12 Signs You May Have Complex PTSD

Updated: Sep 27

And What the Hell is ‘Complex’ PTSD


Most people think of veterans when they think PTSD, but that isn’t always the case.

I’m not really a big fan of labels. I’m not really even a fan of people being diagnosed with mental illnesses. It’s all very gray to me. A slippery slope that could lead to more harm than good if not approached wisely.


Yet, I do love language and its ability to help us understand ourselves and others better. That sounds a bit contradictory, but I am a walking contradiction.


Though I may feel cautious around the current world of mental disorders and how people use them to define who they are now, I do see the benefit of understanding what we may be going through as a person that others have in common. One of the worst feelings in the world is thinking we are suffering a uniquely challenging life that no one can relate to or help us with.


If we have the right words to paint the right picture of ourselves, we will be able to better:

  • Describe what we want

  • Describe what is bothering us

  • Describe what is making us turn into complete lunatics at times


Being able to communicate what is going on with us not only helps us express ourselves, but it helps us get a better understanding of our reality and look for any help we may need at times.


PTSD v. C-PTSD

We really aren’t that mean. Most of us are quite silly, actually. Though, perhaps a wee bit dangerous. Handle us with care, please.

PTSD means Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It became officially recognized in 1980 and deals with exposure to one particularly horrific event. Usually:

  • War

  • Rape

  • Terrorist attacks


Being a soldier and war veteran, I get asked if I have PTSD. It’s annoying. Yet, PTSD is focused on the lasting effects of one particularly traumatic experience. If I think back to any particular event, be it from my time in Iraq with the USAF or my time in the French Foreign Legion - along with my injury while serving with them (or any other event), I don’t feel particularly traumatized or bothered.


In fact, when I was in the Legion, my fellow comrades and I used to sit around and laugh about the debate, ‘Does what we do fuck us up? Or were we already fucked up to get here [in this career and way of life]?’

We generally agreed on the latter being true. Only two things fall from the sky: Bird shit and idiots. We were idiots before we jumped. We were who we were before we joined the infamous mercenary group, The French Foreign Legion.


Proudly showing the less glamorous side of being a Legionnaire. Sitting in the barracks waiting for something to happen…

I could definitely identify with some signs of PTSD, but I don’t feel it accurate to say it is due to one particular event. Not to mention, I saw a shrink right after my first tour in Iraq and she told me I had nothing to worry about. I’m happy to take her word for it for now. In fact, we talked about my relationships with women for the second half of the session.


Sadly, the guys that did struggle with true signs of PTSD in the Legion got sent to a mental hospital in Paris and came out months later more damaged than they went in. There are horror stories of being fed pills left and right with different doses ‘to see what works’. They come out so scrambled, it makes one frightened to ever admit some minor signs of struggling. They still got free drugs and paid though, so, let’s chalk it up to one wacky, fun-filled summer.


Yet, PTSD or Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) is something that can be easily overlooked and confused. I believe it is due to this that in 1994 they came out with separately known ‘Complex PTSD’.


Rather than having PTSD after one event, Complex PTSD speaks of the side effects of long-term trauma. It usually focuses on the trauma from the first 15 years of life but isn’t limited to that. It could entirely be induced by adulthood experiences.


Some examples include:

  • Emotional neglect

  • Humiliation

  • Bullying

  • Violence

  • Anger


Now we are talking about something most of us may very well be able to relate to. In fact, it is estimated that 20% of the population is roaming around the world undiagnosed with Complex PTSD. Most people have never heard what it is. And due to its similarities with PTSD, it is often diagnosed as such or perhaps with something along the lines of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).


1 in 5 of these people may have endured some long-term trauma that may be affecting them in ways they aren’t even aware of.

The truth is, we don’t have to see a therapist and be diagnosed with something from the DSM-V to know that all isn’t quite well with ourselves. Perhaps it takes finding somebody in our lives we don’t want to lose to truly get active about it or maybe we just have a desire to understand ourselves.


