A person who experiences repetitive, long-term captivity or abuse can develop a disorder known as complex post-traumatic stress disorder, or C-PTSD. This condition is usually caused by a series of traumas that occur over a long period of time, rather than by a single traumatic event. Being repeatedly treated in an abusive way over a period of months or years can result in serious psychological harm.
One of the major causes of C-PTSD is childhood trauma, particularly childhood sexual abuse. A child who is sexually abused, particularly when victimized by more than one relative or family friend, begins to see the world as a difficult, unsafe place. There is no hope of escape or getting out of danger. The victim has absolutely no control over the situation and continues to feel unsafe even when the danger is gone.
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is caused by repetitive abuse, which could be physical, emotional or sexual. The victim may have been kidnapped or could be in a situation where he or she is forced into slavery or torture. The victim may also be subjected to inconsistent treatment, and may not be able to predict when the abuse is going to occur.
How C-PTSD Differs From PTSD
A person who has gone through a major trauma may experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, which include having nightmares or flashbacks, being easily startled and trying to avoid situations that serve as reminders of the trauma.
Although complex post-traumatic stress disorder shares some of the same symptoms, a person who has been traumatized repeatedly for a long period of time has additional signs of being emotionally damaged. He or she may have explosive emotional reactions or suicidal thoughts and may experience dissociation, which is a sense of being detached from his or her own body. A person with C-PTSD may continue to feel unsafe even though the danger has passed and may be filled with shame and guilt regarding the traumatic experiences.
Since traumatic events are so difficult to talk about, a person with C-PTSD may be misdiagnosed with other psychological problems such as borderline personality disorder. He or she may also develop other challenges such as an eating disorder or alcoholism. Although a person who was victimized for a long period of time may want to simply forget the past, it’s important to face the traumatic events in order to heal from them.