Post Traumatic Stress
Who develops post traumatic stress symptoms?
It is important to recognize that not everyone who faces a traumatic event develops persistent post-traumatic symptoms. It is usual for most people to experience symptoms for a few weeks or months and then the symptoms disappear. This ability to bounce back and effectively work through the effects of trauma, is facilitated by a safe and supportive environment. For that person, the trauma becomes a point in time – a part of their history, rather than remaining a part of their present as is the case for those suffering with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It also depends when developmentally the trauma occurred and if the trauma is repetitive. The younger you are the less psychological resources you have and if the more repetitive the more likely you develop trauma related coping strategies such as psychologically numbing.
A lot of people do not develop full blown PTSD symptoms but may have aspects of it that they live with.
For example; emotional numbing or difficulties with anger and emotional flooding that often trace back to traumatic events. Relational trauma especially from early childhood can affect an individual’s ability to form close intimate connections and affect your ability to trust.
Symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
The onset of symptoms of traumatization may occur immediately after the event or may occur weeks or even years later.
PTSD may be classified as acute (duration of symptoms is less than three months), chronic (duration is three months or more) or delayed onset (onset of symptoms is at least six months after). For some people, symptoms may emerge years later when another trauma or distressing event triggers the original trauma.
One way to think about the experience of PTSD is that it is an anxiety state where the person’s nervous system is stuck in the response to trauma. The four main symptoms are:
- Intrusion: Recurrent recollections of the event.
Dreams, intrusive memories, and exaggerated emotional and physical reactions to events that remind person of the trauma.
- Numbing: Emotional distancing from surrounding people and events.
Depression, loss of interest in activities, reduced ability to feel emotions (particularly emotions of intimacy, tenderness, or sexuality), irritability, hopelessness
- Avoidance: Fear and avoidance behavior.
Fear and avoidance of people, places, thoughts, or activities associated with the trauma, development of anxiety disorders (GAD, panic, specific and social phobias)
- Arousal: Agitated state of constant wakefulness and alertness.
Hypervigilance, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentration.
There may be vivid nightmares and flashbacks, intrusive thoughts about the event or what could have happened, anxiety, panic, sleep disturbances, irritability, feelings of uncontrollable rage and a sense of hyper-vigilance. Conversely, there may also be emotional numbing, depression, fatigue, a sense of detachment both from oneself and others and loss of motivation, joy and interest in one’s life.
Trauma shatters a person’s sense of safety and belief in the world as a benevolent place. This can be very painful and difficult to live with. This shatters our social connections and ability to form intimate connections. Our trust in ourselves and others is shaken.
Much can feel like it is lost, such as: the world is safe and predictable, our personal sense of control and efficacy, our identity, and meaning in life. These losses can affect an individual for many years.
Coping with PTSD
Chronic and debilitating symptoms of PTSD often force people to develop adaptive strategies in attempts to avoid the disturbing, distressing and disorienting effects of their symptoms.
These strategies may include:
- self-harm (in an effort to numb the pain or conversely to feel more alive),
- self-medication with substances and alcohol,
- high risk behaviours (to counter the sense of detachment/deadness).
A Mind – Body approach is shown to be very effective for people suffering with PTSD. Our therapists have been trained in a number of approaches including; somatic transformation, mindfulness, EMDR, Internal Family Systems, and experiential process work.
Creative methods are useful to explore dreams, images, art work to uncover unconscious material. We work towards making the unconscious conscious, working through past traumatic experiences as they emerge in the present.