive blame on oneself or others for the trauma; losing interest in activities; feeling isolated; or being unable to experience happiness.
  • Two or more of the following post-trauma reactions:
    • Aggressiveness or irritability
    • Destructive or risky behaviour
    • Hypervigilance
    • Increased startle response
    • Difficulty focusing
    • Trouble sleeping
  • A month or more passes without improvement.
  • Symptoms can make daily activities like work or school difficult or distressing.
  • Symptoms are not brought on by drugs, alcohol, or other illnesses.
  • Symptoms of CPTSD also include the inability to regulate emotions, low self-esteem, relationship difficulties, disconnection from trauma, and loss of faith or a sense of purpose in life.

The following symptoms are specific to CPTSD and distinguish CPTSD from PTSD:

  • Having trouble expressing one’s emotions: It is common for people to lose control of their feelings and experience intense rage or depression.
  • Negative self-perception: When a person has a negative self-perception, they may experience helplessness, guilt, or shame.
  • Relationship maintenance is difficult for some individuals and results in unhealthy relationships which often result in lack of trust and emotional maturity.
  • Feelings of loneliness and emptiness: If untreated, a rise in stress can exacerbate these symptoms and make managing CPTSD more challenging.

Testing for Complex PTSD

There are currently no official tests available to identify CPTSD. Professionals have discovered that recognizing PTSD symptoms such as re-experiencing, avoidance, and reactivity as well as looking for comorbid symptoms like feelings of guilt and shame, relationship difficulties, and an inability to control emotions can help with the diagnosis of CPTSD. If you’re unsure where to start, consider contacting a mental health helpline or reaching out to a healthcare provider for guidance.

What Causes Complex PTSD?

Long-lasting or persistent traumatic events are the trigger for CPTSD, making it distinct from other mental health disorders. CPTSD can be caused by sustained traumatic events such as:

  • Long-term psychological, physical, or sexual abuse or neglect in childhood
  • Persistent domestic abuse
  • Prolonged imprisonment
  • Sexual trafficking or forced prostitution
  • Racial or religious prejudice

Long-term trauma has an impact on both physical and mental health. The following are examples of the chronic effects of trauma:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Issues with memory and focus
  • Depression
  • Hypertension
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Stroke
  • Weight gain

‘Triggers’ for Complex PTSD

Anything that in any way conjures up traumatic memories for a person is a ‘trigger.’ This can involve hearing, smelling, thinking, feeling, people, or even places. When a CPTSD sufferer is exposed to a trigger, they may feel as though the traumatic event is happening all over again and exhibit physical and psychological symptoms. These triggers can evoke memories and sensations associated with past traumatic experiences, leading to heightened emotional distress and re-experiencing of trauma-related symptoms.

Treatment for Complex PTSD

Complex PTSD clients have treatment options, despite the fact that it can feel very overwhelming to overcome the condition. A person with CPTSD may consider different levels of intervention, such as therapy, medication, and other approaches. It’s helpful for individuals with CPTSD to work with a qualified mental health professional to develop a personalized treatment plan tailored to their specific needs and experiences. Recovery from CPTSD is a gradual process, and healing may take time.

Complex PTSD Therapy

The best course of treatment for complex PTSD appears to be psychotherapy with a qualified mental health professional. A therapist can assist someone with CPTSD in examining their fears and triggers and helping them relearn to trust people . Therapists can also assist their clients in creating positive coping skills for when CPTSD symptoms manifest..Complex PTSD (CPTSD) therapy focuses on addressing the unique and varied symptoms experienced by individuals who have endured prolonged and repeated trauma.

Find a CPTSD therapist nearby if you or someone you care about is experiencing CPTSD

Medication for Complex PTSD

For many dealing with CPTSD, medication can alleviate symptoms effectively and might be a fitting choice. Medication can help with CPTSD symptoms like anxiety or depression. However, medication works best when combined with psychotherapy. To explore the possibilities, it’s wise to consult your physician. They can offer insights into the available options and guide you towards the best decision for your situation

EMDR For Complex PTSD

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of psychotherapy that has been used to treat complex PTSD. EMDR helps the patient process and reframe traumatic memories using eye movements that are guided by the therapist. Eye movements are linked to brain activation and deactivation. Activating and deactivating the brain while processing the memories often helps to lessen CPTSD symptoms and reactions to the traumatic memories.Originally developed to address symptoms of PTSD, EMDR has been adapted and used for individuals with CPTSD who have experienced prolonged and repeated traumatic events.

Living With Complex PTSD

CPTSD is a severe and often incapacitating mental health condition that has deservedly received more attention over time. Complex PTSD is an seperate form of PTSD, with symptoms including loss of one’s former self, feeling permanently damaged, withdrawal from social situations, hopelessness, hostility, and shame. People with CPTSD frequently have low self-esteem, which makes it difficult to maintain healthy relationships and causes feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Living with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) can be challenging and impactful on various aspects of an individual’s life.

If you or a loved one is experiencing complex PTSD symptoms, contact Renew Neurotherapy in Ottawa, Pembroke, and North Bay to learn more about treatment and support.Living with CPTSD requires understanding, patience, and self-compassion. It is important for individuals to seek support from skilled mental health professionals who have experience treating trauma.


Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) is a mental health condition caused by persistent trauma, typically experienced in childhood. It shares similarities with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but CPTSD is characterized by recurring trauma. Identifying triggers and managing CPTSD symptoms is crucial for those affected. Therapy, medication, and approaches such as neurofeedback for autonomic regulation, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can help individuals with CPTSD regain control and improve their quality of life. If you or someone you know is dealing with complex PTSD, seek support from Renew Neurotherapy in Ottawa, Pembroke, and North Bay.

We’re Here to Help

Get in touch with us today so we can discuss how we can help you.

Related Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *