What is trauma? by most standards trauma is defined as an event by which the person feels severely threatened either morally, psychologically or physically.
Post Traumatic Stress is an anxiety component installed within the person’s consciousness after having undergone a catastrophic situation or at the very least dangerous to the person’s security/integrity. It may occur directly or indirectly; when the person is present and is the subject of the experience or when the person is witness to an event without having had to be participant.
This type of anguish is an invasive condition and one which is difficult to cope with. PTSD gives rise to a multitude of symptoms and does not express itself in the same way from one person to another; although there are patterns which allow therapists to identify the existence of Post Traumatic Stress.
Typically but not always, the event presents itself in an unexpected way; because of this, trauma leaves a person feeling vulnerable and impotent. After the event takes place, trauma leaves the person in a state of obsession, always being on the alert.
A person who has faced trauma tends to keep thinking about the event and replaying how things happened over and over again. The person affected does this in an attempt to try to understand and make sense of what happened. Usually the more traumatic the event, the more a person obsessively thinks about what could have happened to stop the whole thing from occurring; he or she may feel their life has forever been marked. Thinking obsessively about the event can give rise to severe anxiety among other disorders. This overthinking is only natural since a human life has been altered in a most unexpected and painful way; the way he or she now sees the world has been changed dramatically.
The first month after a traumatic event is usually labeled as a time of “Acute Stress”. It is normal for a person during this time to undergo a whole array of mixed up emotions, such as anxiety accompanied by anger, hostility, apathy. Often feelings of guilt and shame surface as the person tends to look at how she could have done things differently to change what happened, or what did she do to “ask” for such a brutalization. In a large number of cases the individual starts suffering of depression. About 60-80% of people who experience PTSD also experience depression. The majority of them experience troubles identifying and expressing their authentic emotions and many start creating an “escape” from reality: they can engage in self destructive behavior or they can pretend the event did not occur, etc.
PTSD is without a doubt a very complex scenario. As Judith Lewis Herman stated, the central dialectic of psychological trauma lies in the conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them out loud.
The usual symptoms of PTSD are: Dullness, detachment, apathy; feeling as if numbed, stunned and not understanding or not being able to reach their everyday environment. They may experience feelings of derealization; what happened is too unbelievable to understand. Traits of depersonalization; unable to connect with self, feeling as if what happened occurred to someone else, the whole event is not tied to self–instead, it is as if the person had been an spectator, in many cases amnesia is also present.
People with PTSD tend to bring back the event through constant thinking, dreams or nightmares, fantasies, associations and even hallucinations. Other symptoms of dysfunction include difficulty sleeping, permanent alertness, constant jitters and motor restlessness; they cannot be still.
It is ideal for a person who has undergone a traumatic event to be treated as soon as possible. This intervention should include at least five elements:
- Relaxation Training
- Verbal and mental organization of the facts involved.
- Gradual exposure to spaces and object which may have become the source of anxiety.
- Symbolic re-elaboration of events; depending of the meaning this may have according to each person.
It is important to be gentle with people experiencing PTSD but also to understand your limitations. Sometimes in an effort to help someone one may end up causing more damage, specially if one isn’t prepared to handle things as they unfold.
I leave you with a quote which accurately reflects my feelings on PTSD..
“Always remember, if you have been diagnosed with PTSD, it is not a sign of weakness; rather it is proof of your strength, because you have survived”
― Michelle Templet