According to the National Institutes of Health website “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.”
Signs and Symptoms of PTSD are grouped into three categories:
1. Re-experiencing symptoms:
• Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating
• Bad dreams
• Frightening thoughts.
Re-experiencing symptoms may cause problems in a person’s everyday routine. They can start from the person’s own thoughts and feelings. Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger re-experiencing.
2. Avoidance symptoms:
• Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
• Feeling emotionally numb
• Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry
• Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past
• Having trouble remembering the dangerous event.
Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms. These symptoms may cause a person to change his or her personal routine. For example, after a bad car accident, a person who usually drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.
3. Hyperarousal symptoms:
• Being easily startled
• Feeling tense or “on edge”
• Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts.
Hyperarousal symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic event. They can make the person feel stressed and angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.
Unfortunately whenever a psychological experience is dubbed “a disorder” people get the impression that the person who has this experience is “defective” or “crazy” or of poor character. The thought that PTSD symptoms are related to some core defect in character/personality serves to further increase the sufferer’s anxiety and level of symptoms. Not wanting to consider any predisposing factors to these symptoms may also prevent a person from doing real soul searching.
There is one main reason to emphasize that PTSD symptoms constitute a disorder. That is that the symptoms greatly impair a person’s ability to function. They also rob people of love and well-being. Overwhelming anxiety is not conducive to well-being or loving relationships.
Because PTSD symptoms are debilitating we have to address them, face them and ultimately conquer them. That means acknowledging the other fears/concerns that go along with having these symptoms:
1. Am I crazy?
2. Am I defective?
3. Will I ever be normal again?
4. Why did this happen to me?
5. How can I prevent this from happening again?
6. Can I trust myself?
To start to recover, notice that if you reduce PTSD down to its core essence it is simply difficulty processing that the trauma was then and today is now. For people whose PTSD is related to an experience with a sociopath, the problem is that the sociopath may not be gone. The then and now is blurred. The worst things done by the sociopath are in the past and there may be protections in place but the sociopath is still around. Sometimes that source of trauma is the other parent of beloved children.
Recovery in such a context means having a clear head to really sort out what was then and what is now. Next week we will consider other roadblocks to distinguishing then from now.