Understanding Trauma and PTSD
Traumatic events are situations that are shocking and emotionally overwhelming. They may involve actual or threaten death, serious injury, or threat to physical integrity. Such traumatic events may include a hurricane, car accident, physical assault or abuse in childhood. The way people react to such events can vary from being mild to debilitating. In the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event, it is common to experience shock or denial. It is also common to have feelings of helplessness or vulnerability.
Many people commonly associate Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with combat veterans, but this can occur in anyone who has experienced trauma. The exposure to trauma can also be indirect such as learning about the violent death of a loved one or from repeated exposure to trauma details as a police officer.
There are four categories of PTSD symptoms that you may identify with:
- Intrusive Thoughts; recurring and unwanted memories, nightmares or flashbacks of the traumatic event
- Avoidance; avoiding people or places that are reminders of the trauma or avoiding remembering anything about the event
- Negative Thoughts and Feelings; distorted beliefs about oneself or the world (ex. “no one can be trusted,” prolonged anger, guilt, shame, feeling detached from others
- Arousal/ Reactivity; irritability, angry outbursts, reckless or self-destructive behaviour, easily startled, and difficulty sleeping
It is important to understand that not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD. There are so many factors to account for including prior trauma exposure and how well that was dealt with as well as current life stressors and supports. Intentional interpersonal trauma (including child abuse and neglect) tends to have the greatest impact in terms of harmful psychological consequences. This is often referred to by many professionals as complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
For a diagnosis of PTSD, symptoms must last for more than a month, often persisting for many months and sometimes years. Many people develop some symptoms within 3 months of the original trauma but it is not uncommon for other symptoms to appear later on. For those with PTSD, symptoms cause significant distress or impact their ability to function. Many people with PTSD need professional treatment to recover. The distress caused by trauma is not someone’s fault, and PTSD is treatable with counselling.
Written by Kennedy McLean, Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) at Balanced Mind and Wellness Inc.
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