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Understanding Complex Trauma: Navigating the Healing Journey

For anyone in recovery or for anyone who is a clinician, it is crucial to acknowledge the diversity and complexity of mental health challenges that individuals may face. Trauma is one such profound experience that can have lasting impacts on a person's well-being. In this blog post, we will delve into the intricacies of complex trauma, as well as shed light on the distinction between Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). By understanding these concepts, you can gain valuable insights into your own healing journey and make informed decisions about seeking holistic therapies for recovery.


Defining Complex Trauma: Complex trauma is a term used to describe prolonged and repetitive traumatic experiences that occur within interpersonal relationships, typically during childhood. Unlike a single traumatic event, such as a car accident or a natural disaster, complex trauma involves ongoing abuse, neglect, or exposure to distressing situations that compromise a person's sense of safety, security, and trust. These experiences can leave deep emotional wounds that may impact various aspects of an individual's life, including their relationships, self-esteem, and overall well-being.

Characteristics of Complex Trauma:

Complex trauma often manifests through a wide range of symptoms and challenges that extend beyond what is commonly associated with PTSD. Some key characteristics of complex trauma include:

  1. Emotional Dysregulation: Intense and overwhelming emotions that fluctuate unpredictably, making it difficult to manage daily life.

  2. Distorted Self-Perception: Negative self-beliefs, low self-esteem, and a sense of shame or guilt due to the trauma.

  3. Interpersonal Difficulties: Struggles with trust, forming and maintaining healthy relationships, and setting appropriate boundaries.

  4. Dissociation: A coping mechanism where individuals disconnect from their emotions, thoughts, or sensations, often leading to feelings of detachment or numbness.

Understanding CPTSD vs. PTSD:

While both CPTSD and PTSD share similarities, they also have distinct features that set them apart. It's essential to recognize these differences to ensure effective treatment and support.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD):

PTSD typically arises from a single traumatic event, such as military combat, sexual assault, or a natural disaster. The symptoms can include:

  1. Intrusive memories, flashbacks, or nightmares of the traumatic event.

  2. Avoidance of triggers associated with the trauma, including people, places, or activities.

  3. Hypervigilance and exaggerated startle response.

  4. Negative changes in mood, cognition, and emotions.

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD):

CPTSD, on the other hand, stems from repeated and prolonged exposure to traumatic events. It shares the core symptoms of PTSD but also includes additional challenges:

  1. Emotional dysregulation and difficulty managing intense emotions.

  2. Chronic feelings of emptiness, worthlessness, or guilt.

  3. Persistent self-blame and a distorted self-perception.

  4. Difficulties with trust, forming relationships, and maintaining healthy boundaries.

Our Approach

We don't like putting people in a boxes and acknowledge many common measures of symptomology are limiting, culturally insensitive, and flawed in many ways. We use these measures as just one of many data points to conceptualize a person's struggles while taking many other factors into consideration. However, using these generalizations can help clients make sense of what they're experiencing and normalize common reactions to trauma. Holistic therapy offers a compassionate and integrated approach to healing from complex trauma and CPTSD. By addressing the mind, body, and spirit, holistic therapies can support you on your journey towards recovery. For more information on modalities that we typically integrate please see our Modalities page or contact us for an individual consultation.


Understanding complex trauma and distinguishing between CPTSD and PTSD is crucial for individuals seeking holistic therapies for their healing journey. By recognizing the unique challenges and symptoms associated with complex trauma, you can empower yourself to make informed decisions about the therapeutic approaches that best suit your needs. Remember, healing is a deeply personal and transformative process, and with the right support, you can embark on a path towards reclaiming your well-being, self-worth, and resilience.


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