Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is a severe reaction to a stressor so intense that it imprints upon the mind and brain its terrifying nature. The long lasting effects can result in intense anxiety as well as for some dissociation disorder. The effects can last months after or continue to haunt the person throughout life. In previous eras, it was referred to as Shell Shock as experienced by WWI soldiers but while many soldiers experience PTSD, it can happen to any group of person.
Traumas can be related to war but also to any type of traumatic event than can happen in civilian life as well. Among the type of traumas imposed upon the person include intentional traumas caused by other humans which are the hardest to overcome, as well as human caused accidents and acts of nature, which are usually easier to recover. It is more difficult to overcome intentional acts of humans because these acts of trauma are most associated with evil itself. War, abuse, rape, incest, torture, criminal assault, hostage, bombings, terrorism, suicide, kidnapping, riots, participating in violence, and death threats are a few examples of these severe types of trauma.
Human caused traumas not associated with evil intent still can cause trauma but they are not as mentally crushing to the individual. These types of traumas include industrial accidents, fires, explosions, motor vehicle or plane crashes, nuclear disasters or collapses of buildings. Less traumatic but still impactful or acts of nature, which include any type of storm or geological event, or sudden deaths not associated with evil intent.
Many individuals suffer greatly in this world and the above stressors and trauma inducing events are well above one’s average bad day but are life altering events in many cases. This can cause severe trauma and not allow the mind to properly process the event. The exposure to this stressor leads to an intense fear or horror to the event itself. In assessing PTSD, the events must be re-experienced via intrusive recollections, dreams, and hallucinations that can be activated due to similar cues. The individual in turn will attempt to avoid numerous things to escape these intrusive reminders. The individual will try to block thoughts, feelings, places, and activities to avoid it. They will disassociate in events and people and try to detach themselves.
In essence, the PTSD interrupts life in all aspects. Individuals will have trouble sleeping, become irritable easily, not be able to concentrate, become hypervigilant, and have exaggerated responses to some stimuli. This type of behavior can last acutely for one month, chronically for six months or more and can even be delayed, well after the event and re-emerge months later.
Those who suffer from PTSD face two major symptoms, high levels of anxiety and dissociation.
Severe anxiety leaves the person in constant distress even if the stressor is no longer present. It can manifest physically upon the person through fatigue, tension, nausea, digestive track inflammation, hyperventilation, suffocating feelings, and a wide array of panic attacks. Emotionally it can cause irritation, fear, exaggeration of emotions and loss of confidence. Mentally, anxiety can cause confusion, lack of concentration, poor memory and inability to make decisions. Spiritually, one may encounter hopelessness and despair. Many look to avoid stressors that naturally cause these feelings and the person will become more reclusive.
In regards to dissociation, most healthy individuals possess an associated consciousness that engages in life, but when a trauma so terrible occurs, the mind does not process the terrible event in long term memory and it is trapped in short term memory. Without proper processing, the trauma continues to haunt the person. It is hence natural, during a horrible event to dissociate from it. When something is so horrible to comprehend, the body for its own protection will tune out. Unfortunately, the unprocessed and walled off trauma is highly unstable and very accessible. It is also very emotional and non verbal and hence impressionable via our senses. The trauma is very fragmented and associated with multiple triggers due to this. The senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, pressure and pain can all awaken these fragmented traumas and cause recollections. The trauma can also be re-awakened by significant dates or seasons or events, as well as tied to strong emotions, thoughts and behaviors. Sometimes the arousal is due to a combination of senses.
Dissociation looks to defend the individual from the horrific nature of the event itself. During a horrible event, the person may depersonalize from the event itself, as if separating from oneself and watching. Another form of this is derealization where the person real believe the event was not real but a dream. Some individuals actually lose parts of the memory itself. Amnesia and forgetting the event looks to help the person forget the horrific nature of it all together, while some may enter into a fugue where an individual has no memory whatsoever of how one got from one place to another during the episode.
The most severe form of dissociation is Dissociative Identity Disorder when a person actually creates multiple identities to deal with the trauma itself. Also known as Multiple Personality Disorder, one creates other personalities with stronger characteristics to protect the host from the trauma itself.
Associated with dissociation and anxiety are a variety of associated features that can become attached to PTSD. Many individuals who suffer from PTSD also exhibit a variety of these features in their behavior.
When severe trauma occurs, many have a death imprint that forever changes their outlook on life. This leads to repeating within the mind how they wish they behaved or acted. In this, they may feel extreme shame or guilt, or survivor guilt. Others will develop a severe anxiety with any topic of death itself. With severe trauma, others may also experience shattered world views. One may doubt his or her faith or question how one exists. Such an existential crisis is very common.
There are also a variety of mood disturbances that one may encounter fights with depression and also addiction. Impulsive behaviors can also occur where individuals try to make sudden changes to escape the pain as well as over compensations in other roads of life. Some will also try to relive their trauma and re-enact them in contrast to others The mind also can negatively affect the body and there are a multitude of physical ailments that occur from chronic pains to fatigue and exhaustion.
To escape the mental pain, many will turn to other forms of pleasure. In addition to addiction, some become overtly sexual to find value, while others may turn to self mutilation. These cries for help are attempts to express pain that cannot be visualized or seen. In other cases, this type of behavior looks to cover mental pain with physical pain.
Ironically, it can paradoxically relieve pain and help individuals become addicted to self harm. Others remark it helps them feel alive or makes them feel empowered and in control. Others reiterate it can be used to make themselves less attractive to prevent further abuse or imitate what was seen or experienced.
Unfortunately, without guidance and help, these symptoms and unhealthy coping mechanisms will continue with individuals with PTSD unless helped. They need to face the trauma and understand it. Guidance is required to help process the horrible memory to the long term processing centers of the brain.
If you would like to learn more about AIHCP’s Stress Management Certification, then please review and see if it meets your academic and professional goals. The program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification in Stress Management. AIHCP also offers programs in Crisis Intervention as well. Remember, that even if certified, one still need to be a licensed professional in the mental health fields to work with individuals suffering from PTSD.
The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook: A Guide to Healing, Recovery and Growth by Glenn R Schiraldi, Ph.D