Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is well known as an experience that our veterans contend with. It is also seen in anyone that has had an adverse childhood event, been abandoned, been through a divorce, a health scare, a traumatic accident or fire, experienced a natural disaster, been a victim of a mass violent attack, and experienced front-line trauma as a first responder.
It is fair to say that everyone has experienced some sort of trauma in their life, but some have experienced more trauma than others. Your trauma may seem greater than the trauma felt by others, but every traumatic experience is painful and very personal. We cannot compare pain. Everyone processes trauma differently and it may take some individuals a little longer to move through the trauma.
The National Center for PTSD claims that if someone has symptoms for more than a few months after the traumatic event, then they may have PTSD. Symptoms may begin months later or they may even get triggered years after the traumatic experience. It was also stated that PTSD is not a sign of weakness and that personal factors, such as previous trauma, will determine if a person will develop PTSD, with social support helping them not to develop it.
What is a normal amount of stress?
It is normal to experience acute stress with a rapid heartbeat and hypervigilance in response to an immediate threat or danger (fight or flight response), but it becomes a concern when the stress continues for long time after the threat. It is also concerning when we experience constant stress in whatever form it arises from.
Symptoms for PTSD are not the same for everyone, but the main types are:
• Re-experiencing the event with flashbacks through memories, bad dreams and a racing heart
• Avoiding situations, places, or people that may remind them of the event
• Feeling guilt or shame, having a hard time trusting anyone and not taking part in activities that used to be enjoyed
• A state of hypervigilance, where there is increased anxiety, panic, angry outbursts, trouble sleeping, and is easily startled and always on alert to what is going on around them.
Co-occurring conditions can range from extreme feelings of anger and grief to substance abuse and thoughts of suicide. Neurocognitive disorders, such as dementia or deficits in learning, memory, social cognition and language all have been suggested as a connection to PTSD.
The National Center for PTSD explains that chronic, prolonged exposure to trauma can lead to additional symptoms. This type of PTSD is referred to as Complex PTSD. It is often misdiagnosed, because the symptoms can present as a personality disorder. The survivors avoid related topics, because it is too overwhelming, they may numb their pain with substance abuse or other distractions, and they may pick at their skin or harm themselves. Those who have gone through repeated trauma may be wrongfully judged as having a “victim mentality” or a “weak character.”
Another form of PTSD is called Dissociative Subtype and its symptoms include depersonalization and de-realization, where a person escapes by way of an “out of body experience” or a feeling as if the event is a dream. This state of consciousness is created to cope with the inescapable trauma. As time goes on, these are the individuals who will intellectualize and rationalize everything, whereas the opposite type will be extremely emotionally sensitive and feel everything around them like a sponge. The dissociative type internalizes their pain to not feel emotions, whereas the highly emotionally sensitive type feels too much.
It is fair to say that everyone will experience his or her pain uniquely and they cannot be placed in a single diagnosis box. There is often a variety of or all of the symptoms, not just one or the other. We all feel and express our emotions differently and the intensity behind an emotion of one person does not make it more realistic than the other—it is just different. This difference requires understanding that we are unique beings and perceive experiences distinctively.
Children and PTSD
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that children under six years of age will show signs of PTSD as wetting their bed, not talking or forgetting how to after they have learned, acting out the event at playtime and being uncommonly clingy with a parent. Older children may experience symptoms similar to adults, while also developing disruptive behaviors, becoming more irritable and avoiding or acting out at school.
Developmental Trauma Disorder (DTD)
According to the multiple studies conducted through the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, Developmental Trauma Disorder (DTD) is more complex than PTSD. Children with DTD were shown to have a specific profile of past victimization that involved exposure to family and community violence and disruption of primary attachment relationships.
DTD involves symptoms that parallel and may co-occur with PTSD, but they also involve survival-like adaptations that extend beyond troubling memories, emotional numbing, emotional distress, and hypervigilance to alterations in the way that children regulate their emotions, behavior, relationships, and sense of self. These experiences have an affect on all future relationships.
