There’s a psychological condition that’s been flying under the radar for too long. It’s a form of PTSD that builds up from more minor-seeming traumas you experienced throughout your life. And it may be the saboteur of your dating life and relationship success.

Worst part?

Many men have no idea it’s lurking in the shadows of their psyche.

So, what’s this condition?

It’s something called Complex PTSD, or c-PTSD for short. It makes the work seem like an endlessly challenging place. But by understanding it, you can learn to lessen its grip and stop its control over you.

In today’s episode, you’ll discover what Complex PTSD is, how it starts and grows, and how to overcome it—whether you find it lurking in your psyche or a friend’s or lover’s.

Listen now.

 Show highlights include:

  • Is “Complex PTSD” haunting your relationships and dating life? Here’s how to find out and thwart it if it is (0:52)
  • Why c-PTSD happens in interpersonal relationships and how it can be triggered by simply swiping on dating apps (5:16)
  • 2 real life examples of how c-PTSD plays out in careers, relationships, and life in general (7:10)
  • The insidious way “mundane traumas” can build up in your psyche that can sabotage promotions, engagements, and steal the joy from life (11:25)
  • 3 simple ways to help a friend or girlfriend struggling with c-PTSD (without offending them) (16:04)
  • How group therapeutic coaching helps you navigate the choppy waters of c-PTSD without worrying about repercussions of your vulnerability (18:43)
  • How to develop coping mechanisms for c-PTSD so triggering events don’t throw you into chaos (21:06)

    Does your neediness, fear, or insecurity sabotage your success with women? Do you feel you may be unlovable? For more than 15 years, I’ve helped thousands of people find confidence, fulfillment, and loving relationships. And I can help you, too. I’m therapist and life coach David Tian, Ph.D. I invite you to take this quick quiz to access my free Masterclasses on dating and relationships at now.

For more about David Tian, go here:

    Emotional Mastery is David Tian’s step-by-step system to transform, regulate, and control your emotions… so that you can master yourself, your interactions with others, and your relationships… and live a life worth living. Learn more here:


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Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast, where we answer key questions in relationships, attraction, success, and fulfillment. Now, here’s your host, world-renowned therapist and life coach, David Tian.

David: Welcome to the Masculine Psychology podcast. I’m David Tian, your host. In this episode, we’re going to be uncovering a condition that’s been flying under the radar for far too long. This hidden adversary has been sabotaging the dating and relationship success of countless individuals, especially men, and the worst part perhaps is that many don’t even know that it’s there, lurking in the shadows of their psyche. Let’s get right to it. What I’m talking about is complex PTSD, or complex post-traumatic stress disorder. [00:48.3]

Now, if you’re scratching your head wondering what exactly that is, you’re not alone. Complex PTSD is a beast of a condition that stems from prolonged exposure to traumatic events or situations, and the thing is it’s really sneaky. It’s like the ninja of psychological conditions, often remaining unidentified and undiagnosed. Yet the symptoms are actually relatively common among those struggling in their dating lives and relationships.

Now, it may not be at the level of a full-blown disorder, but it exists on a continuum, and you or someone that you know might be exhibiting the symptoms and unknowingly suffering from something like complex PTSD. So, putting a name to it, understanding it as complex PTSD can be incredibly empowering. Imagine wandering through a dense forest at night stumbling over roots with no idea where you’re going.

But then imagine someone hands you a map and a flashlight, and suddenly, you’ve got a fighting chance to find your way out. That’s what just identifying complex PTSD can do for you. It gives you that map and that flashlight, offering a sense of control and a clear path forward, or at least a clearer path forward, and recognizing the real problem is the first step in overcoming it. [02:04.7]

But, first, let’s tackle a dangerous myth head on. There’s a pervasive belief that the intense anxiety, the dread of social situations or dates, or even just dealing with authority figures, is just a part of life that everyone feels this way. It’s important to inform you that that’s not the case. Feeling like your heart is about to beat out of your chest at the thought of a social gathering or on a date is actually not a universal experience. It’s a signal, a sign that there’s something deeper at play.

