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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

How Long Does It Take to Recover From C-PTSD?

Explore the uniquely personal and long-term journey of C-PTSD recovery.

Key points

  • Recovery from C-PTSD is deeply personal and varies for everyone.
  • There's no set timeline for healing from C-PTSD; it's unique for each individual.
  • The symptoms of C-PTSD span emotional dysregulation and physical manifestations.
  • The complexity of C-PTSD ensures it's a long-term healing journey and not an easy trek.

Part 1 of a two-part series.

Let's explore complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), what it is, and how the road to recovery may feel like an arduous trek, but it is a journey you can complete successfully despite how long it can be and the difficulties encountered along the way.

Why C-PTSD Recovery Can Feel Like a Never-Ending Journey

Starting on a journey to recovery from C-PTSD can, for so many of us, feel akin to setting off on a trek through Mordor versus a short, one-mile loop through your favorite park.

Big. Scary. Arduous. Seemingly never-ending. Filled with danger.

It's a natural response, a question often stemming from desperation and so many years of pain, to wonder, "How long will it take to recover from C-PTSD? Is there an end to this journey, or will this go on forever? How will I know when I'm done? Why isn't this done yet?"

I get it because I've asked all these questions, too.

Many times.

It's perfectly natural for you to want to know the timeline of your recovery and to be frustrated with how long it feels.

Who wants to start a hike without having some idea of when they'll reach the summit or at least a rest point where they can sit down, have some water, and rest their weary legs?

Not me.

But just as every hike is unique—meaning as unique as the person and the capabilities of their body undertaking it, not to mention the topography and terrain traversed—so too is the path to recovery from C-PTSD unique and subjective.

That means that no one, really, not ever, can ethically tell you how long your recovery from C-PTSD will last or when you'll be done.

Not what you wanted to hear, I know, but bear with me because I have some more nuance despite the lack of my crystal ball about when your journey will end.

While each person's C-PTSD will be unique, what's true for nearly all of us is that the complexity of C-PTSD makes it a "long-haul" healing journey rather than a sprint with a definitive finish line.

It is a long-distance trek and not a short one-mile loop through our favorite park.

This can seem overwhelming, but remember, this journey of C-PTSD recovery is not about reaching the end as quickly as possible but about making tangible progress, no matter how small it might seem at the time.

And on this seemingly endless proverbial hike, even though it feels like Mordor, there is a basic map, there are ways we navigate the terrain, and there are markers of progress along the way.

And these trail markers, in particular, are vital reminders that you're not standing still; you're moving forward.

And knowing how and when to look out for these markers is important so you can keep faith "on the hike."

So, while the answer to "How long will it take to recover from C-PTSD?" is wholly subjective and nearly impossible to answer, I want to share a proverbial kind of "map" of the journey that most trauma therapists will guide their clients through on their C-PTSD recovery "hike" and what "trail markers" of progress can be so you can decide for yourself if you're making progress and what "being done" with the hike looks like for you.

What Is Complex PTSD?

First, let's break down and define what complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) is so we can understand the complexity of the recovery journey.

Acknowledged by the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases, 11th Revision—a globally used diagnostic tool for epidemiology, health management, and clinical purposes—C-PTSD condenses the tangled, jagged aftermath of complex trauma into clear (but goodness knows not simple) diagnostic schema which center on three primary domains:

  • Affective dysregulation (aka an inability to emotionally regulate oneself) expressed through an extended presence of negative and distressed emotional states.
  • Persistent alterations in consciousness encompassing memory gaps, dissociation, and changes in self-perception.
  • Somatic and somatopsychic (aka relating to the body and mind) symptoms that signify profound alterations in physical experiences (e.g., chronic pain, gastrointestinal (GI) issues, body dysmorphic disorder, and more).
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Essential Reads

On top of these primary schema, individuals dealing with C-PTSD may also experience pervasive maladaptive thoughts about themselves and others, leading to dysfunctional relationship patterns and isolation.

They may also experience an overwhelming sense of being defeated or trapped, intensified by feelings of guilt and shame.

Moreover, they may also deal with emotional turmoil, which often results in reckless or self-destructive behavior, providing temporary relief but causing long-term harm.

They can also struggle with rapid and intense changes in emotional reactivity, and difficulty managing emotional and physical stress responses are also prevalent, further complicating the diagnosis.

Another critical component of C-PTSD includes disturbances in self-organization, which may manifest as instability in goals, aspirations, values, or career directions.

Finally, performance in areas such as work, self-care, and leisure can be severely compromised, causing additional distress and disruption in daily life.

Really, the complexity of C-PTSD cannot be understated.

Why am I emphasizing this?

To showcase that it was never going to be an easy, one-mile loop around your favorite park.

It was always going to feel more like Mordor than an easy stroll.

The complexity and intensity of the symptoms that co-occur as part of this C-PTSD diagnosis mean that we've already graduated into the trek and long-haul hike territory if we choose to begin a healing journey from our C-PTSD symptoms.

It's so important to acknowledge this—that our journey will be long-haul versus short—given the very nature of what we're trying to recover from.

But it is a hike where there can be a proverbial kind of "end," despite how long it can be and despite the lack of exact knowledge about the timeline.


“Classification of Diseases.” World Health Organization. Accessed March 25, 2024.

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