Whichever the case, it can be helpful to have some terms that will help us think and talk about what makes us… us. Now, bear in mind, I am still strongly against any one thing completely defining a human, be it a profession, a family name, a nationality, or a mental illness.


Yet, knowing these things about ourselves can help us see the bigger picture of who we are at times.


So, without further ado, here are…


12 signs you may have Complex PTSD:

[I am not a doctor of any kind. If you feel you need professional help, please contact a professional. There is no shame in getting some outside perspective on your life. There is nothing wrong with asking for a guide to help you navigate the more difficult parts of yourself.

I have researched and looked for the following information, but that in no way qualifies me to apply them to you or anybody else. If more than half of the following symptoms seem to apply to you, please take that information to a qualified therapist. All the best.]


  1. Nothing is safe. Or at least it feels that way. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we are a soldier waiting for an IED to go off. This could be hypervigilance to the possibility of being humiliated. For some, a fall from grace could mean life as they know it is over. When someone tries to speak to us logically about the issue, it doesn’t help. We aren’t confused about the logic they try to provide to ease our fear, it is just that the logic doesn’t have any hold on us.

  2. We can’t relax. This especially shows in our body. We don’t want cuddles or even being touched in certain areas. Even doing something positive to help us relax, such as yoga or meditation, gives a very ‘yucky’ feeling like it is too ‘hippie’. This may even go so far as to cause constipation or other digestive issues. Anxiety has a direct link to our ‘second brain’ - the gut.

  3. Lack of sleep. It may not be so much that we don’t sleep. It may just be we can’t seem to go to sleep in a healthy way no matter how tired we are.

  4. We hate who we are. We are hideous… on the inside. We think we are the worst example of humanity on two legs. Even our sexuality, something that should be liberating and loving, can feel sickening and shameful.

  5. We want what we can’t have. In particular with people. We say we hate ‘needy’ people. We hate the idea of having someone that could always be around. We go straight for the people we know are always be at work or only want to use us sexually without involving distasteful feelings of ‘warmth’. Truthfully, we want people like us who are equally avoiding their own issues of avoidance.

  6. More than avoidance, it’s disgusting. It isn’t even that we aren’t attracted to the ‘puppy’ types of lovers and friends. We are quite disgusted by people that want to get cozy with us. It is revolting to us as we only see it as desperate.

  7. We are a bit of a hot-head. We can lose our cool quite quickly. Sometimes with other people, but mostly with ourselves. It seems like pure rage, but in reality, it is a ball of worry rapped in defensive anger. We are terrified something bad might happen again. We may look mean on the outside, but truthfully, we are screaming because we are completely defenseless.

  8. We wear aluminum hats. Okay, maybe we aren’t paranoid about aliens or the government reading our thoughts, but we are a little scared that someone might try to poison our food or follow us to our car to kidnap us. Everyone around us is an enemy waiting for an opportune moment to strike. Once again, this may not be so hostile as physical harm, but simply humiliation. In a world of social media, we start to believe social media is a good representation of the world, and we all know that someone is in the shadows ready to make us look foolish in a clever and demeaning comment.

  9. We like being alone. Avoiding social events most people enjoy always seems more attractive than the social event itself. I mean, why can’t we just find a nice quiet rock to live under? Ignorance isn’t bliss, ignorance of the rest of the world is.

  10. Suicidal. This may not be full-on depression or bipolar suicidal with plans to actually erase ourselves. But it is a general feeling of exhaustion about life that it would just be easier to stop existing. A sort of exaggerated ‘death wish’.

  11. No fun. We need our routines. Spontaneous decisions are just too taxing on our psyche to be able to handle. There is safety in routine and we need it above all else. Acting out of the norm will surely lead to our downfall.