Here’s another perhaps hard truth. Some of us may have been led to believe that we’re fundamentally flawed, that there’s something inherently wrong with us, or worse, that it’s your fault that you’re dealing with this. I want to bust this myth wide open. Complex PTSD is not your fault. It’s not a character flaw and it is not a personal failing. [02:58.8]

Before we go further into complex PTSD, I just want to put a quick announcement out there. If you would like to work with me directly and are open to recording portions of it to use for our podcast, then I’m interested in talking with you. Get in touch with me and my team by emailing That’s my website URL. Tell us something about you. Give us enough background to understand the issues that you’d like to work on.

If you’ve emailed us before and have expressed interest in being a guest on the podcast, and you’re still interested, then email us again, just to let us know that you’re still interested and update us with any background info and the issues you’d like to work on.

If you’d like to get an idea of what it’d be like to go on a podcast as a guest with me, you can check out Episode 90, which features a live therapy session with our guest, and I think the title is “How vulnerable is too vulnerable for women?” so check out Episode 90 to get an idea of what it might be like, keeping in mind that it will be different for everyone because everyone’s a unique individual. I’m hoping to work with guests as a regular part of the podcast. [04:07.4]

Okay, so let’s return to understanding complex PTSD. It’s about recognizing that these overwhelming feelings and challenges that you face aren’t just how things are. They are signs of something deeper that needs addressing and, most importantly, the message should be that they can be managed. This can be grown out of. Through understanding, support and the right approaches, you can navigate your way out of the grip of complex PTSD and into healthier, happier relationships and a more fulfilling life and dating life.

Okay, so let’s dive deeper into C-PTSD and really get to grips with how it affects various aspects of life, especially those crucial dating and relationship situations and dynamics. [04:51.4]

First, let’s break down what we mean by complex PTSD. Unlike its better-known cousin PTSD, which often results from a single traumatic event, complex PTSD stems from enduring trauma over a more prolonged period. This could be due to long-term abuse, ongoing exposure to high-stress environments, or repeated emotional neglect. The key difference here is that complex PTSD does not come from a one-time event, but from a buildup of stress and trauma over time and it often happens within interpersonal relationships.

Now, imagine trying to navigate the dating world or maintaining intimate relationships with this lurking in your background. Let’s say you’re swiping through a dating app, a seemingly simple action, right? For someone with complex PTSD, this isn’t just swiping. It’s like a minefield. Each text or potential match might trigger anxiety or this disabling fear of rejection. A message left unanswered could spiral into a deep worry that it’s not just “Oh, they’re busy,” but instead “They’ve abandoned me, just like I was before.” It’s intense and it’s a reality for many people dealing with complex PTSD. [06:08.6]

Take intimate relationships. These are supposed to be safe havens, right? But when complex PTSD is in the picture, that safety can feel threatened by the smallest actions. An offhand comment from a partner might be interpreted not as a minor critique, what is a deep-seated rejection. This isn’t about being overly sensitive. It’s about how the brain and emotions have been conditioned by past trauma. The person isn’t overreacting. They’re reacting to a series of deeply-embedded experiences.

Let’s not forget work situations, especially dealing with authority figures like bosses. For someone grappling with complex PTSD, a simple performance review can feel like walking into a lion’s den. It’s not just feedback. It’s a threat. Their mind might be racing with thoughts like, “Am I going to be abandoned here, too, left alone to fend for myself again?” It’s about survival, a theme that’s all too familiar in their lives. [07:09.4]

Let me paint you a picture with a couple of case studies, so I hope it’s clear. Let’s take first Alex. Let’s say Alex grew up in a home where nothing he did was ever good enough for his parents, or that’s how he felt. Then fast forward to his adult life, and every time he matches with someone on a dating app, he’s paralyzed by the thought of not being good enough, leading him to ghost potential connections out of fear that they’re going to inevitably reject him anyway.

Then there’s– let’s call him James. James’ parents were unpredictably critical, leaving him as a child walking on eggshells around them. Now whenever his current partner expresses even the slightest displeasure, he’s immediately flooded with anxiety, ready to apologize or to fix things, even if it wasn’t a big deal. [07:57.2]

These examples aren’t just stories. They’re real struggles that people are facing, and if any of this sounds familiar to you, I want you to know that you’re not alone and it’s not your fault. Complex PTSD can make the world seem like an endlessly challenging place, but understanding it is the first step towards navigating it more effectively. If you’re someone who has been lucky enough not to experience this, but know someone who might be struggling with this, offer a listening ear. Sometimes just knowing someone is there can make a huge difference.

