Many people think that PTSD is only for people who have been in a war or have experienced a horrific disaster such as a tornado, shooting, or other traumatic event in which one is confronted with actual or threatened death or serious injury.
Trauma can also occur in other ways, such as being in an abusive relationship, childhood neglect, physical and-or sexual abuse. Response to the trauma almost always involves intense fear, helplessness or horror.
When a trauma persists for a period of time longer than six months, as in emotional-physical-sexually abusive relationships, it is not uncommon to repeatedly relive the event, feelings and body sensations.
Some of the symptoms associated with PTSD include:
- Recurrent and distressing images and-or distressing dreams of the event.
- Feelings that the event is recurring and a sense of reliving the experience, including having active flashbacks.
- Avoidance of activity, places, thoughts, feelings or conversations about the traumatic event.
- Inability to recall some important aspect of the traumatic event.
- Lack of interest in activities and a sense of detachment from others.
- Inability to experience a full range of emotions and a pessimistic attitude about the future.
- Sleep disturbance, irritability, lack of concentration, hyper vigilance, and an exaggerated startle response.
- Alcohol and-or drug abuse.
- Suicidal thoughts.
- Pattern of interpersonal conflict, especially in intimate relationships.
- Dissociative behavior.
When relationships with significant others are the root of the trauma, there can be many lifelong difficulties that remain long after the trauma has ended.
Repeated instances of overwhelming trauma can greatly impact a person’s self-esteem and the way they feel about themselves and their bodies.
If the abuse has been particularly violent, is done by a trusted family member, a traumatized victim might develop alternate selves or alters as a way of coping with the onslaught of feelings.
A victim might begin to believe that she is a helpless, worthless piece of garbage who is entitled to nothing.
A person can be triggered with various aspects of the trauma and can then develop negative self-perceptions in relation to others. These negative beliefs are very difficult to change and can permeate everything a person believes and does.
Fortunately, there are specific treatments designed to lessen the symptoms of PTSD. Treatment modalities can include EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy, CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), medication, hypnotherapy and exposure therapy.
Janet Meyer, MSW, LISW-CP is an associate with Psychological & Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry, LLC in Bluffton.