Complex PTSD: 10 Symptoms You May Not Know Are Connected

There are so many trauma survivors in this world, we are affected by a number of things from natural disaster, to war, to assault, to abuse, and our healing journeys are all different and individual.

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 but arent’ always talked about:

Heightened Startle Reflex

Let us not confuse heightened startle response with being genuinely surprised.

I am talking about the type of startle that has you jumping out of your skin. 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

You may not even realize when you are doing it. It’s a result of operating in a constant state of hyper-arousal, you are always tense and alert. It is not uncommon to experience muscle aches.

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 can feel like they come out of nowhere and for the most minor of infraction. Suddenly you are responding with anger or irritability and you can’t stop it.

I call my own struggle “stupid rage” when talking it out in therapy. I am getting better at recognizing it, but there was a time what I didn’t even know it is happening until I was out of breathe 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

For many of us, there are many physical symptoms and/or issues that are medically inexplicable, yet we struggle with nonetheless.

Then there are the smaller things, the ways our bodies and nervous system respond when we are triggered. The shaking, the adrenaline, the scattered thoughts.

For me, the biggest physical symptoms 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.

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. We have different filtering systems for information, and we have a different idea of what healthy interactions are.

According to Bessel Van Der Kolk , author of The Body Keeps The Score: “Many traumatized people expose themselves, seemingly compulsively, to situations reminiscent of the original trauma. These behavioral reenactments are rarely consciously understood to be related to earlier life experiences.”

Lethargy / Chronic Fatigue

Plain and simple, not to be confused with laziness, childhood trauma causes full body fatigue. It may even cause chronic fatigue in adults.

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 and your nervous system getting away from you. It can be uncomfortable and scary – it may even get your thinking it is 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.

Excessive Daydreaming

Everyone daydreams at some point, but do you ever feel like you can’t get a handle on your thoughts? Or do your thoughts ever turn into worst case scenarios before you even realize you were distracted and off in deep thought to begin with?

Daydreaming is a means of escape, be gentle with yourself as you work through this, daydreaming isn’t always a bad thing.

Being Drawn to Isolation

I think we all feel this deeply.

It is such a universal survival skill for trauma survivors, so familiar and comfortable you may not even realize it is a coping skill. 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

Emotional dysregulation is described as inability to process and express emotions properly. Part of Complex PTSD is developmental trauma which encompasses all the things you missed out on as a child. Learning emotional regulation is a difficult part of trauma healing.

Please remember you weren’t taught how to regulate your emotions as a child and that is not your fault, but with practice you will figure it out.


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

Looking for Ways to Connect With Other Survivors and/or Receive Support as You Heal?

Survivor’s Circle Peer Support Groups might be just what you need. 

These small groups meet on alternating Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays via Zoom. In these groups, survivors connect, share, and support each other through the ebbs and flows of healing. Attend a session and experience the magical healing that happens when survivors connect and support each other through shit only we can understand.

You can also book individual 1:1 peer support sessions with Shanon for private support in a closed space. You deserve support as you heal, and I am here to help. You don’t have to heal alone.

Shanon is a trauma informed, trained, and Certified Peer Support Specialist in the state of Wisconsin. She is a survivor with years committed to her own trauma healing after being diagnosed with (C) PTSD due to childhood abuse. Additionally, she has a professional and personal history of community facilitation and peer work.

These support groups and 1:1 peer support sessions should not replace professional therapy; they will however provide additional support and information.

5 thoughts on “Complex PTSD: 10 Symptoms You May Not Know Are 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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