Overcoming Complex PTSD is Complicated

Q: Dear Frank, Could you respond to this thoughtful comment from a Gift From Within correspondent?

The reason I am writing is because I learned something valuable on Gift From Within and wanted to share it with you. I was at my wits end because my psychiatrist refers to my diagnosis as “extreme PTSD” as opposed to Complex PTSD. When I ask him why he doesn’t answer.

What I learned from your website is that Complex PTSD is not listed in the DSM. That makes sense to me. But what I learned from recovery throughout the years is that if you can’t name it you can’t claim it. And if you can’t claim it you can’t tame it. Thought I’d share that with you. Thanks for reading this.

A: Dear reader, Thank you, I agree–this is a thoughtful, useful comment. Here is my response: Complex PTSD is discussed in books, articles and academic conferences. We specialists in trauma all know what it means. (See https://www.giftfromwithin.org/ptsd/faq-complex-ptsd/ ) We do use it as a diagnostic term, although it is not regarded as an official diagnosis. If your psychiatrist says you have extreme PTSD he may mean that the symptoms are extreme — intense, prolonged, disabling.

Or he may mean that the traumas you endured were extreme — very harsh, painful, profound. When we defined PTSD we were looking for common ground – a concept that could be applied to survivors of very different circumstances, but with a group of symptoms that all such survivors could be expected to encounter. We then observed an important distinction. If you were traumatized repetitively and if you couldn’t escape you learned to adapt. You became a slave in bondage. You accepted a lower form of life. Then, if you were able to escape to freedom and normalcy, you had to overcome the attitudes and behaviors you developed in that captive state.

Complex PTSD is complicated. Overcoming it is complicated. But as you recover self-esteem and self-love, you are well on your way to real freedom. So it does make sense to NAME your situation as complex PTSD even if the DSM hasn’t caught up to it. The rest of us “experts” have. And it makes sense to CLAIM it. No shame in having a logical consequence to a form of prolonged trauma. And it makes sense to TAME it – by doing just what you are doing– reading and learning and sharing your insights.