How do I know if I have CPTSD?


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I think I have CPTSD from childhood trauma, but am not sure. (dad died mom went nuts, I was stuck living with her craziness and abuse for years)

How do I find out for sure?

I read Complex PTSD From Surviving to Thriving book by Pete Walker, and most of it resonated with me. Anyone else read it? I just started taking medication for anxiety a month ago and am feeling better, but want to work on my origin of pain. I read that there's no real test for CPTSD.

I told my therapist who I've been seeing for the past 8 weeks or so, at end of out last session that I think I have it, and so we didn't get to discuss it. Can my Primary Care Physician diagnose me? The not knowing for sure is driving me nuts, and I tend to have "all or nothing" thinking.

I think I want to have CPTSD to feel validated about why I ended up the way I am. But I don't want to accidently get diagnosed with something I don't have because I want validation. My challenge is that my trauma didn't happen until I was 13, I had a lovely childhood before that, so some of the ideas don't apply to me. Just flailing a bit.

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If you are seeking validation for your feelings, you don’t need a label for that. Your feelings are real and valid. I’ve felt that way before, like a diagnosis somehow justifies all of it. Like if you were really tired all of the time, and people called you lazy. Come to find out you have anemia, covid or mono. It all makes sense. You aren’t lazy! It’s a medical condition and can be fixed! The reality is, you are still really tired, but now you have a treatment plan.

I didn’t think that I had anything but ptsd. One day, I was feeling frustrated about my progress with emdr and my therapist told me, “your situation is a little bit more complex.” That was the day she said it, but it doesn’t really change anything. I’m still the same me with the same traumas and childhood.


1. What @Skywatcher said.

A diagnosis is simply an attempt to describe what’s already there. Your feelings are your feelings, and your life is your life. Both are already real. Both are already valid.

Can my Primary Care Physician diagnose me? The not knowing for sure is driving me nuts, and I tend to have "all or nothing" thinking.
2. If you’re in the US, no one can diagnose you, as CPTSD was rejected in the DSM5 as a seperate diagnosis. In most of Europe, or in countries outside of Europe that use the ICD for psych as well as medical diagnoses... anyone who is qualified to diagnose could -theoretically- diagnose you.

3. I have complex trauma up to my eyeballs. Does that mean I have CPTSD? Nope. The same way that living through trauma doesn’t mean a person has PTSD, living through complex trauma doesn’t mean a person has CPTSD. Complex trauma makes CPTSD possible, is all. Along with a whole helluva lot of other possibilities.

Trauma >>> PTSD, & a whole lot of other possible diagnoses

Complex Trauma >>> PTSD, CPTSD, & a whole lot of other possible dx’s

My challenge is that my trauma didn't happen until I was 13, I had a lovely childhood before that, so some of the ideas don't apply to me. Just flailing a bit.
4. A lot of people mistake the idea of complex trauma for developmental trauma. Developmental trauma? Has to happen early in childhood. Complex trauma can happen at any point in the lifespan.

One of the -many- reasons that the ICD has added the diagnosis of CPTSD is that Europe has very much been the gateway to the West for refugees fleeing wars, famine/plague, and disaster (or attempting to recover from homegrown wars, famine/plague, & disaster) for over a century. From WWI onward. Which means they’re seeing -and working closely with- adults who had beautiful childhoods, and even beautiful adulthoods, who have been thrust into years and decades of combat trauma (which is often complex in and of itself, it’s quite common to see CPTSD in soldiers & civilians -not just the residents but also the journalists, aid workers, et cetera- in conflict zones), violence, abuse, torture, rape, imprisonment, interrogation, executions in the street, whole cities burning, starvation, kidnap&ransom, bombings, assaults, domestic violence, list goes on. Meanwhile, places like the US, that haven’t seen a war on our own soil involving every level of the population in well over a century? The vast majority of the population absorbs the tiny percentage of people who leave the country & return, or who are granted refugee status like a drop into a bucket. (Whilst Europe is being waterboarded head first into a bucket). So the complex trauma WE tend to see the most of, outside of the VA? Is childhood based. Whilst the complex trauma seen in many other places in the world, knows no one age group, but all of them.

5. Similarly? A lot of people, especially in the US, mistake CPTSD as being synonymous with BPD. It’s not. Or it would simply be a comorbid diagnosis of PTSD & BPD. Yes. The personality shifting described in CPTSD can resemble BPD. But it can also resemble a whole lot of other personality disorders, or an amalgamation of several, or none at all because the personality shifting isn’t into the pathological, even though there is a marked/tremendous/foundational shift. <<< If it helps? Think of the adrenaline response. When 4 people panic they can kick into fight/flight/freeze/fawn. Those things a LOOK very different from each other, even though they’re caused by the exact same sudden flood of adrenaline. How some people mistake CPTSD with BPD would be like if someone only recognized the fight-response as an adrenaline response, and completely ignored people who flee, or freeze, or fawn. Someone can have CPTSD and exhibit zeeeeeero BPD traits, the same way that someone can never ever kick into fight response and still be experiencing a surge of adrenaline.

But I don't want to accidently get diagnosed with something I don't have because I want validation.
YAY! Then you’re way ahead of the curve. 😃 Seriously. Good on you.

In large part?
- Because people often mistake complexity for severity (someone can have severe PTSD, from a single trauma, that profoundly impacts their lives; whilst another has mild CPTSDis highly functional, and virtually asymptomatic);
- or people mistakenly see diagnosis as a pain scale. It’s not. It’s not like if it only hurts this much? It’s not PTSD. But if it hurts this much it’s PTSD. And if it hurts THIS much??? It’s CPTSD. It just doesn’t work that way. Keep in mind, too, people get PTSD/CPTSD from jobs they loooooooove. Surgeons, cops, journalists, soldiers, athletes, etc. Whilst pain is often a part of trauma? It’s not required.

More good news? I talked about about one of the reasons the ICD chose to break with the DSM about classifying CPTSD as a seperate but linked disorder (meaning in order to have CPTSD, one has to first qualify for a PTSD diagnosis). The major stated reason the DSM did NOT class it? The treatment for both is the same. Yep. Regardless of which disorder you have, it’s the same durn treatment. Which isn’t true for any other pair of disorders that I know of in either the DSM or ICD. As part of what differentiates disorders from each other is what works “best” to treat them. The timeline maaaaaaay look different? Generally speaking, complex trauma & multiple traumas take longer to treat that single or repetitive traumas. But a giant part of trauma treatment is stabilizing the person & their lives, teaching symptom management, coping skills, etc. So someone with a Santa’s List of traumas who has their life set up to be able to do trauma therapy? May finish years and years ahead of the person whose life is in chaos... for whatever reason. And it’s one of those; it doesn’t really matter if most people can expect a faster/slower recovery period, if you yourself are in the other group.

Clear as mud?

ETA ...this explains far better than I ever could Understand complex ptsd (cptsd)
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