Genes and post traumatic stress-MSNBC article

How is life after RSE? What negative effects are you dealing with? How has it affected loved ones? What has helped you towards healing and moving on? Share with others here.
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Genes and post traumatic stress-MSNBC article

Unread post by littlewiseone » Wed Mar 19, 2008 3:25 am

Thought you all might find this article of interest as it conveys a possible connection between genes and the propensity for PTSD. Many report symptoms similar to PTSD after leaving an abusive situation, thought-controlled environment or cult.

Moderators: If you think this is better placed in the News article section of the forum feel free to move it, I just thought it applied well to the recovery aspect of leaving a group such as RSE since many deal with PTSD-like symptoms.
...and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make...

- The Beatles

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David McCarthy
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Unread post by David McCarthy » Wed Mar 19, 2008 5:15 am

Thanks for that littlewiseone,

I?ve witnessed several ex- RSE members battling PTSD syndrome soon after getting out..
The fear, shame?the a terrible place to flounder in..
PTSD may lead to a flaming episode, or at worst a destructive meltdown brought on by a 'trigger".
This is a serious factor in RSE recovery, and not to be overlooked.
The ?Now I have wonderful life?...! is not always the reality of leaving a Cult, and it may be a long and winding road home.
Although I can claim to have a wonderful life now?
It has been a journey of ten years cleaning out the RSE trash.
But every so often..I have my moments..
Sometimes it can be the hardest thing to differentiate between the Baby and the Bathwater...
At least I was born perfect ..and that helps.
But.. I cannot blame it all on RSE?
Oh hell.. Yes I can..
Or at least on the mechanisms that breeds such monsters in our society..
The word ?blame? is somewhat loaded in RSE, so how about the word Accountability..?
And another shocker of a word... Responsibility.
Hopefully... both will arrive at Judith's RSE doorstep real soon.

I only heard of PTSD just a year ago,
a Google search on "Cults and PTSD"..brought up a mountain of information,
I came across this article from The Freedom of mind resource center.

The really good news is...
The daffodils are out, and spring is here in the Pacific NW.



An Independent Research Project
by Ilona C. Cuddy
to Farah Maniei, Ed.D.
Professional Seminar Leader in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of Master of Mental Health Counseling
at Cambridge College Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Cults have become a phenomenon in our world today. There are thousands of members in the United States alone. Ex-members exhibit symptoms of posttraumatic stress due to the use of mind control techniques which are used within the cults. 10 ex-members of cults were sought out through the internet to participate in a survey which was designed to assess whether ex-cult members suffer from symptoms of posttraumatic stress. The 4 page survey consisted of three parts; history, symptoms, and treatment. Age of involvement was usually early twenties and thirties. Subjects reported having a religious preference, several had close friends and most had up to 3 years of college education. The majority of subjects experienced a predominant loss prior to joining the cult. A few had traumatic experiences preceding membership. Subjects did not display posttraumatic stress disorder prior to joining a cult unless they had experienced a trauma. Ex-cult members clearly showed that dissociative symptoms are central to the cult experience. Almost all subjects sought multiple treatments for recovery. These included; psychotherapy, individual and group, medication, pastoral counseling and exit counseling.

