A definition of Complex PTSD

I stumbled across a document titled “The ISTSS Expert Consensus Treatment Guidelines For Complex PTSD In Adults“. I have not finished reading it because, ironically, it causes my symptoms to surface. Right now, I am nauseated, my stomach and throat are burning from stomach acid, and I have vertigo. Before discussing their treatment, they first define Complex PTSD. I did not expect that the definition would include me because the document opened by saying it applied to treating “individuals who are exposed to prolonged and repeated trauma such as childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, and political violence,” and I missed the word “political” when I first read it. (Plus, I have not experienced actual political violence; only the implicit threat of violence that must come with all legal systems.)


The definition, however, precisely defines my current life. Three symptoms of PTSD that must be present:

  1. Re-experiencing [traumatic events]
  2. Avoidance/numbing [avoidance of events, places, people, that might trigger re-experiencing, numbing the senses to avoid feeling anything]
  3. Hyper-arousal [meaning a constant, alert state; a common symptom is being more easily startled than before the trauma]

A combination of one or more of the following symptom domains:

  1. Emotion regulation difficulties
  2. Disturbances in relational capacities
  3. Alterations in attention and consciousness (e.g., dissociation)
  4. Adversely affected belief systems
  5. Somatic distress or disorganization

The three “core symptoms” were not surprising, but I was blown away when I read the five groups. They describe my so well that they triggered the physical pain. 1) Emotionally, I am unpredictable; 2) I’ve lost nearly all of my personal and professional relationships; 3) I’ve sometimes talked about feeling that my rational mind was not working properly, but I never connected that symptom with my PTSD; 4) Yeah, I don’t exactly have the same beliefs about law, the United States, friendship, kinship, or many other things; and 5) I slept for four straight days.

I don’t feel relieved

I have heard other people describe relief when they find a medical definition for their problems, especially if that definition suggests specific treatments. Despite this document well defining my symptoms and the title being “Treatment Guidelines”, I don’t feel any relief. Maybe the lack of relief and the physical pain I am experiencing are part of the PTSD. I don’t know.

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