Difference Between PTSD and Complex PTSD

Main Difference – PTSD vs Complex PTSD

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder are two conditions dealing with the human mind. The confusion between these two terms is caused by their similar features, demarcated by a very thin borderline. The main difference between PTSD and Complex PTSD is that PTSD usually develops following a single episode of trauma whereas Complex PTSD involves several traumatizing events on a long-term basis. However, it is important to know the unique features owned by those, in order to make necessary interventions in individual cases.Difference Between PTSD and Complex PTSD -infographic

What is PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric condition, which occurs following an incident of trauma such as a loss of a loved one, accident, sexual or physical abuse, murder, warfare, etc. This has the capacity to affect one’s life in several negative ways. An individual doesn’t necessarily need to experience or witness a traumatic event to develop PTSD, but learning about it, or hearing is just enough.

There are 5 subcategories of PTSD; namely, normal stress response, acute stress disorder, uncomplicated PTSD, comorbid PTSD, and complex PTSD.

People who are going through long lasting interpersonal trauma are more susceptible to have PTSD, depending on the severity of the condition, personal attitudes and threshold level for various emotions. In fact, members of the same family who witness a murder may respond to that scenario in different ways; while one stays calm, forgets it and moves on while another develops acute stress which might later convert into severe symptoms of PTSD.

The most significant features of PTSD include, disturbances in self-identification and individual views, tendency to involve in relationships and engage in activities which mirror the predisposed trauma, difficulties in controlling emotions and moods, inability to make rational decisions about self, continuous struggle in developing trust in relationships with others, nightmares, flashbacks about the traumatic event, avoidance of situations which remind about the trauma, hypervigilance, severe anxiety and depression, sexual and sleeping disturbances. Unfortunately, some affected people may even try to adopt the role of the abuser themselves, harming others and seeking situations which might give them the sense of original impact. These can last for months, interfering day to day activities and, if left undiagnosed, this can get worse over time, and convert into the condition known as complex PTSD.

Difference Between PTSD and Complex PTSD

What is Complex PTSD

Complex PTSD, also known as disorder of extreme stress,  is a condition which develops in individuals who experience a prolonged duration of victimization (months-years) due to various life events such as warfare, prostitution, long-term child abuse, physical abuse or sexual abuse, torture, long-term domestic violence, etc.

It is also defined as a disorder which overrides the symptoms of Post-traumatic stress disorder, in the aspects severity and duration of victimization.

Sufferers of Complex PTSD will often have severe disorientation of moods and attitudes, severe impairment of controlling impulses, physical symptoms like headaches, body aches, insomnia and fatigability, problems in self-identification (labelling their own self as defective or evil), emotional insecurity, difficulty in developing trust in others, alteration of the attitude about the abuser (rationalization or justification of the abusers actions), believing in an imaginary, meaningless or negative aspect of life and impaired self-consciousness.

Main Difference - PTSD vs Complex PTSD

Complex PTSD can develop as a result of long-term abuse.

Difference Between PTSD and Complex PTSD

Many researchers have identified Complex PTSD as a subtype of PTSD which follows an individual experience of social or interpersonal trauma, associated with inescapable entrapment or captivity over a long period of time.


PTSD: PTSD usually develops following a single episode of trauma, such as an accident or loss of a loved one.

Complex PTSD: Complex PTSD involves several traumatizing events on a long-term basis. These people will often change their personalities following the incident, for either good or bad.


PTSD: People who suffer from PTSD have the capacity to forget and move on after some time if they have a strong controlling power on their thoughts and emotions.

Complex PTSD: People who suffer from complex PTSD will get flashbacks and nightmares associated with insomnia from time to time despite their need to overcome the trauma.


PTSD: PTSD is often associated with behavioral issues and reckless activities like binge eating, abnormal sexual activities and drug or alcohol abuse.

Complex PTSD: People affected by Complex PTSD are also diagnosed with borderline personality disorders and dissociative disorders.


PTSD: Treatment methods available for Complex PTSD involve short-term counseling and drug therapy.

Complex PTSD: Treatment methods available for Complex PTSD involves multiple therapeutic sessions lasting for a longer time.

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About the Author: Hasa

Hasanthi is a seasoned content writer and editor with over 8 years of experience. Armed with a BA degree in English and a knack for digital marketing, she explores her passions for literature, history, culture, and food through her engaging and informative writing.