Chapter 4: What Effect do Cults Have on Their Victims?
Many ex-cult members suffer from posttraumatic stress syndrome. To understand how they develop this problem we must understand what PTSD is. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) describes the characteristic symptoms of PTSD as follows:
"The essential feature of PTSD is the development of characteristic symptoms following exposure to an extreme traumatic stressor involving direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury or a threat to the physical integrity of another person; The person's response to the event must involve intense fear; helplessness, or horror (or in children the response must involve disorganized or agitated behavior). The characteristic symptoms resulting from the exposure to the extreme trauma include persistent re-experiencing of the traumatic event, persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and numbing of general responsiveness and persistent symptoms of increased arousal. The full symptom picture must be present for more than one month and must cause disturbance in social occupational or other important areas of functioning" (American Psychiatric Association, 1994, p. 424).
One of the most direct observations of trauma's make-up was made by van der Kolk et al. (1996) who point out that "What constitutes a trauma is highly personal and depends on pre-existing mental schemata" (p. 304). Psychic trauma occurs when a sudden overwhelming blow or series of blows hits a person emotionally from an outside force. It is important to note that trauma happens from external forces but are quickly incorporated internally. An individual will not feel totally traumatized unless they feel utterly helpless when the trauma happens (Terr, 1990).
The DSM-IV states the traumatic episode can be continually re-experienced in many ways. It is not unusual for the person to have flashbacks which come in the form of recurrent and intrusive recollections of the event or to have nightmares where the incident is continually replayed. The individual may undergo dissociative states that last from a few seconds to several hours or even days. The event is relived during that period. Certain events may trigger psychological distress such as particular music, an odor, weather, or even an anniversary of the event (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).
A person will repeatedly go out of their way to avoid stimuli associated with the trauma. This can be seen in the person avoiding feelings, conversation, and thoughts in connection with the trauma. They may even avoid certain people, activities, or situations which may trigger memories. "This avoidance of reminders may include amnesia for an important aspect of the traumatic event. Diminished responsiveness to the external world, referred to as "psychic numbing" or "emotional anesthesia," usually begins soon after the event" (DSM-IV, p. 425). The person may express a lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities, or a lack of emotions. They also may show a foreshortened sense of the future.
The DSM-IV describes individuals with PTSD having hyper-sensitivity to stimuli which they may not have experienced prior to the trauma. They may have problems with sleeping due to nightmares, hypervigilance, and an exaggerated startle response. They may experience an inability to concentrate or complete tasks and difficulty with outbursts of anger. It is also not unusual for the person to develop a phobic avoidance to situations that resemble the original trauma. This can lead to difficulty in interpersonal relationships which can lead to marital conflicts, divorce, or loss of a job (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).
The DSM-IV goes on to explain that there are other associated features and disorders that are related to PTSD.
"The following constellation of symptoms may occur and are more commonly seen in association with an interpersonal stressor: impaired affect modulation, self-destructive and impulsive behavior; dissociative symptoms; somatic complaints; feelings of ineffectiveness, shame, despair, or hopelessness; feeling permanently damaged; a loss of previously sustained beliefs; hostility; social withdrawal; feeling constantly threatened; impaired relationships with others: or a change from the individuals previous personality characteristics" (American Psychiatric Association, p. 425).
The DSM-IV relates, "There may be increased risk of Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Social Phobia, Specific Phobia, Major Depressive Disorder, Somatization Disorder, and Substance-Related Disorders" (American Psychiatric Association, p. 425). It is't known as to what extent these disorders precede or follow PTSD.
How an individual copes with external forces is a major issue for the individual who develops PTSD. Van der Kolk et al. (1996) contend that coping can be divided into two categories. The first can be termed as problem focused coping, in which the individual channels resources to solve the stress and creates more problems. The second, can be termed emotion-focused coping, in which an attempt to ease the threat is made through intrapsychic forces such as the use of denial. Problem focused may appear to be the superior of the two on the surface. Van der Kolk et al. (1996) continue to observe, "It is associated with lower rates of PTSD in combat soldiers. However, different styles of coping can be useful under different conditions. Although being assertive often helps people escape from danger, it may be dangerous when a person is being tortured, when a child is being physically or sexually abused , or when a person is a witness to violence. In such cases, passive coping is not maladaptive; sometimes "spacing out" and disengaging can help people survive" (p. 304).
