What Are The Factors That Put Us At Risk Of Complex PTSD?
We have seen from other articles published on this site that if we have experienced significant and protracted trauma in childhood, we are at risk of developing complex PTSD as adults. However, there are many different factors at play which help to determine whether or not we actually will develop complex PTSD following a disturbed and dysfunctional childhood; I list and explain these factors below :
FACTORS THAT HELP TO DETERMINE WHETHER OR NOT WE DEVELOP COMPLEX PTSD :
- GENETICS: There is no gene for complex PTSD but research suggests that some individuals may be biologically predisposed to suffering from anxiety which, in turn, may make them more likely to suffer from complex PTSD as a result of growing up in a stressful environment.
- IN-UTERO EFFECTS: Research has shown that if a mother is under severe stress whilst pregnant her baby is at risk of being born with elevated levels of CORTISOL (a hormone involved with the stress response).
This hormonal imbalance can lead to the baby being difficult to calm and soothe whilst distressed which, in turn, can lead to difficulties regulating emotions in later life and ultimately increase susceptibility to the development of complex PTSD.
- THE DURATION, SEVERITY AND TIMING OF THE TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCE :
It will come as no surprise:
a) the longer the time period over which the traumatic experience persists
b) the more severe the experience, the greater the probability is that the affected individual will go on to develop complex PTSD
Also, at which stage of one’s young life the traumatic experience occurs is also of great significance. Two stages of life during which the individual is at particular risk of psychological damage are :
a) From birth until about the age of three years – this is such a vulnerable stage as our nervous systems are particularly delicate and fragile during this period and the way in which our brains physically develop at this very young age is particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of environmental stress.
b) Adolescence: we are especially vulnerable to psychological damage during this period of our lives as it is the stage at which we are forming our identity.
- FAMILY DYNAMICS: Parents interact with different children within their families in different ways. For example, in a family with two children, one may be the favoured child whilst the other is treated as the family scapegoat. In my own case, my stepmother used to lavish attention upon her own biological son, whilst ignoring me; indeed, stepfamilies are at particular risk of having dysfunctional, inter-familial dynamics.
- ADHD: A child with ADHD is at greater risk of being abused by his/her parents as the behaviours that are symptomatic of his/her condition may be misinterpreted (in a negative way) by them causing them to treat the child with ADHD negatively and damagingly rather than with understanding and compassion.
It should also be noted that if children who do not currently have ADHD are abused by their parents they are more likely to go on to develop it due to the adverse effects the stress of the abuse has on the physical development of their brains.
- FAMILY CYCLE OF ABUSE: If a child is mistreated by a parent and this makes him/her feel threatened (physically, emotionally or both) the child’s fight or flight response may be repeatedly triggered. If this results in the child acting aggressively towards the parent/s (a completely normal defence mechanism) this may provoke the parent further thus setting up a vicious cycle.
- RESILIENCE: If a child is mistreated within the immediate family but has solid, dependable emotional support from a non-abusive family member (for example, aunt, grandparent etc) or from outside the family, such as a youth leader or counsellor, s/he is likely to be more resilient to the adverse psychological effects of this mistreatment.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc;PGDE(FAHE)