Definition of Trauma
An event or experience that is deeply disturbing on an emotional or psychological level. The trauma may involve a single incident (witnessing an accident), or involve ongoing trauma (child abuse).
Courtois (2014) identifies five basic types of trauma including:
a) impersonal trauma - occurs randomly such as a natural disaster or accident;
b) interpersonal trauma– deliberately perpetrated on an individual by another or others as in abuse, neglect, victimization, exploitation, etc. Of particular importance with respect to the development of Complex PTSD is attachment or relational trauma –ongoing abuse/neglect which is perpetrated in a significant relationship (parent-child; romantic/marital; friendship);
c) identity trauma – Ongoing discrimination, devaluation and even violence based on the victim’s sense of self including gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and identity;
d) community trauma – also known as intergenerational or historical trauma and involves ongoing discrimination, devaluation and even violence targeting certain groups (eg., ethnic, religious, political); and,
e) complex trauma – ongoing and layered interpersonal traumatic experiences, generally starting in childhood
Defensive Responses to Ongoing Interpersonal Trauma
Walker (n.d.) outlines four basic defenses that most people use in life, but which in CPTSD become fixated and maladaptive due to ongoing trauma. These include the Fight, Flight, Freeze and Fawn and a number of hybrid types. When the Fight response is healthy an individual will have solid boundaries and the ability to be assertive when need be, whereas in CPTSD the person will become overly reactive and aggressive towards others. With a healthy Flight response, the individual is able to recognize when a situation or person is dangerous and withdraw or disengage whereas those with CPTSD will tend to isolate themselves socially to avoid threat. A healthy use of the Freeze response ensures that a person who is in a situation where further action will exacerbate things, stops and reassesses. And finally a Fawn response ensures that the individual listens and compromises with others, while someone with CPTSD will adopt a people pleasing approach to avoid conflict.
- Courtois, C. (2014), It’s not you, it’s what happened to you: Complex trauma and treatment. USA: Telemachus Press.
- Walker, P. (n/d). The 4Fs: A Trauma Typology in Complex PTSD.
- Digitale, E. (2016). Traumatic stress changes brains of boys, girls differently. Stanford Medicine News Centre