Processing is effected in three different ways by people who have PTSD. First, they over interpret the stimuli as recreations of the original trauma. Second, they suffer from hyperarousal and have difficulty distinguishing what is relevant and what is not. Third, they continue to use dissociation to deal with the original trauma and new intrusions (van der Kolk et al., 1996).
It was first pointed out by Abram Kardiner (1941) that people with PTSD have narrow attention focus. They are constantly on the look out for the return of the trauma whether they know it or not. This hyperarousal creates a vicious cycle: state dependent memory retrieval causes increased access to traumatic memories and involuntary intrusions of the trauma. This may lead in turn to even more arousal (van der Kolk et al., 1996).
People with PTSD have trouble attending to neutral or pleasurable stimuli. McFarlane, Weber, and Clark (1993) found that they need to use more effort in responding to everyday ordinary experience. This issue of trying to focus on what really matters amplifies the role of the trauma in the patients? lives. Their inattention prevents them from getting pleasure out of what is happening in the here and now, and interferes with building specific skills and mastery of emotions. They are frequently overwhelmed by emotions but do not understand where they come from. Because of this inability to identify what they are feeling, it is difficult for them to do anything about it (Krystal, 1978, van der Kolk & Ducey, 1989).
West and Martin (1996) claim that the conditions of coercive indoctrination are likely to be experienced as psychologically traumatic because they are outside of the normal range of events and thus provide an environment for PTSD to occur. "There are other subtle forms of trauma which may happen in the cult such as complete disruption of life circumstances, being cut off from usual channels of communication and orientation, being bombarded by strange or unusual stimuli" (p. 7). They further comment that "psychopathologists have concluded that cult situations produce PTSD in which dissociative defense mechanisms are used. Symptoms produced can be trance states, depersonalization, partial amnesia, feelings of unreality, emotional numbness or an altered sense of identity" (p. 8). Van der Kolk et al. (1996) state that the critical issue in PTSD is that the stimuli that cause people to overreact may not be conditioned enough; a variety of triggers not directly related to the traumatic experience may come to precipitate extreme reactions such as floating, chanting, or a glassy-eyed response. Emotions become reminders to people with PTSD of their helplessness and inability to have control over their life. As a result, emotions become triggers to their traumatic memories.
Dissociation is focused on in this paper because it is my observation that it is a major component in the cult member's experience. Van der Kolk et al. (1996) observe that dissociation is a way of organizing information. It refers to a compartmentalization of experience. "Elements of a trauma are not integrated into a unitary whole or an integrated sense of self. Instead these traumatic memories are characteristically stored separately from other memories, in discrete personality states" (p. 306). Many victims experience depersonalization, out-of-body experiences, bewilderment, confusion, disorientation, altered pain perception, altered body image, tunnel vision and immediate dissociative experiences (Marmar et al., 1994b; Marmar, Weiss, & Metzler, in press-a; Weiss, Marmar, et al., 1995).
Martin et al. (1992) illustrate that clinical observers, beginning with Clark (1979) and Singer (1978), appear to be correct in their contention that dissociative defenses help cultists adapt to the contradictory and intense demands of the cult environment as long as members are not rebelling against the group's psychological controls. Their outward demeanor can appear to be normal much as a person with Multiple Personality Disorder [ aka Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)] can appear to be normal. However, this normal appearing personality, as West (1992) maintains, is a pseudopersonality. "When cultists leave their group, the flood gates open up and they suffer. But they don't generally return to the cult because the suffering they experience after leaving the cult is more genuine than the "happiness" they experience while in it" (Martin et al. p. 240).
