Deep Dive on CPTSD | I Was Misdiagnosed for 25 Years

This post references physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

On September 2018, I posted a blog about my mental health challenges. At that time I was diagnosed as having 1) generalized anxiety disorder, 2) panic disorder, 3) depression, and 4) alcohol abuse disorder. For many years I have known trauma to be the root cause of my problems but I didn’t know that would change the treatment plan I would need. I touched on this in a recent blog post, but it is a topic that warrants further exploration. It is crucial for my own understanding and that of friends and family.

In July 2019 I was diagnosed (by a psychiatrist) as having complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) resulting from physical, emotional and sexual abuse that occurred during childhood, adolescence and adulthood. How is that different from PTSD? Read on, dear friends, read on.

PTSD tends to occur as a result of a single trauma (a car accident, for example) or a time limited series of events (say a military deployment to a war zone). CPTSD is a series of traumatic events over years; it results from cumulative trauma. Actually, cumulative trauma might be a better term than complex PTSD. Complex PTSD originating traumas tend to be interpersonal: parental abuse and sexual abuse being the most common.

The 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) defines CPTSD as:

“a disorder that may develop following exposure to an event or series of events of an extremely threatening or horrific nature, most commonly prolonged or repetitive events from which escape is difficult or impossible (e.g., torture, slavery, genocide campaigns, prolonged domestic violence, repeated childhood sexual or physical abuse). All diagnostic requirements for PTSD are met. In addition, Complex PTSD is characterized by severe and persistent 1) problems in affect regulation; 2) beliefs about oneself as diminished, defeated or worthless, accompanied by feelings of shame, guilt or failure related to the traumatic event; and 3) difficulties in sustaining relationships and in feeling close to others. These symptoms cause significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”


Now, if you are anything like me, you read that and thought: What happened to me wasn’t that bad! This has been part of my disordered thought process around the sexual abuse I suffered as a child. I’ve written about the incidents before, most notably here. I’m started to gain an understanding that it was that bad. It was bad enough to destroy all feeling of safety in a highly sensitive young girl.

“People who have been raised in an unsafe household are likely to have Complex PTSD. When a parent harms a child, they grow up being fearful that they may be hurt again.”


Over the course of a few posts, I plan to unpack the details of how CPTSD impacts my life and how treatment for CPTSD differs from that of anxiety disorders. I may even give a behind the scenes peak into my treatment. Next time I’ll add more layers of explanation around PTSD and CPTSD.

Wishing you inner peace and progress on your journey,

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