What is PTSD?

Complex ptsd. General PTSD Facts

General PTSD Facts

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that seriously affects the lives of individuals in many ways. PTSD can occur after someone experiences, sees or learns about a traumatic event in which a person was exposed to (threatened) death/sexual violence and/or serious injury. Common examples of traumatic events are: a (car) accident, natural disasters, sexual/physical/emotional abuse, robbery, and public humiliation.
Complex PTSD is a developmental trauma disorder (DTD) that can develop after prolonged exposure to social and/or interpersonal trauma. Complex PTSD occurs in the context of entrapment, captivity or dependence. Common examples of traumatic events that lead to complex PTSD are: prolonged exposure to sexual/physical/emotional abuse, bullying, held captive, war, and extreme poverty. This makes the victim feel helpless, without any control, and can even change someone’s identity and sense of self. On this page, we discuss the differences between Complex PTSD, PTSD and post-traumatic stress (PTS).

At Barends Psychology Practice, we treat PTSD, complex PTSD, and PTS. Schedule your first, free of charge, session now. Go to contact us. (Depending on your health insurance, treatment may reimbursed).


What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

PTSD war facts. Interesting war statistics. Complex ptsd.
A person may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (months) after being exposed to one or more traumatic events. Examples are: a traffic accident, sexual or physical abuse, warfare, and bullying. A person does not have to experience the traumatic event themselves in order to develop PTSD. Simply witnessing a car accident, a robbery or abuse can trigger the development of PTSD.
Not everyone develops PTSD. If two people experience the same traumatic event, it is possible only one of them develops PTSD. This can be very confusing and for some even shameful. Unfortunately, there is very little you can do to prevent yourself from getting PTSD. Currently, experts believe it has something to do with the way people process traumatic events, but even the experts do not know exactly how it works.

Someone with PTSD experiences symptoms such as: nightmares and/or flashbacks of the event, avoidance or numbing of the traumatic memories, severe anxiety, hyper-arousal and sleeping problems.

Although almost everyone experiences one or more traumatic events in their lifetime, most people do not develop Post-traumatic stress disorder. Approximately 5% of people develop PTSD at one point in their lives. The PTSD symptoms someone experiences right after a traumatic experience usually disappear within a few weeks/months and treatment is not required. For some, however, the symptoms do not disappear and start affecting one’s ability to function. Without proper PTSD treatment, one can suffer from the PTSD symptoms for years.
If you want to know whether you have PTSD, go to PTSD checklist to fill out our PTSD test and get results instantly. We offer online PTSD, C-PTSD and PTS treatment.

What is the difference between Post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma / post-traumatic Stress?

A lot of people who experienced a traumatic event (car accident, combat or kidnapping) do not meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These people may experience post-traumatic stress  (PTS, sometimes called trauma). PTSD and PTS have similar symptoms and are easily confused. PTS symptoms are: feeling nervous or afraid, having shaky hands, increased heart rate, sweating, avoiding situations that remind you of the traumatic event, having a bad dream about the event, and being distracted (difficulty focusing or staying concentrated).

The differences between PTSD and PTS/trauma are:

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms:

  • Last for more than a month.
  • Are severe.
  • Interfere with your daily functioning.

PTS/Trauma symptoms:

  • Usually last less than one month.
  • Are intense, but subside after a few days.
  • Will not interfere with your daily life for a long time.

* For a detailed list of PTSD symptoms, please read: PTSD symptoms.

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It can happen that you have PTS and that some symptoms do not disappear. In that case, it is good to seek help and talk about your experience with a counselor. A few sessions is usually enough to restart or kickstart processing the traumatic event. It is better to turn to a trauma therapist than to ignore it, as suffering from these symptoms is simply not worth it.

What is the difference between C-PTSD and normal PTSD?

Although complex PTSD is not an official disorder, it is a widely known PTSD type and is used for those who have experienced social and/or interpersonal trauma (captivity or entrapment) for a long period of time. These situations can result in feelings of helplessness, loss of control, deformations of identity and sense of self. Examples in which people can develop complex PTSD are: sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, domestic violence or torture. Think of concentration camps, being held hostage, child sexual abuse, enduring physical or emotional abuse from a parent for a longer period of time. A long history of being bullied can also result in complex PTSD as well. In the examples mentioned in this paragraph, the person felt they could not escape the situation, and the victim has experienced more than one of these traumatic events.

In other words: you can develop PTSD after one traumatic event like an accident, but that single event will not develop into complex PTSD. The development of complex PTSD is likely if you were in a traumatizing situation for a long period of time in which you had the feeling you could not escape. Such a situation can easily last months or years, and often these experiences change your personality. People with complex PTSD can have outbursts of anger, generally feel sad, and often have suicidal thoughts. Sometimes they can forget about the horrible event or relive it. Feelings of  guilt, shame, helplessness and worthlessness are common. Those suffering from complex PTSD can find it hard to trust others again. Issues with intimacy are common as well. This can be accompanied by a developed preference for social and emotional isolation. Here are the differences between PTSD and complex PTSD.

The difference between PTSD and C-PTSD


  • One or few traumas.
  • Flashbacks.
  • Nightmares about the trauma.
  • Avoidance of things that remind of trauma.
  • Anxiety and depression.
  • Hyper-vigilance.
  • Exaggerated startle reflex.
  • Some dissociation.

Complex PTSD.

  • Chronic inescapable traumas.
  • Flashbacks.
  • Night terrors and chronic insomnia.
  • Social isolation, avoidance of relationship.
  • Severe alterations in affect regulation.
  • Hyper-vigilance, preoccupation with abuser.
  • Fragmented sense of self.
  • No filter, easily overwhelmed.

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Both types of PTSD can be treated, but complex PTSD typically requires more therapy sessions. Sometimes it takes even more than a year to recover from complex PTSD. If you think you have complex PTSD make sure you see a good trauma therapist. It is also very important that you and the therapist have a connection.