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Do I Actually Have PTSD?

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I Was Diagnosed With PTSD By My Therapist When I Was 14. I was born with a major disfiguring birth defect, have had around 20 operations.

My parents adopted two newborn twins and they were my little brothers until they were 5 years old (I was 9) and their mother got out of jail and fought for custody back. She won, and they were ripped out of our lives. It destroyed my family.

My parents became emotionally neglectful and eventually neglectful of some normal needs (clothing, transportation, etc). I developed horrible depression and tried to overdose on sleeping pills when I was 12.

A lot of smaller, but still bad things, were going on in my life but I cannot remember specifics, just that I felt like I was going crazy because no one would acknowledge how bad things were, and I had to pretend to be/feel normal in front of everyone, when nothing felt okay or normal.

I question my diagnosis because I have not had any ‘life-threatening’ experiences, and if questioned on what happened to cause my ‘PTSD’, I come up blank. I feel like I have no good reason. If I tried to explain it to someone, they might not think I’m being truthful. My memory surrounding childhood is extremely blurry.

I do have the symptoms, especially now. I am 21. I have serious intrusive thoughts of losing loved ones that cause me to sob for hours at night. I cannot sleep. I wake up to every little noise. I avoid things and will isolate myself from people completely when I feel stressed. I can physically feel things in my muscles begin to tighten when I feel certain kinds of stress. I have anxiety about silly things.

I still feel like I do not have a good enough reason to have PTSD, and that if I tell anyone I have it, I’m lying, because I cannot tell them exactly what caused it. (From the USA)

Do I Actually Have PTSD?

Answered by on -


PTSD comes from a chronic mental and emotional stress that happens as a result of a deep psychological shock that most often disturbs sleep, with a constant recollection, usually with vivid detail of the shock or injury that’s taken place. (To learn more about PTSD, please read here.) But there are many variations of what causes a posttraumatic stress disorder, one of which is known as Complex PTSD (C-PTSD.)

You will learn in this link that C-PTSD has different criteria than the diagnosis for PTSD, but this differential is subtle and not often fully recognized, even by therapists. Also, C-PTSD is not a formal diagnosis that appears in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) which is used by clinicians for identifying a collection of symptoms. It is classically seen as something that has emerged from an assortment of different sources:

  • The client experienced prolonged and multiple traumas lasting for a period of months or even years.
  • The traumas come from someone who the victim had a deep interpersonal relationship with and was part of his or her primary care network, the most common example being a parent.
  • The victim experienced these traumas as permanent features of life, seeing no end in sight.
  • The victim had no power over the person traumatizing him or her.

I am not suggesting that you have this, but I am suggesting it may be worth talking to the original therapist who diagnosed you and ask them to share their thoughts about their diagnosis or to make an appointment with a clinical psychologist who is licensed to be able to perform testing that could help you identify your diagnosis more readily. Because C-PTSD isn’t an official category in the DSM individuals who may meet its criteria may have been given the label PTSD because it is the only one officially recognized.

Also, as a side note, if you haven’t read the extraordinary memoir Autobiography of A Face by Lucy Greay, I’d encourage you to put it on your list.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

Do I Actually Have PTSD?

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2019). Do I Actually Have PTSD?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 4 Jul 2019 (Originally: 6 Jul 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 4 Jul 2019
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