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Is PTSD Always Fear Based?

Updated: Aug 1


I have a thesis about the different reasons from where Trauma develops. They may be related to fear, but I see them connected by the different needs that we have to attach. (I’m going to use the word trauma instead of PTSD to include all the spectrum and not only a one event type of trauma).

We have 3 different needs to attach, and each one relates to each level of the brain.




  1. The first level of attachment has to do with our Reptilian brain. We need to survive, we need to know someone is going to feed us and to take care of use for us not to die. According to Bowlby's attachment theory, it’s called Safe Heaven. Once we grow older, safety is not about mom, but about having sustenance, stability, someone we can count on to keep living; otherwise we feel abandoned and unsafe.

  2. Bowlby called it Secure Base to the second level of attachment where the attachment figure acts as a base of security from which the child can explore the surrounding environment. That attachment is connected to the limbic brain, which is in charge of emotions and belonging. We crave having someone to explore with, to share life with. Even when the main provider is the caregiver, as we grow older, we understand that we are part of a “tribe” and that being outcasted from the tribe could mean social death. If we don’t attach at this level, we feel alone.

  3. The third level of attachment corresponds to our human brain (neocortex) which is the part of us that has the capacity to abstract. At this level, we need to connect to a deeper level with someone that could be a person, a cause, or God itself. At this level, we need to find a purpose to find motivation and to feel safe.

There are different emotions that rule each one of those levels of attachment:

  1. FEAR: for the first level, not attaching means death. Our brain’s primary function (priority number one) is to keep the system alive. When fear is present, the brain will believe that the person is in danger, and Trauma could develop. This type of trauma is more evident in BPD for example.

  2. SHAME: for the second level, shame triggers a terrible fear of not belonging, of being rejected and therefore isolated, of being ostracised. That possibility could feel like death itself, and therefore the defenses get activated not by fear directly, but by shame. The nervous system acts as if the person is in danger to perish, and trauma could develop. This type of trauma is more in line with NPD, HPD, and several other personality disorders that are related to social interactions.

  3. GUILT: for the third level, doing something wrong could mean not been loved, not being redeemed, and therefore, could be punished in ways that go from the family, to being incarcerated, to going to hell. This possibility is even more destabilizing than the previous two. In this scenario, the survival defenses get activated by the guilt that triggers the fear of censure, proscription, or condemnation. The defenses get activated and therefore, Trauma can develop. This type of traumatization is related to paranoia, psychosis, PPD, DID, and disorders connected with faith and dissociation.

Therefore, even if those are fear-based, since the survival mechanisms are triggered by fear, and Trauma develops due to the activation of the survival mechanisms, the origin of the fear comes from other more important emotions and reasons other than staying alive.


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