Complex PTSD Symptoms PT 1: Surviving Society

In Part 1 of this two-part series, you'll get a picture of what it's like to live with CPTSD socially and how you can close the distance.

Symptoms associated with Complex PTSD affect every area of an individual's life. Understanding how they manifest can change the way you show up in the world. As you learn more about the condition and its symptoms you will gain the confidence you need to make the necessary adjustments for recovery.

Interpersonal Complications

One of the defining factors of CPTSD is the repeated exposure to abuse, emotional or physical, at the hands of others which leads to trauma.With interpersonal abuse being one of the fundamental components of developing CPTSD it comes as no surprise social interactions invite triggers to rear their ugly head.

Social Interactions

The symptoms in this section can be experienced in any social environment. Whether it be a professional setting or one coordinated for entertainment purposes these symptoms manifest when there is an emotional distance between you and the company you are keeping.


Avoidance- Actively avoiding conversations surrounding an upcoming event, or the people, places, and things that may trigger an unwelcome response. This can also show up as procrastination, or selective memory.

Dissociation - Is the semi-conscious decision to disengage with your surroundings. Typically, you are aware you are doing it, and find comfort in the "numbed out" feeling it provides.

Hyper-vigilance - In some ways the complete opposite of dissociation. You are too aware of everything your five senses can detect. Paranoia ensues which can send you into a downward spiral.


Body Armoring- This is when your muscles tense involuntarily when you feel threatened. It is similar to a freeze response.

Shaking - You may not feel nervous, but your body is on edge and trying to send you a signal of distress.

Changes in Temperature- Usually the beginning of an episode involving headaches, nauseousness, and feeling faint.


Distrust- Sensing the world is not a safe place, and no one can be trusted runs far deeper than a thought or feeling for someone with CPTSD. It is difficult to invalidate your experience in this world when you have so much proof it can be a cold and merciless place to live.

Getting out there

As uncomfortable as it may be social interactions cannot be avoided altogether. Work obligations and familial commitments beg to be fulfilled if we are to maintain a well-rounded life. In the future, we will go deeper into the topic but for now, I'd like to offer my top 5 tips for those times when you just cannot say "No thanks".

  1. Take baby steps- Before the anticipation of a dreaded event becomes a looming dark cloud above your head proactively plan at least 1 time during the week to get out and try something new. It will give you the practice you need to prepare.

  2. Prepare- Know what you are getting yourself into and who you'll meet at the event. Google conversation starters or prepare interesting facts to share about yourself. If you aren't interesting, or not ready to share, be interested - People will love it.

  3. Have an exit strategy - This can be as simple as having a designated departure time before you get there. No need to lie, or make something up. " I have to get going, "insert obligation/ personal desire", thanks for having me"...

"I have to get going, I'm working on this project, and could really use the rest. Thanks for having me." - You

4. Challenge your thinking- Journal your negative thoughts. Revisit each one asking yourself "Is this true?". If it is not, rewrite a true statement. If it is, re-frame it into an actionable step you can work on next time.

5. Praise yourself- You did it! That is all that matters. In time you will have learned all of your triggers and created a life that supports your recovery until you are fully healed. It isn't easy and you should commend yourself.

To be continued... In Complex PTSD Part 2: True Blues we will get into the intimate truths of living with the symptoms of this condition. The daily challenges can be the hardest to cope with as there is no escape, so I'm going to do my best to break it down and provide a few simple and actionable steps to get you back on track.

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