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Complex Trauma: What is the difference between CPTSD and PTSD?

Updated: Mar 24, 2023

  • Traditional PTSD is linked to a single incident shock trauma.

  • Complex PTSD is an experience of repeated, inescapable, and long-term exposure to trauma or adverse events, often in development in one’s childhood, but also occurring in adulthood in some cases.

Developmental trauma negatively impacts one’s ability to attach properly in relationships, which we require in order to fulfill our needs as social creatures. It also disturbs our spiritual nature, our deepest core beliefs, our sense of self and identity, and our inherent existential curiosity towards purpose and meaning in life. It is quite literally a spiritual wound.

Common traumatic injuries associated with CPTSD include abuse, neglect, and relational wounding, often during formative years. Effects from this type of trauma are not always obvious. An individual struggling with CPTSD might often appear to be a high-functioning, well-adjusted adult on the outside. On the inside, they are typically burdened with pain, a crippling low sense of worth, cycles of depression and anxiety, and limiting inner narratives and intrusive thoughts controlled by an “inner critic” (anyone know of an enemy that has access to our intellect and seeks to feast on our pain? ).


  • Emotional flashbacks (reliving a historical emotional experience in the present moment)

  • Emotional dysregulation

  • Crippling low self-esteem

  • A harsh inner-critic voice

  • Distrust or avoidance of others, relationships, and authority figures (often resulting in a “God wound”)

  • Negative outlook on the world, self, and existence

  • Distorted self-perception

  • Dissociation (“checking out” from or feeling disconnected from reality)

  • Impaired relationship dynamics

  • Codependency

  • Difficulty with boundaries


  • General Anxiety

  • Panic Attacks

  • Social Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Gut Issues

  • Sleep Disturbances

  • Hypervigilance

  • Flashbacks

  • Nightmares or Night Terrors

  • Avoidance behaviors

  • Hyper-focusing on others or “assessing for safety” in your environments

  • Chronic pain or muscle tension

  • Headaches

  • Anger Management Issues

  • Negative Core Beliefs

I want to reassure you that recovery from complex trauma is entirely possible. It does not have to be a prison sentence for you mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Healing these wounds requires learning about and understanding your experiences through a compassionate lens, developing love for yourself with the assistance of our loving Creator, leaning on Christ through the pain and offering it up to Him along the way, resolving unprocessed memories, and learning important skills that you may have missed in terms of developmental milestones.

Additionally, one of the most important factors in working with this disorder is the relationship you have with your therapist. This is a relational wound that must also be healed in relationship. With a holistic approach that addresses the spiritual, bodily, and mental impacts of trauma, as well as a loving counselor companion you can entrust with your pain, you can overcome the wounds of CPTSD. Trauma has a unique way of leading us into the depth of our souls which eventually reveals the beauty on the other side of our pain and suffering. According to God, darkness is where the light comes in.

"...when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me." Micah 7:8

"...God is light and in him there is no darkness." 1 John 1:5

"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." Psalm 119:105

"You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light." Psalm 18:28

"The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." John 1:5

Soul Revival Christian Counseling is based in San Antonio, Texas and is accepting clients for virtual counseling in Texas and Colorado. Please visit us at for more information or to book a free 30 minute phone consultation with Michelle Byrd, M.Ed., LPC.

** DISCLAIMER: The information contained herein is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not therapeutic or medical advice nor a substitute for therapy. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any mental health problem. If you are located within the United States and you need emergency assistance please call 988 or 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. If you are located within Colorado you may also call the Colorado Crisis Line at 844-493-TALK (8255). **

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