While anyone can develop post-traumatic stress disorder after a dangerous, terrifying or life-threatening experience, women are about twice as likely to struggle with this condition. For women, typical causes of PTSD include sexual assault, physical abuse and military service, though PTSD can stem from other sources.
PTSD is a mental health disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts and vivid flashbacks to the event, forcing you to relive it over and over again. Other hallmarks of PTSD include anxiety, avoidance, hyperarousal and issues with memory and concentration.
Professionals have known for decades that some trauma survivors exhibit a broader array of psychological changes, now officially recognized by the World Health Organization as complex PTSD. In observation of PTSD Awareness Day on June 27, what should you know about these conditions?
CPTSD vs. PTSD
PTSD is a well-known trauma response with potentially overwhelming physical and mental symptoms. Trauma does not affect everyone equally, and PTSD may not emerge until months or years after a traumatic event. Even when women and men have similarly traumatic experiences, women with PTSD and CPTSD tend to feel the symptoms more acutely.
Brain scans of trauma survivors show differences in the regions that govern memory, planning and decision-making. Due to these brain changes, many people with PTSD and CPTSD are always in fight-or-flight mode, even in a familiar environment. Experts believe that’s why many traumatized people are frequently tense, jumpy and unable to relax.
How CPTSD Affects Women
Often, CPTSD develops after prolonged exposure to a dangerous or life-threatening stressor such as spousal abuse. If you have CPTSD, you may feel angry, mistrustful, misunderstood or hopeless. Your relationships and health can deteriorate due to your difficulties controlling these emotions. You might also experience dissociation or frequent headaches, stomachaches and chest pains.
Many women have unique risk factors that make them more vulnerable to PTSD and CPTSD, such as a family history of mental illness. You could be more likely to develop complex PTSD if:
- You experienced trauma at an early age.
- The trauma lasted for a long time.
- Escape or rescue seemed unlikely or impossible.
- Someone close to you harmed you.
Some CPTSD symptoms resemble those of borderline personality disorder, and not all professionals are aware of complex PTSD. Since there is not a specific diagnostic test to determine the difference between PTSD and CPTSD, keep a journal of your triggers, symptoms and their severity so you can describe them to your doctor or psychiatrist.
Accredited Women’s-Only Mental Health and Substance Use Treatment
Many women with PTSD and CPTSD numb themselves with drugs or alcohol instead of seeking treatment. Ultimately, a dual diagnosis will perpetuate itself in a vicious cycle that makes you feel much worse. When you decide to break free, you need a trusted partner on your journey to sobriety.
Canyon Crossing Recovery Outpatient Treatment Center has earned the Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval as a testament to our high standards for quality and treatment services. We are a community of women learning to navigate life with grace and integrity. To learn more about how we heal mental and behavioral health disorders, reach out to us today.