One of the most challenging aspects of complex PTSD is that it often doesn’t stem from what many picture as traditional trauma that there’s not always a single catastrophic event that we can point to and say that’s when it started. Instead, complex PTSD often arises from a collection of series of experiences, many of which might seem mundane or everyday on their own to an outsider, but are deeply traumatic to the child that was living through them. [09:00.0]

Consider the slow drip of daily traumas, a constant barrage of criticism, neglect, or emotional manipulation. These aren’t moments that might make headlines. They’re like the quiet, persistent kinds of suffering that erode a person’s sense of safety and self-worth over time. It’s the subtlety and pervasiveness of these experiences that make complex PTSD hard to spot and even harder to admit to oneself. It’s not uncommon for people to think, I didn’t go through anything huge, so why do I feel this way?

Complex PTSD often arises from adverse childhood experiences. Imagine growing up in environments where emotional support is scarce and unpredictability is the norm. Let’s say a child, Sam, grows up with a parent who’s emotionally volatile. One day the parent is loving, the next they’re withdrawn or explosive. Sam learns to tread lightly, hyper-alert to the slightest mood shift, constantly trying to predict and prevent negative outcomes. [10:04.8]

This high-stress environment then becomes Sam’s normal, teaching Sam to associate love and care with anxiety and fear. Over time, these daily doses of stress and trauma condition Sam to be on permanent high alert, affecting how Sam interacts with the world. Fast forward to adulthood, and Sam might struggle with feeling safe in relationships, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Even in objectively genuinely supportive environments, Sam might not recognize these patterns as stemming from C-PTSD because there’s no single event to blame, just a lifetime of small, painful moments, over and over compounding over time.

Let’s take another example. Let’s call him Alex. Alex grew up in a household where emotional expression was discouraged. Any attempt to express feelings was met with disdain or dismissal. Over the years, Alex learned to bottle up emotions, viewing them as weaknesses. [11:04.4]

This lack of emotional validation and support didn’t come in the form of overt abuse, but the constant subtle invalidation ended up leading to Alex developing C-PTSD. As an adult, Alex struggles with vulnerability and emotional intimacy, finding it difficult to connect deeply with others or communicate needs effectively.

These case studies illustrate that CPTSD doesn’t always emerge from dramatic or easily identifiable events. Instead, it often grows quietly, nurtured by the steady accumulation of seemingly mundane traumas that, over time, become anything but mundane in their impact. Understanding this can be a revelation for many people. If you’ve been struggling to figure out why you react the way you do, why certain things seem so much harder for you than for others, or why you just can’t seem to shake certain feelings or behaviors, it might be worth exploring the concept of complex PTSD for yourself further. [12:02.8]

Okay, so let’s delve into one of the most significant ways that C-PTSD affects lives. Its impact on trust and safety. For those grappling with complex PTSD, the ability to trust others and feel secure in relationships isn’t just challenging. It’s like a battlefield, like a minefield. The root of this struggle often lies in past betrayals or abuses, especially from those who were supposed to be protecting you, who were supposed to be caregivers or your close partners. These experiences end up skewing perceptions of trust and make the world seem like it’s a place where safety in relationships is like a fairy tale rather than a possibility or reality.

Now, think about how this plays out or how it could play out in the dating world. Let’s take Mark, who had his trust shattered in his childhood from his relationship with his parents, and for Mark, every unanswered text isn’t just a delayed response. It’s a sign of impending betrayal. [13:03.2]

It’s not that he enjoys feeling this way. His past experiences have wired him to expect the worst. This constant anticipation of betrayal makes it incredibly hard for Mark to let down his guard and truly connect with someone new. In intimate relationships, these trust issues can create a thick fog around even the most loving partnerships, even the most well-intentioned ones.

