Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
AND OTHER CONSEQUENCES
OF
CULT-INVOLVED TRAUMA
PRESENTED BY:
DONI P. WHITSETT, PH.D; LCSW
CLINICAL PROFESSOR OF SOCIAL WORK
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Affect Regulation
 PTSD as a disorder of affect (emotional) regulation
 Cornerstone of good mental health
 Affect dysregulation the basis of mental illness
Re-experiencing
Avoidance
Reminders
Hyperarousal
THREE PRONGS OF PTSD
Hyperarousal
Complex PTSD
 “The overwhelming stress of maltreatment in
childhood is associated with adverse influences on
not just behavior but also on brain development.”
SCHORE, A. (2009)
 “Early experiences are built into our bodies, creating
biological “memories” that shape development, for
better or for worse.” (www.developingchild.harvard.edu/library)
Complex PTSD
Alteration in regulation of affect and impulses
 a. affect regulation
 b. modulation of anger
 c. self-destructive
 d. suicidal preoccupation
 e. difficulty modulating sexual involvement
f. excessive risk taking
Alteration in self-perception
 a. ineffectiveness
 b. permanent damage
 c. guilt and responsibility
 d. shame
 e. nobody can understand
 f. minimizing
Alteration in attention or consciousness
 a. amnesia
 b. depersonalization
 c. transient dissociate episodes
Alterations in perception of perpetrator
 a. adopting distorted beliefs
 b. preoccupation with hurting perpetrator
 c. idealization of the perpetrator
Somatization
 a. digestive system
 b. chronic pain
 c. cardiopulmonary symptoms
 d. conversion symptoms
 e. sexual symptoms
Alterations in relationships with other
 a. inability to trust
 b. victimizing others
 c. revictimization





Source: van der Kolk, B. & Fisler, R. (1994). Childhood abuse and
neglect and loss of self-regulation. Bulletin of the Menninger
Clinic. 58(2)
Alterations in systems of meaning
 a. despair and hopelessness
 b. loss of previously sustaining beliefs
Affect Regulation
 Ability to calm oneself down
 Ability to enliven oneself
 Mother first acts as psychobiological regulator
 Brain sprouts axons and dendrites within a secure
attachment
 Baby takes on the self
 soothing and enlivening
 functions for herself
Brain Development
Optimal Brain Development
 Strong connections up
and down between
higher and lower cortical
regions
 Thinking + feeling =
good judgment
The Cult Parent
 Pre-occupied with cult
activities
 Children hinder their
cult-defined goal
 In child-like position vis
a vis cult leader
 Parents as “middle
management”
Hebian Axiom
Neurons that fire together wire together.
Donald Hebb
The Stress Response
 Faced with immediate danger
 Cortisol and Epinephrine are released
 HPA Axis
 Feedback loop
 Danger is over – return to baseline
“Toxic stress caused by significant adversity can produce
physiological disruptions that undermine the development of
the body stress response systems and affect the architecture
of the developing brain ….” (www.developingchild.harvard.edu/library)
Effects of Chronic Stress
 Impaired stress response
 Hippocampal damage
 Dissociation
 Cults practice dissociative techniques
Chronic Sympathetic Arousal
Sensitization
Kindling
Hippocampal
Cell Death
Lewis, Kelly, Allen (2004) Restoring Hope
and Trust. Baltimore, MD. Sidran Inst. P.57
GI
Tract
Anorexia
IBS
Respiration
Skin
Headaches
Pain
Other Emotional Consequences
 Guilt and Shame
 Spiritual abuse
 Morality
 Self-fulfilling prophesy
 The spousal relationship
 Attachments threaten leader
 Reparation
 Identification with the aggressor (leader)