The “Katie” Enigma…Part II…The Question of C-PTSD…

It has been brought to my attention by an Anonymous Commenter that Patricia Krenwinkel could have been suffering from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during the two years she lived with Charles Manson and The Family, and that it was this C-PTSD that could account for her lapses of memory during the two nights of murder in the Tate-LaBianca killings.
There is evidence to suggest that a certain form of episodic dissociation can occur with C-PTSD. That one can, in the midst of a prolonged traumatic episode, be affected by a detachment of one’s mental or physical processes. But this kind of dissociation has only been found in persons suffering trauma far beyond that of a one or two year period of stress and that the stress has to be so pervasive that the affected person feels they have no control over and no freedom to escape the situation in which they find themselves. This hardly describes Pat’s situation with Charlie and The Family.
C-PTSD also requires that an individual be in this helpless state for a considerable amount of time or to experience this lack of stress control while a child under the mental/physical abuse of their caregiver.
Pat may have had a family setting in which problems were not openly discussed but there has been no evidence to suggest that she suffered any child abuse by either parent, to any mental or physical excess. She may have felt unloved and/or neglected to some degree, as many children can feel of their parents, but this kind of perception is no where near damaging enough to subject the child to any form of PTSD.
There is a 25 % chance of the existence of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) in an individual who has had no childhood history of abuse or neglect. This can be an inherited disorder six times more likely if one or more of their immediate relatives have been diagnosed with the same disorder. To date, there has been no evidence of any BPD in any of Pat’s immediate relatives despite the fact that her half-sister Charlene had an untreated drug addiction. The fact that such a disorder was rarely correctly diagnosed in the 40s and 50s leaves us without enough information to suggest that such a disorder trait was evident in the Krenwinkel family.
The side-effect of dissociation in C-PTSD can occur in a individual to the extent of episodic amnesia, depersonalization, discrete states of consciousness with selective memory loss. But these kinds of traumatic lapses in memory can only occur after a very prolonged and protracted amount of time, usually beginning in childhood where the child feels completely helpless to escape the abuse. Adult dissociation can formulate but only after a very long period whereby the adult feels completely helpless to escape the abuse.
Pat lived less than 2 years with Charlie and in that time, by her accounts and the accounts of other Family members, the controlling, fearful nature of Charlie’s reign was only evident in the last months just before the murders took place. That in the beginning, joining The Family was a pleasant experience and all who participated felt no need to escape from their surroundings.
Pat was almost 20 when she joined The Family and had only a desire to leave her previous life because it bored her, not because she was escaping any kind of adult abuse. She may have felt under stress caring for Charlene’s little boy, paying the bills and living with a drug-addicted sister but none of those stressors were so protracted, prolonged or abusive enough to cause PTSD prior to joining The Family. And once in The Family, the time she spent with Charlie was not long enough nor severe enough to cause PTSD, much less C-PTSD in a well-adjusted adult.
Pat always had an “out” from Charlie’s Family. She was never held in The Family against her will and she had friends and relatives outside The Family to escape to if she had ever felt the need. Therefore, it is highly doubtful that Pat had cause to suffer any form of PTSD and therefore had no neurological proclivity to suffer any form of dissociation.
If Pat had been suffering from BPD, symptoms of dissociation could have formed if given enough time in an abusive environment that she felt she had no power to escape. But this is just not the environment Pat found herself in with Charlie. And even if she had, BPD by itself does not manifest dissociative symptoms without protracted exposure to traumatic events, so the addition of memory loss in Pat cannot originate from her short negative period with Charlie.
As well, these types of psychoses would have manifested themselves long before joining The Family and by all accounts there was no evidence of memory loss or behavioural control problems in her childhood or young adult life before she joined The Family.
The jury is still out as to whether or not Pat suffered from a mental disorder prior to joining The Family and if she did, did the abuse of mind-altering drugs aggravate any symptoms she may have had living with a disorder? The psychiatrists who examined her within the earliest months and years following her excessive drug abuse and traumatic murderous acts, stated that she did suffer from a mental disorder but to my knowledge, they never classified the type and then in later examinations stated that she no longer suffered from one at all.
PTSD and/or BPD symptoms rarely completely disappear in affected individuals, so I suspect Pat was suffering from some sort of temporary psychosis at the time of her arrest and once the excessive drug abuse stopped, that psychosis ebbed and eventually disappeared.
And in terms of memory loss, it is my studied opinion that Pat’s recollection of events during those two nights of murder, if affected by BPD or C-PTSD, would have been far more wide spread and pervasive. She has not blocked out those nights completely but only specific acts in those nights, which is just not characteristic of the dissociation patterns of a C-PTSD or BPD subject.
Recovery from C-PTSD takes a great amount of time and a multi-modal approach which involves incorporating a safe environment with stable familial relationships, aspects which have not been readily available to Pat while in prison. Yet psychiatrists report that Pat no longer suffers from any mental disorder suggesting she never suffered from BPD or C-PTSD in the first place.
Although what I have just stated is completely speculative, Pat would undoubtedly have to undergo far more psychological testing to determine if her memory loss of specific actions perpetrated by her was a direct result of any dissociative behaviour, and to date, with what little is known about her mental treatment, it is difficult to assess her memory loss one way or the other.
And to the Anonymous Commenter, I still say the jury is out on this subject and will remain out, I fear, for the rest of Pat’s days if no further testing is done to determine the reasons for her specific actions memory loss.
Cook, A.; Blaustein M.; Spinazzola, J.; Van Der Kolk, B. (2005) “Complex trauma in children and adolescents”
Distel et al. Chromosome 9: Linkage for borderline personality disorder features. Psychiatric Genetics, 2008
Distel et al. Heritability of borderline personality disorder. Psychological Medicine 2008
Herman, J. L. (1992) Complex PTSD: A syndrome in survivors of prolonged and repeated trauma. Journal of Traumatic Stress
Herman, Judith Lewis (1997) “Trauma and recovery: The aftermath of violence from domestic abuse to political terror”
Whealin, Julia M. Ph. D. & Slone, Laurie Ph. D. “Complex PTSD”


Anonymous said…
As a result of childhood abuse, I was diagnosed with c-ptsd when I was in my early 20s. I was unlucky enough to meet a psychopathic partner and got caught in that cycle. I think one of the reasons I am fascinated by the case is that nagging voice that wonders if I could have done it, if I could have killed. While involved with my ex, I was brainwashed in my reactions and whatnot. But there was a line I did not ever cross.

Thanks to extensive therapy I am now pretty much recovered of my ptsd, tho sometimes I still have a tendency to escape reality when things get too much.

so I agree. blaming it on ptsd is just too easy.

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