If you've been involved in a high-conflict relationship, you're probably familiar with feelings of shame, guilt, and self-blame. Perhaps you're ruminating about the relationship and feel hopeless and despair. You may even be suicidal.

If the stress of a high conflict goes on for many years or is very intense, you may have a variant of PTSD called complex post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). It's not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, but it is widely accepted: some people see it as a combination of PTSD and the Stockholm Syndrome.

Let's take it one step at a time.

Clinical psychologist Dr Joseph M Carver, PhD, who has a number of great articles on his website  says in an online discussion that, "Every victim of abuse experiences some, if not multiple, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Carver writes:

[T]hese symptoms linger many years; some for a lifetime. Everyone knows this but it's rarely bought up...During our period of abuse, the brain collects thousands of memories that contain details of our abusive experiences and the feelings (horror, terror, pain, etc.) made at that time. In what we call "traumatic recollection," any similar experience in the future will recall the emotional memory of the abuse, forcing us to relive the event in detail and feeling.

Most people think of PTSD as happening only to people who have been in extreme circumstances, such as war veterans. However, in her book Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence--from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror (1997) Judith Herman describes a subtype of PTSD she calls complex post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD).

Forms of trauma that can lead to C-PTSD

These include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Domestic violence.
  • Sexual abuse (especially child sexual abuse) 

Signs of PTSD

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD symptoms can be grouped into three categories:

1. Re-experiencing symptoms:

  • Flashbacks-reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating.
  • Bad dreams.
  • Frightening thoughts.

2. Avoidance symptoms:

  • Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry
  • Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past
  • Having trouble remembering the dangerous event.

3. Hyperarousal symptoms:

  • Being easily startled
  • Feeling tense or "on edge"
  • Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts.

Signs of Complex PTSD (C-PTSD)

You can find a full list here.

  • Persistent anxiety, anguish, and depression
  • Feeling suicidal
  • Exploding with anger or being unable to express anger.
  • Forgetting traumatic events or remembering them in a fragmented way
  • Being preoccupied with or reliving traumatic events
  • Feeling helpless, powerless
  • Experiencing shame, guilt, and self-blame
  • Feeling stigmatized
  • Feeling different from others; utterly alone
  • Accepting the belief system or rationalizations of the blamer
  • Ex[periencing isolation and withdrawal from others
  • Persistent distrust of others
  • Repeatedly failing to protect yourself
  • Loss of a faith that used to sustain you
  • Having a sense of hopelessness and despair

This website says that Herman divides recovery from CPTSD into three stages: establishing safety, mourning what was lost, and reconnecting to society

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