Van der Kolk et al. (1996) assert that DID is not the only condition where a high amount of dissociation may occur. High levels of trauma and dissociation have been found in Borderline Personality Disorder (e.g. Herman et al., 1989; Ogata et al., 1990); somatization Disorder (Saxe et al., 1994); major depression; and PTSD (Bremmer et al., 1992, 1993; Spiegal et al., 1988); as well as in patients with dissociative disorders themselves (Bernstein & Putman, 1986; Boon & Drayer, 1993; Saxe et al., 1993). Prospectively, dissociation is a predictor both of self-mutilation and of suicide attempts (van der Kolk, Perry, & Herman, 1991).
Van der Kolk et al. (1996) suggest "That the type of person associated with peritraumatic dissociation are younger people with less work experience, more vulnerable personality structures, greater reliance on the external world for a sense of security, and greater use of maladaptive coping strategies" (p. 314). He continues to state that younger ages tend to give rise to greater symptomology in PTSD. "This in part can be understood as the result of a developmental fixation at earlier stages of psychological maturation" (p. 318). Terr (1990) contends that the main difference between childhood fears and the mundane fears of trauma can be seen in the passion and long-lastingness with which posttraumatic fears of the mundane are held. She reports, "Fear of the mundane may express itself as fear of the dark, a fear of strangers, fear of being alone, fear of playmates? fathers" (p.46).
"More recently, Herman et al. found that among patients with Borderline Personality Disorder, a history of abuse in childhood was associated with higher scores on the Dissociative Experiences Scale. Thus dissociative phenomena are mobilized by trauma and are intrinsic to the symptomalogy of PTSD" (Spiegel and Cardena, p. 41). Not all cult members have histories of child abuse but children introduced to Satanism and ritual abuse certainly may possess characteristics of dissociation.
When a person is a victim of trauma, such as in a cult experience, the person is left with an extreme and unpleasant view of oneself as degraded, humiliated or cowardly. This view can be dragged along with the individual throughout their lifetime. It is this worst view of self that tends to become dominant and seems to the victim like the real truth underlying a facade of normality (Spiegel and Cardena, 1990).
The MCMI and clinical reports (Ash, 1985; Clark, 1979; Singer, 1979) and Galanter's (1983) research strongly suggest that the level of post-cult distress is quite high. This causes Langone to comment:
"And yet the majority eventually leave [Baker, 1984]. Why? If they were unhappy before they joined, became happier after they joined, were pressured to remain, left anyway, and were more distressed than ever after leaving. What could have impelled them to leave and to remain apart from the group?
The undeniable conclusion seems to be that the cults do not necessarily provide the nirvana experience they claim to offer (Martin et al., 1992).
Now that we have looked at the make-up of PTSD, we can look at the psychological problems the cult member may develop. The sample from the MCMI-I of ex-cultists can be characterized as having abnormal levels of distress in several of the personality and clinical symptoms scales. We may see such symptoms as "anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, sleeplessness, violent outbursts, memory loss, vivid flashbacks, somataform and dysthymia. Research strongly suggests that the level of post-cult distress is quite high" (Martin et al., p. 239).
Swartling and Swartling (1992) point out that "severe and long term psychiatric problems have been recognized in former students of the Word Of Life Bible School. Almost half of the 43 individuals interviewed had experienced psychosis-like symptoms, and one out of 4 had attempted suicide. Anxiety, feelings of guilt, and emotional disorders were common" (p. 78). They continue to endorse that the intense influence of the doctrine and the leadership can lead to long term psychological deficiencies. "Deterioration after joining the Word of Life was reported at 85%" (Swartling & Swartling, p. 81). In 60% of cases from the World of Life, parents noticed marked differences in their children's appearance after joining the cult. "Body posture became tense, with a frozen facial expression and eyes that were staring or had an absent or evasive look" (Swartling & Swartling, p. 83).
Terr (1990) illustrates the fact that psychic numbing is a characteristic that can become a debilitating flaw. A person who lives their life beyond expression with a blunted affect presents a scary picture to the outside world. One parent, Antonio Longo, after observing this change in affect said, "When they kill the mind, kill the soul, it's impossible to prove. But if you are a parent you know what he was like before he went in and what he was like after he came out" (The Cult Observer, 1996).
The results of the 43 individuals from the Word of Life Bible School who Swartling and Swartling (1992) interviewed were as follows:
Anxiety, especially panic attacks 93%
Nightmares, sleeping disorders 86%
Fear of losing one's sanity 77%
Feeling of emptiness 88%
Difficulty handling emotions 91%
Difficulty concentrating 75%
Feeling of loss of identity 60%
Difficulty handling decisions 74%
Feelings of guilt 93%
Difficulties with social contacts 72%
Psychosomatic symptoms 63%
Attempted suicide 23%
Suicidal thoughts 63%

Link.. Freedom of mind resource center ... -cuddy.htm

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