Let’s take Sara as an example. She finds herself constantly questioning her husband’s motives, even when he’s shown nothing but love and support. Every time he’s late coming home or forgets to call, her mind races to the worst possible conclusions. This isn’t about Sara being irrational per se. It’s about her complex PTSD speaking, making it difficult for her to accept that she’s in a safe and caring relationship because she’s actually never really known that or never had that in a kind of lasting predictable way. [13:54.5]

What about the workplace? Imagine dealing with a boss or particularly disagreeable colleague when you have complex PTSD. Every critique or harsh word isn’t just feedback or a different opinion. It gets interpreted as a threat. It feels like walking on a tightrope without a safety net, where one misstep could lead to disaster or death. This constant state of alertness can make it exhausting to navigate even routine work interactions, let alone build healthy professional relationships.

No matter their physical strength, for many men, emotions are too much for them to handle. It’s why they can’t give women the deeper levels of emotional intimacy and connection that they crave. It’s why they fail to be the man that modern women desire most: a man with inner strength, a man who has mastered his emotions.

Find out how to master your emotions through David Tian’s “Emotional Mastery” program. The Emotional Mastery program is a step-by-step system that integrates the best of empirically-verified psychotherapy methods and reveals how to master your internal state and develop the inner strength that makes you naturally attractive, happy, and fulfilled.

Learn more about this transformational program by going to

That’s D-A-V-I-D-T-I-A-N-P-H-D [dot] com [slash] emotional mastery.

Okay, so the natural next question is, what do we do about this? How do we start rebuilding trust and establishing safety in our relationships? Okay, so the journey begins with small steps. It’s about setting boundaries and communicating them clearly. It’s about gradually letting others in, sharing your feelings and allowing yourself to be vulnerable in safe doses. Importantly, it’s about recognizing that not everyone will betray or hurt you. [15:49.0]

Rebuilding trust involves a combination of self-reflection, patience, and developing trust in yourself, and this is often best done with professional guidance to navigate these deeply-ingrained fears. If you’re in a relationship or a friend of somebody who’s struggling with complex PTSD, patience and understanding are key. Small acts of kindness, consistent support and respect for their boundaries can make a world of difference. Remember, rebuilding trust is a journey, not a sprint. It requires time, patience, and a lot of empathy.

Let’s understand it even further. For those navigating the waters of complex PTSD, expressing emotions, opening up about fears, even just interpreting what others mean can often feel like decoding a foreign language. It’s not just about finding the right words. It’s about battling the fear that being vulnerable might lead to more pain or misunderstanding. [16:51.8]

Okay, let’s take, for instance, Jack. He struggles to tell his girlfriend how he truly feels, because in the past, opening up led to ridicule or dismissal. Now, even when he’s in a supportive relationship, that fear grips him so tightly that it keeps his true feelings locked away, and he often misreads his friends’ jokes as jabs. His mind is conditioned by past experiences to expect attack rather than affection. 

So, how do we navigate these choppy communication waters? One proven effective route is psychotherapy and, in particular, therapeutic coaching groups. These settings done the right way, provide a safe space to practice expressing yourself to test the waters of vulnerability in a controlled environment. In a therapeutic coaching group done properly, people with C-PTSD can learn new ways of interpreting others’ intentions and start to dismantle the walls that they’ve built up around their emotions. [17:51.3]

For those dealing with complex PTSD, therapeutic groups offer a chance to see that they’re not alone in their struggles. It gives them a chance to share experiences and hear other stories, which can be incredibly validating and healing for them. It’s about learning together that vulnerability doesn’t always lead to hurt. Sometimes it leads to deeper connections and understanding.

For the partners, friends or family tuning in, who recognize that someone that they care about in the descriptions of complex PTSD, your role is crucial, too. It’s about listening, truly listening without judgment or without immediately jumping to offer immediate solutions or advice. It’s about encouraging open dialogue, reassuring them that their feelings are valid and that you’re there, ready to understand, not just to fix them, but to listen and be there.

One of the most powerful parts of a therapeutic coaching group is its ability to mirror real life interactions, but in a supportive setting. Participants can practice and stumble and learn without the fear of severe repercussions. They can build the confidence that they need to navigate communication outside the group in the real world, the outside world, which will transform their relationships in the process. [19:09.2]

Remember, effective communication is like a skill, and like any skill, it takes practice, especially when complex PTSD is part of the equation. Whether you’re dealing with complex PTSD yourself or supporting someone who is, know that progress is possible. It’s about taking those small steps together towards understanding and connection.

