top of page

A PTSD and cPTSD Primer

Updated: Feb 26, 2020

As soon as the words Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, known as PTSD, are read or spoken we tend to think of war veterans. In reality, war is only one of the many traumas that cause PTSD. The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) have a very simple definition for PTSD:

"PTSD is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced or learned about a shocking, scary, or dangerous event."

Not every traumatized person develops ongoing (chronic) or even short-term (acute) PTSD. And not everyone with PTSD has been through a dangerous event. Some experiences, like the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one, can also cause PTSD. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) manual has also expanded the stressors of PTSD to include those who may not have directly experienced the traumatic event to those who:

  • Learn that the traumatic event occurred to a close family member or close friend with the actual or threatened death being either violent or accidental. In fact, research now shows that we inherit traumatic memories from our ancestors; most sources citing up to four generations before us.

  • Experiences first-hand repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event.


Symptoms usually begin early, within 3 months of the traumatic incident, but can begin decades afterward. An example of this can be an adult who was fine until after being hit in an auto accident which triggers somatic memories of their child abuse. The word somatic is the relationship between the mind and body in regard to psychological past. Somatic psychology confirms that the mind and body connection is deeply rooted.

Duration: Symptoms must last more than a month and be severe enough to interfere with relationships or work to be considered PTSD.

The course varies. Some people recover within 6 months while others have symptoms that last much longer. In some people, the condition becomes chronic and the unresolved trauma and PTSD create chronic health problems including, but not limited glandular problems (pituitary, thyroid, reproductive issues), high blood pressure obesity, cardiovascular disease, fibromyalgia, other chronic pain syndromes and chronic illness.

PTSD Categories

There are three main categories* Adapted from *CPI

1 - Acute trauma (Type I) results from exposure to a single overwhelming event.

  • Examples: Rape, death of a loved one, natural disaster

  • Characteristics: Detailed memories, omens, hyper-vigilance, exaggerated startle response, misperceptions or overreactions

2 - Complex trauma (Type II) results from extended or repeat exposure to traumatizing situations.

  • Examples: Prolonged exposure to interpersonal violence or bullying, neglect, series of home removals

  • Characteristics: Denial and psychological numbing, dissociation, rage, social withdrawal, sense of foreshortened future

3 - Crossover trauma (Type III) results from a single traumatic event that is devastating enough to have long-lasting effects.

  • Examples: Mass casualty school shooting, car accident with fatalities involved, refugee dislocation

  • Characteristics: Perpetual mourning or depression, chronic pain, concentration problems, sleep disturbances, irritability

Of the three types, developmental PTSD is the most challenging to treat because it adversely effects the biochemistry and brain during development creating more a complex form of trauma, hence the name complex PTSD or cPTSD and sometimes known as DTD or Developmental Trauma Disorder.

It is interesting to note that The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) has not created a sub-type for cPTSD/DTD which is a problem noted by famed trauma researcher Bessel van der Kolk and other trauma researchers. This is especially puzzling since the landmark ACEs Study (Adverse Childhood Events Study) has unequivocally proven that traumas during a child's development create significantly negative effects on emotional and physical health in adulthood and result in chronic disease, disability and early death. See this post to learn your ACE score.

Full recovery from cPTSD and PTSD is fully within reach IF you...

  • are committed to healing mind, body and spirit.

  • are willing to do the work needed.

  • find the right therapies for you!

For more information and recovery tips, opt-in for notifications here.

43 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All