PTSD or C-PTSD?
Hopefully, you’re not one of the muns out there who has slapped a “PTSD” label on your muse(s) for drama only. You are, instead, treating this topic with respect and the realism that comes with that, not only having it accurately impact your muse when it’s convenient and “fun” for you. Well, that respect and realism includes actually knowing and applying the correct diagnosis and symptoms as well.
In your defense, if you have misdiagnosed your muse, common terminology in media and even among trauma sufferers is often just the blanket-statement of PTSD. Also, as the abbreviations imply, they do have things in common.
To help, I’m going to break down their differences and similarities, then provide some research links including personal accounts to help you get started.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder most often comes from a single traumatic event.
What can be a traumatic event can differ widely, and reasonably so; we’re not all the same person, processing events and emotions the same way, or with the same formative life experiences. What might cause PTSD to develop in one person might be processed by another as a frightening or painful incident, but not one that has left them with PTSD. The symptoms, individual, and incident have to all be taken into account.
That being said, some examples would include:
having a severe accident
being mugged or in a store that is robbed
physical or sexual assault
being involved in a shooting, in any way
death of a loved one
an unexpected explosion or sudden, natural event like a mudslide or tornado
a severe natural or man-made disaster (building collapse, mass flooding)
events outside of oneself like witnessing a violent assault, murder, deadly car accidents, terminal illness or injury
Again, it is important to remember that individuals react in individual ways, and as such, their symptoms can express with some variation. Don’t just mimic the same presentations you’ve seen in media, research a variety of real experiences.
However they manifest, key symptoms of PTSD include:
Re experiencing the event by way of nightmares, flashbacks, and repetitive, intrusive, and intensely upsetting images, thoughts, and sensations. This is the most common symptom of PTSD, in which the person involuntarily and vividly relives the trauma.
Avoidance and emotional numbing, going to extremes to avoid not just potential triggers, but also finding any way possible to push memories of the event out of their minds. When the latter occurs and is extreme, the person is trying to feel nothing at all, seeking a path to emotional numbness. That can include substance use and abuse, self-harming, and other harmful behaviors.
Feeling on edge (”Hyperarousal”) is the ultimate inability to relax, constantly looking for threats, perceiving threats that are not to be found, and being easily startled. Some of the common issues with being locked into this state include difficulty sleeping or even insomnia, severe irritability and irrational seeming aggression, angry or aggressive outbursts, and finding concentration difficult to impossible.
Some other things that might develop with PTSD are:
Other mental health concerns like anxiety, depression, and/or phobias
as said above, harmful behaviors like self-harming and substance abuse
physical symptoms like headaches, stomach and digestive upsets, dizziness, and generalized pain
Like all disorders, PTSD is complex. I, again, implore you to research not only information put out by psychiatric professionals but also the experiences of real people.
Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs when a person experiences repeated, consistent trauma, especially at an early age.
That doesn’t mean that adults cannot and do not develop C-PTSD, they do, and for a variety of reasons; adult sufferers have the same points of origin in the diagnosis as children do. Additionally, it may take years for someone to seek help, feel their symptoms are severe enough to need to, or be able to extricate themselves from the situation in order to receive help of any kind. They may be an adult by the time this happens.
The important thing to remember about C-PTSD is that it isn’t a single traumatic incident, and you are more likely to have this form of PTSD if the trauma occurred early in life, it was inflicted by someone close to you, and/or was inflicted by someone you still see on a regular basis.
Some good examples to give you the idea include:
ongoing domestic violence
child abuse and/or neglect
being raised by a parent with a severe disorder like Narcissistic Personality Disorder
repeatedly witnessing violence or abuse
being a part of a cult
being a victim of human trafficking or slavery
It isn’t “complex” because it is always across the board “more severe.” This isn’t simply “even worse PTSD,” and shouldn’t be treated like that. Its source is more complex, the development and embedded varieties of its impact are, and the ongoing treatment is.
Particularly when C-PTSD occurs in childhood, there are lasting effects on a person’s development. They have developed in an environment that constantly has them highly stressed both physically and psychologically, and in which they learn many ways of coping, lessening or negating harm, and so on, that leave them less than optimally functional and integrated in life outside the situation.
While the person has the symptoms of PTSD, they will additionally exhibit:
difficulty developing and/or maintaining relationships of any sort
intense, consistent feelings of worthlessness, shame, and guilt
problems managing and even understanding their own emotions
increased risk-taking behaviors
Those who have had their actual development rerouted to deal with the situations that generate C-PTSD have a higher incidence of physical symptoms, suicide, self-harm, substance abuse, and are at higher risk of repeat victimization.
They might go for some time without realizing that their daily experiences are neither the norm nor something sustainable, or how atypical their traumatic experiences were compared to those around them. It can sometimes take a serious life-event (suicide attempt, drug rehab, losing too many jobs, homelessness, or finding themselves in a genuine, loving relationship) for them to fully recognize something is wrong, and even then, their feelings of worthlessness, ingrained lack of self-confidence, and belief that they don’t deserve any better can prevent them from seeking help outside of themselves.
They may also believe that something is just “wrong” with them, that they are innately messed up, or that they have a different mental illness. And the unwillingness to open up to people, relieve events, etc. can additionally leave them unwilling to seek or continue care when they believe they have a different, underlying problem. Again, choosing to deal with this themselves through self-isolating, self-medicating, and seeking only relationships and jobs that will work within the framework of the disorder as it effects them.
