C-PTSD: 10 unusual symptoms you didn’t realize were connected

There are so many trauma survivors in this world. Affected by a number of things from natural disaster, to war, to assault, to abuse.

When we talk about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a society we often gloss over the complex side of this illness. The part that encompasses those abused as children, over the course of many years, and in a number of ways. The general understanding of PTSD is basic: flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.

It is SO much more.


Here is a list of symptoms that manifest often in those who struggle with Complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that isn’t always talked about:

Heightened Startle Reflex

This should not to be confused with being genuinely surprised. I remember one time I was walking out of the house and a passing car drove through a puddle, the sound startled me so bad I had to sit down to calm my racing heart and regain control from the spike of adrenaline.

Muscle aches

A result of operating in a constant state of tense hyper vigilance. It’s no joke navigating the day in such an alert state of mind; locked in fight, flight, or freeze mode is an absolute survival mechanism.

Fits of Explosive Rage

These will feel like they come out of nowhere and for the most minor of infraction. I call it “stupid range” when talking it out in therapy. I normally don’t even know it is happening until I am out of breathe and weak from exploding over something as trivial as being unable to figure out the input on the TV after my toddler pushed a bunch of buttons.


Unexplained Physical Symptoms

The body shakes, adrenaline shots, pensive fear – however it is that your body responds to trauma triggers, which always seem to show up at the most inopportune times. For me, the biggest physical symptom I have to manage is a tense shivering that will over take me if I am discussing certain aspects of my abuse or if I find myself in a situation evoking a trauma response. This will happen regardless of if I am aware of the emotions or not. My teeth will chatter and my shivering is normally very noticeable.

Repeat negative behavior

This is sadly a very common symptom of C-PTSD. It has to do with the physiological changes in the brain as a response to the trauma being experienced. The changes affect a survivor’s ability to filter information properly as well as emotional responses so behavior that is trauma driven is often repeated at work, within the family , and in relationships regardless of level of intimacy despite the age or experience of the survivor.


Plain and simple. Not to be confused with laziness. I often sit in my house knowing full well what I need to get done and wanting badly to be able to muster the energy and motivation to get up and do it. The shame and guilt that follows lethargy is real too.

Racing Heart Rate and/or Heavy Chest

This is a tell-tale sign of a panic attack, however it can be so uncomfortable and scary it may cause you may think it’s more serious, triggering another level of anxiety attack. I don’t know how many times I have thought I was having a heart attack because my chest would feel heavy like I couldn’t draw a full breathe, or my heart was racing out of my chest.

In these moments do your best to control your breathing, make that your focal point.

Creating a Fantasy/Daydreaming

Mainly as you fall asleep at night, but perhaps often during the day too. I remember doing this the most in my early 20’s when I was only a few years out of the abuse. I’d fall asleep dreaming about winning the lottery (but never an obscene amount) so that I could live out a comfortable life with my child worry free.

While many people probably daydream; sleep is hard for trauma survivors due to stress hormones, anxiety, fear, etc. Drifting off to a daydream is the brain’s way of creating a safe place to relax and sleep.

Being Drawn to Isolation and Silence

I think we all feel this deeply. It is such a universal survival skill for trauma survivors, so familiar and comfortable. After enduring years of conditioned silence and isolation to protect our secrets, these emotions feel safe and controllable. Survivors can’t feel vulnerable if they stay within the protections of their own walls.


Emotional Dysregulation

Also known as an inability to process and express emotions properly. The trauma survivor brain has been altered through the experiences of abuse as a means of resilience. Trauma gets caught in the limbic system which is responsible for emotional response. Survivor’s brains are on emotional overload so they often over-react, feel things more intensely, and have trouble expressing feelings properly (if at all).

What types of symptoms do you struggle with that should be talked about more?

Closing Comments

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5 thoughts on “C-PTSD: 10 unusual symptoms you didn’t realize were connected

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  1. Shanon, you get it so right! Your posts are so helpful.
    I’m wondering if you are familiar with the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) questionnaire and study? You can research it and take the questionnaire online.

  2. I didn’t know the shivering could be a symptom, I often wondered why it would randomly happen. Thanks for sharing this list!
    One symptom I would add is becoming physically ill with a mysterious flu or migraine after a trigger.

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