  12. All work. Not only do we avoid doing anything ‘crazy’ to spice things up in life, but we may also completely throw ourselves in the overwhelming safety of work. We can say it is for money or fame, but none of it truly relieves our sense of self-loathing and self-disgust. We are looking for safety from the outside world from the dangers of our inner world, and we never succeed due to that. Retirement and holidays are avoided, subconsciously or consciously.


Great. What now?

Don’t worry. There may not actually be anything wrong with you to get worried about.

Obviously, not all of these signs mean we have a mental disorder. Perhaps we like being alone because we are more introverted than extroverted. Maybe we can’t poop due to a lack of fiber. Like most things in life, we must always look at the information with a bit of wisdom.


Likewise, there could be other signs not listed here of some mental issues that should be examined. Generally, any time we seem to be struggling with any sort of

  • emotional difficulties (affect lability, rage, depression, and panic),

  • cognitive difficulties (dissociation and pathological changes in personal identity),

  • behavioral difficulties (impulsivity, aggressiveness, sexual acting out, alcohol/drug misuse, and self-destructive behavior),

  • interpersonal difficulties (chaotic personal relationships),

we should consider digging a little deeper to see if there is an underlying cause.


If you would like to dig into some more reputable sources of information, here are links to the veteran’s affairs page on C-PTSD, and here is a UK mental health website.


If you would like a more entertaining, but also enlightening, read that shows the mind of a character suffering from (possible) C-PTSD with a look into its causes, ‘Anger and Hope’ is a great book for that. ;)


Great, now I need to find a shrink.

‘Thanks, Warren. Now, I know I’m doomed.’


You’re welcome? Truthfully, we are all a little damaged, if it isn’t PTSD or BPD or C-PTSD, it may very well be something else. The DSM-V is large and comprehensive and has room for us all.


So, what do we do about possibly having C-PTSD?


The first thing to do is to realize, albeit with a bit of courage, that we may have had some pretty terrible things that happened to us we haven’t fully digested. It could be

  • a string of bad relationships in our early adulthood

  • or being a prisoner of war

  • or emotional neglect as a child


Whatever it was, we will need a safe and stable environment to explore and examine it. This may be with a parent, a partner, or a therapist. This may seem impossible considering our overactive imaginations of all the dangers surrounding us, but it should be an active goal at this point to find it.


I get it. It’s hard. We’ve had to survive and struggle through so many things we don’t ever feel any place is safe and stable.

  • We have an unshaken fear from our childhood that maybe our parents put us in

  • We were taught be believe we were unacceptable or always wrong

  • We had to handle difficult situations purely based on the idea of ‘being brave’

  • We went years without having anybody assure us of our value

  • We’ve been judged harshly many times over countless years


It’s hard to believe there may be someplace that is safe and stable to unpack these locked away issues and deal with them.


Whatsmore, we had mostly ‘good’ families. Yet, it’s beginning to show in research that even those really successful families with great life-achievements can be as damaging to a child’s upbringing as the deprived family powdered with violence.


Relax. You’re going to be fine.

If any of this is striking a chord within, you should stop playing the ‘just be brave’ or ‘man up’ card. We need compassion and understanding. It’s okay to admit that.


We need to feel that someone cares and will listen to us as we remove our armor and reveal our yucky guts we’ve been carrying around. Those buried traumas that are sucking the life out of us.


If these particular issues strongly strike a chord with you, perhaps it is best to look for a therapist that specializes in C-PTSD, or just someone specialized in trauma or teaching us to show greater compassion towards ourselves.


In its simplest diagnosis, Complex PTSD can trace its most basic cause to a lack of love. If we feel loved and accepted and understood, we can face and deal with any issues, past or present or future.


With this being said, the most obvious cure is found in love. This doesn’t mean you have to hop back on Tinder or eHarmony. I am talking about love in the most difficult form there is: self-love.


Let us stop hating ourselves the way we were once taught to, either directly or indirectly. Let us learn to love the person we hate most… ourselves.


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© 2017 Created by Warren Stribling