What Causes CPTSD?
According to Dr. Christine Courtois (n.d.), Complex Trauma (CPTSD) can develop when traumatic events/experiences:
- are repetitive, prolonged, or cumulative;
- are most often interpersonal, involving direct harm, exploitation, and maltreatment including neglect/abandonment/antipathy by primary caregivers or other ostensibly responsible adults; and
- occur at developmentally vulnerable times in the victim's life, especially in early childhood or adolescence, but can also occur later in life and in conditions of vulnerability associated with disability, disempowerment, dependency, age, infirmity, etc.
Courtois (n.d.) suggests that a key difference between Complex Trauma (CPTSD) and PTSD is that:
"traumatic stressors are interpersonal, that is, they are premeditated, planned, and caused by other humans, such as violating and/or exploitation of another person. In general, interpersonal traumatization causes more severe reaction in the victim than does traumatization that is impersonal, the result of a random event or an "act of God," such as a disaster (i.e., a natural disaster such as a hurricane or tsunami, a technological disaster) or an accident (i.e., a motor vehicle or other transportation accident, a building collapse) due to its deliberate versus accidental causation (para 1).
Although there are many causes of CPTSD, childhood abuse (emotional, physical, sexual) and neglect are the most common. Examples of other causes of CPTSD may include ongoing exploitation (e.g. sex trade work), exposure to traumatic situations (e.g., bullying, domestic violence, war, mental illness, addiction); displacement (refugeeism); and, discrimination and disempowerment as in the case of many Indigenous Peoples (Haskell & Randall, 2009).
Courtois. C. (n.d.). Understanding Complex Trauma, Complex Reactions, and Treatment Approaches. Retrieved from http://www.giftfromwithin.org/html/cptsd-understanding-treatment.html.
Haskell, L. & Randall, M. (2009). Disrupted attachments: A social context complex trauma framework and the lives of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada. Journal of Aboriginal Health. Retrieved from: http://www.learningtoendabuse.ca/sites/default/files/Haskell-Randall.pdf.