One of the most important aspects of complex PTSD to understand is triggers and the importance of emotional regulation. For people with C-PTSD, emotions don’t just ebb and flow like waves for most people. They can crash like a tsunami, like a tidal wave, overwhelming and unexpected. Triggers are those specific cues or situations that can ignite an intense emotional reaction and these triggers are often at the heart of these moments. They’re like landmines hidden in the dirt of the day-to-day, waiting to explode with memories of past trauma. [20:06.7]

Consider the dating world. Imagine you’re out on a date and your dating partner makes an offhand comment about, I don’t know your choice of food. To someone without C-PTSD, it might just roll off their back or they might laugh it off, but if you’ve got C-PTSD and food choice was a point of contention in a past abusive relationship or in your childhood, that comment could trigger a flood of anxiety or defensiveness, and suddenly, you’re not just out on a date in the here and now. You’re back there and then reliving a past trauma.

Or let’s take the context of an intimate relationship. Let’s say your wife decides to surprise you by rearranging the living room. For many people, this would be a welcome change, but if you’re someone who finds safety and predictability because of past trauma, this could trigger a sense of panic or a loss of control. [20:54.2]

So, how do we manage these triggers and their intense emotional responses? First, it’s about building an awareness of what your triggers are. This isn’t a quick or simple, straightforward process, but through reflection, through journaling, through psychotherapy, through a therapeutic group, you can start to map out the minefield.

Then, next, developing coping mechanisms is important, and this could be breathing exercises, grounding techniques, or having a safe word with your spouse or partner that signals that you’re feeling triggered and need a moment to collect yourself. These strategies aren’t about avoiding emotions, but managing them in your day-to-day life in a way that they don’t take the wheel and drive you off course.

For partners, understanding and patience are your best tools. If your partner gets triggered, remember, it’s not about you. It’s about a past wound that has been poked in them. Offer support. Give them space, if they need it. Be there to listen, and sometimes just knowing that you’re there, that you’re going to be there and that you understand and want to help can on its own be a huge help in healing. [22:04.1]

Remember, communication is vital in a relationship, so if you’re the one with complex PTSD, trying to express what triggers you and what support you need when those triggers occur. That’s your responsibility to take responsibility for your feelings, thoughts and actions.

If you’re the partner, ask how you can help. It’s about navigating these challenges together in a relationship that builds an intimate relationship to the point where triggers are acknowledged, understood, and managed with care and compassion, and within that context, lasting healing can flourish and occur.

Okay, now, let’s look into one of the most powerful approaches to complex PTSD, which is the Internal Family Systems therapy model, the IFS therapy model. If you’ve been following my podcast, you probably have heard me refer to IFS therapy, but I’ll do a quick, really short introduction. [22:56.5]

At its core, IFS therapy suggests that our psyche is made up of various parts, each with its own role, personality and perspective. These parts of us are categorized into three main types, managers, firefighters and exiles. In the context of complex PTSD, these parts play significant roles.

  • The exiles are the parts of us that carry the traumatic wounds most deeply in the most concentrated way. Our exiles are often hidden away. That’s why we call them exiles. They’ve been disowned. They’re locked up deep in our psyche, because their pain is too much for us to face or experience on a daily basis.
  • Then the manager parts of us are the ones that are trying to keep us safe and functional in the outside world. They’re the ones organizing our lives, pushing us to work hard, and trying to keep everything under control so that we don’t get hurt again.
  • Then there are the firefighter parts. These are the ones that jump into action when an exile’s pain gets triggered and becomes too intense. Our firefighter parts might prompt us to regulate or compensate by binge eating or arguing, or indulging in some substance abuse, all these ways to distract from or numb the pain. [24:08.8]

Okay, let’s bring this to life with a real client case study. Let’s call him Michael. Michael came to work with me because he found himself reacting explosively in his intimate relationship. Every time his girlfriend criticized him even constructively, he would either shut down completely or lash out in anger, and it had gotten to the point where it had become violent and that frightened himself.