Additionally, many sufferers of both C-PTSD and PTSD experience the same sense of societal shaming surrounding mental illness. They may struggle with denial, and refuse to seek assistance due to the stigma and all it entails.
Shared aspects of PTSD and C-PTSD
They’re both, obviously, severe, life-altering trauma experiences and resultant disorders. They both easily make the sufferer feel like the trauma and disorder is impossible or undesirable for others to deal with, that they are not worthy of being in close relationships, among many other similarities in experience living with either disorder regardless of widely varying traumas.
They share psychological and physical impacts, and there is a lot of overlap.
The core symptoms of PTSD are shared with C-PTSD:
relieving the trauma(s)
avoiding and emotional numbing
The shared physical symptoms can include:
nausea, stomach ache, and digestive upsets
difficulty sleeping and insomnia
chest pain and difficulty breathing
manifestations of low-grade to severe pain
Shared behaviors can include:
difficulty concentrating to outright dissociating
being hyper-vigilant, easily startled
may seem to be over-reactive to/in situations that others are perceiving as normal or not that big of a deal due to lower perception of personal emotions and lower emotional regulation
including explosive anger or defensiveness
development of anxiety and depression disorders, the symptoms thereof
Again, both PTSD and C-PTSD are serious disorders caused by trauma, and they both need to be treated with respect and accuracy when written into a character - be that an OC or a canon character. It is unfortunate, but these symptoms and the realities of life with either disorder are often portrayed badly in wider media, and the RPC often imitates what it sees.
PTSD and C-PTSD, like the incidents of trauma that created them (rape, child abuse, domestic violence, miscarriage, etc.), are not a plot-point, other point of interest, or a character trait, let alone a “character flaw.” They’re not something you only bring up for attention, to get your muse out of a bad spot, or to add dramatics when you’re bored in a thread. Neither are they something you need to attach to your muse simply to give them A Label. These are, I cannot stress this enough, serious topics, and they deserve to be treated that way.
You can do that by defining which variety of PTSD your muse may actually have, then adding research of both the disorder and how it impacts a variety of real people. Making your muse more realistic and being dedicated to sticking with it.
Below are some links to get you started on research! Please note, the real stories, as well as some information, may be graphic or triggering. Read responsibly.
Out of the Storm - Personal Stories of C-PTSD
-Contains real stories from those with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Their experiences have a huge range; bullying, childhood neglect and abuse, and sexual abuse and assault.
I Have Post-Traumatic Stress and Didn’t Know It - and You Might, Too
-Personal story of living, unknowingly, with C-PTSD. An especially great read for writers who have muses who hold a lot of responsibility in their daily lives, who may not realize their experiences are C-PTSD related, etc. Contains discussion of parental emotional abuse, mental illness and childhood trauma, and rape.
What is C-PTSD?
-Excellent resource for detailed breakdowns of C-PTSD giving without a clinical, impersonal tone. The definitions of the disorder itself, symptoms and how it manifests and impacts daily life, and much more. A highly recommended source, and one with further resources on-site.
11 “Habits” of People Living with C-PTSD
-Short breakdown of C-PTSD, followed by snippets of specific experiences in the words of those living with the disorder, a relatively short article.
Rebecca’s Story: Living with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
-Personal story of a woman living with PTSD from, in short, being stalked by a co-worker. It’s an excellent article, particularly for how mental illnesses sufferers are treated and portrayed, and how that adds another layer of difficulty to their lives. Obviously, this may be triggering to those who have been stalked, and includes mentions of graphic threats.
My experience of PTSD
-A personal story of medical trauma resulting in PTSD. Many of the PTSD stories you’ll find are from women and involve sexual trauma or harassment, in trying to find a variety of stories, I’ve found this one. By this point, you should be noticing many similarities in these stories, regardless of specific trauma.
Leaving the Battlefield: Soldier Shares Story of PTSD
-So many muses experience PTSD through battle-related incidents, and those depictions are not always accurate in media. This is a personal story about one soldier’s experiences. His perception of PTSD, denial, and shame at having the disorder is something that echoes throughout the previous accounts. So do the similarities of daily struggles to maintain to regular life. Before anyone wants to get Tumblr Nasty about it: there isn’t any “war propaganda” present in this story, the location of it is irrelevant to what you’re supposed to be learning here. It’s literally this man’s experience, don’t.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
-Breakdown of symptoms and causes from Mayo Clinic, so obviously, this is more clinical-minded. Particularly useful for its lists of things like “symptoms of negative changes in thinking and mood” and increased risk-factor for other disorders.
I hope this helps you to assess and write more accurately your muses with C-PTSD or PTSD, and to consider these things more fully when having your muse experience a traumatic event in your plots.
Please, remember when you are reading these accounts, and anywhere you might encounter PTSD sufferers; these are REAL PEOPLE. Treat them and their stories with respect. You’ll note that, unlike other posts on this blog, I didn’t advise you to approach the source. Many trauma sufferers won’t be comfortable sharing their experiences for the sake of your creative hobby. You may, at your respectful discretion, discuss this with close friends you know to be impacted by PTSD, just keep in mind that respect, discretion, and only bringing the topic up when they are comfortable with it, with specific questions, is necessary here. These are not fictional characters! Do not write someone’s real experiences into your character, thread, etc. verbatim, that’s...fucked up. Thanks in advance for being responsible, respectful adults, from a real life PTSD sufferer. -Vespertine
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