Why Complex PTSD Sufferers May Over-Focus On Perceived Threat.

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Those with complex PTSD frequently find it very hard to prevent themselves by over-focusing, sometimes to an obsessive degree, on perceived threats, particularly threats that remind them of their childhood adverse experiences. And, because of such fixation, complex PTSD sufferers may find it extremely hard to redirect their attention to necessary, everyday tasks.

According to a recent study (Crum et al., 2021), this problem is linked to reduced connectivity in the brain’s attention system (formally referred to as the ventral and dorsal attention network, abbreviated to VAN-DAN) which in turn may be linked to the experience of betrayal trauma in early life. 


The good news is that such deficits in the brain’s attentional system may respond to treatment with oxytocin which seems to increase connectivity in the VAN-DAN.

DAN is a brain network involved in voluntary attention whilst VAN is involved in the process of switching our attention. 

Oxytocin’s ability to increase connectivity between the DAN and VAN, allowing the individual to better regulate his/her attentional system, makes it particularly suitable to be subject to further research endeavors to determine its effectiveness in relation to the treatment of childhood trauma and PTSD/Complex PTSD. 

Indeed, it is already known that oxytocin improves our ability to bond with others socially and reduces stress. An important next step, according to the authors of the study, is to determine to what degree childhood trauma, and, in particular, betrayal trauma, is implicated in the disruption of the brain’s attentional network connectivity.


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Crum KI, Flanagan JC, Vaughan B, Aloi J, Moran-Santa Maria MM, Back SE, Brady KT, Joseph JE. Oxytocin, PTSD, and sexual abuse are associated with attention network intrinsic functional connectivity. Psychiatry Res Neuroimaging. 2021 Oct 30;316:111345. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2021.111345. Epub 2021 Aug 2. PMID: 34371478; PMCID: PMC8478844.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).