Using the IFS therapy model, we discovered that Michael had a part of him, an exiled part, carrying deep wounds from his childhood where criticism was equated with withdrawal of love and sometimes physical harm. Another part a manager had stepped in early on in his life, pushing him to be perfect and beyond reproach, thinking this was the way to secure love and avoid pain. [24:56.1]

But whenever his girlfriend criticized him, it threatened the manager’s strategy, and a firefighter part would jump in with anger or shutdown to protect Michael from feeling that old, exiled pain of unworthiness and rejection that his exile part or the youngest part of those three was locked up with.

Through our therapeutic work together, Michael began to get to know his parts and he learned to approach his exile part with compassion, acknowledging his pain without letting it overwhelm him. He started to understand that his manager’s relentless strive for perfection was coming from a place of protection, not tyranny, and he saw that his firefighter’s destructive reactions were misguided attempts to keep him safe.

Together, we worked on helping Michael’s parts trust that he, Michael as his true Self, could handle situations without needing to be perfect or needing to shut down. This involved Michael practicing stepping into making room for his higher Self, this calm, confident and compassionate core Self, and reassuring these various parts of him that he appreciated their efforts, but that he was now capable of protecting them in healthier ways. [26:09.4]

Overtime, Michael noticed a significant shift. He began to respond to his girlfriend’s criticisms with curiosity rather than immediate defense. He started to express his feelings of hurt or inadequacy instead of letting them fester or explode, and this not only improved his relationship, but also his relationship with himself. He felt more integrated, more in control, more balanced with his emotions, and crucially, more compassionate towards the parts of him that were still healing.

This approach, this IFS therapy approach, doesn’t just address the symptoms of complex PTSD. It heals the underlying wounds, offering a path to true lasting change. The goal, remember, isn’t to eliminate or silence these parts of us. They all had positive intent and they’ve just been doing their best to protect us. The goal is to help them find new, healthier roles, so that we can live with less pain and more harmony within ourselves. It’s about moving from a place of fragmentation and conflict to one of unity and peace. [27:09.1]

That’s the power of addressing complex PTSD through the IFS therapy model. It’s a profound journey of self-discovery and healing and it’s one that can change not just how to relate to our trauma, but how we relate to ourselves and the outside world around us.

Okay, let’s take a moment to circle back and highlight the major points we’ve covered today about complex PTSD. First, we delve into what complex PTSD actually is and how it differs from its cousin PTSD. It’s that sneaky, complex, under-the-radar condition that results from prolonged exposure to traumatic situations, often leaving a trail of challenges and trust, safety and communication.

Then we walk through the garden of how complex PTSD affects trust and safety in relationships. If you find it hard to let someone in or feel secure, it’s not just you being overly cautious. It’s your past experiences holding the reins real tight. [28:04.8]

Then we went into the thorny path of communication challenges. Remember, if expressing emotions or interpreting others’ intentions feels like decoding Morse code, it’s a sign that complex PTSD might be at play. 

Then we dove into emotional regulation and triggers, those intense, unexpected emotional responses to seemingly, from a more objective point of view, small triggers, and these are your psyche’s ways of saying, “Hey, we’ve got some unresolved stuff going on here.”

Now, using the IFS therapy model, we painted a picture of how internal parts of us like managers, firefighters and exiles interact within us, especially in the context of C-PTSD, and I shared a story about Michael’s journey towards healing through the IFS therapy approach. [28:54.0]

If any of this resonates with you, it’s crucial to reach out for professional help. Whether it’s individual therapy or joining a therapeutic coaching group, it’s really important that you get professional support. These avenues offer not just a rote route to understanding and managing complex PTSD, but to transforming your relationship with yourself and others in a lasting way.

Remember, stepping into a space where you can work through complex PTSD is not a sign of weakness, and in fact, it’s the opposite. It’s a powerful move towards reclaiming your life and your relationships, so don’t walk this path alone. There is professional support out there, ready to help you navigate through and beyond complex PTSD.

I want to reiterate that announcement. If you are interested in being a guest and working with me directly and having part of that on the podcast, reach out to us at and let us know some background about you and the issues you’d like to work on. [29:54.1]

Thank you again so much for listening. If you liked this, hit a like, or subscribe or follow. If this has helped you in any way, please share it with anyone else that you think could benefit from it, and let me know your feedback. Leave a comment or send me a message. I thrive off your feedback.

I look forward to welcoming you to the next episode. Until then, David Tian, signing out. [30:13.8]

This is