Those who hold onto being filled with pain from his or her past will not be able to move toward happiness. We cannot have both. Our pain will always be a part of our story, but it cannot be held onto in the form of constant suffering from it all. It takes courage to transform these painful traumatic experiences. We can learn to accept the pain for the lessons learned and use it to help others who have gone through similar experiences. As we move through our pain, we often come into alignment with our greater life purpose.
PTSD Guidelines and Therapies
The strict guidelines for assessing for PTSD often leave many without the diagnosis and feeling confused and misunderstood. Symptoms deserve second or third opinions and from different professionals who practice different modalities. We have the right to have our feelings and symptoms heard and believed to be real, so we can get appropriate treatment that aligns with our personal truth. Feeling misunderstood can lead to emotional outbursts, social isolation and subsequent health problems.
•The most effective studied therapy for PTSD is trauma-focused psychotherapy. It focuses on connecting with the memories of the event and what it means to us personally.
•Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is used to understand how the trauma has changed our thoughts and feelings, while learning how to develop new ways to think and feel about the experience.
•Prolonged Exposure (PE) is where we talk about our trauma until it no longer bothers us. It is also encouraged to go to places that used to be avoided in order to make peace with it all.
•Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a therapy that uses rapid eye movements, hand tapping or auditory sounds to bring up a past trauma, process it and replace the trauma with a positive memory to resolve it.
It is encouraged for those experiencing PTSD symptoms to connect with other trauma trained practitioners to get the care that is personal to his or her beliefs. Emotional pain needs to be processed and cannot only be treated with medication, which does not heal emotional trauma at its root. It is also helpful to connect with those who have gone through a similar trauma, as the shared experience will help to not feel so alone in the matter. They can be a needed compassionate voice and they will most likely choose their words wisely, because they have been through it.
Many of us have gone through life-changing emotional trauma and when left unprocessed, it is often a challenge to get through the day. This is especially a concern when it happens in our most sensitive years as a child. Developmental childhood trauma is particularly important to work through, because it can make such an impression on our psyche.
All life experiences are put on our path for our highest learning and evolution. There is meaning to our painful experiences. Even though we may not understand the meaning at the time the lesson is presented, we are wise to know that the Universe always wants to see us grow to be the best we are meant to be. We humans are good at limiting our thoughts to believe that our biggest dreams are not possible. We do indeed have the potential to reach our dreams and goals, although to the extent that our personal karma allows.
The much needed healing from the process often opens us up to our highest purpose. Many will credit their most painful experience for their life purpose being born out of it. It is always hard to hear that our pain can serve a beneficial purpose, especially when we are going through a challenging time. In fact, it is wise to not say it to someone that is currently going through an emotional experience. It could be heard as a non-compassionate reaction to the pain of others. Those who are going through challenging times need love and presence, where a hug and silence can even be appreciated.
To positively grow from an emotional experience, the pain has to be identified at the root and processed to completion. Our pain will not disappear if we try to forget about it and we most definitely will not experience positive growth. There is light in knowing that an evolutionary process is taking place to guide us to take the steps in the direction of our highest truth. These experiences are actually preparing the ground for our truest hopes and dreams to sprout and grow.
Life challenges can actually become intriguing, as we break the experience down for understanding. We start to move through emotional experiences faster, because we do not want to sit in the pain longer than is needed to get our attention and we are eager to get to our desired goals. We can become more receptive to future challenging experiences by asking ourselves questions to search for the answers to understand what the presented lesson is opening for us. Questions help to make large problems become smaller and smaller.
It is undeniable that all of us go through painful life experiences to grow. It is our evolutionary process to endure challenges for our highest learning and growth. We all process pain differently and not at the same pace as others. It is hard work, but we can all look back and see the strength that was born out of our most painful past experiences. That strength will be needed on our next journey, helping us to grow a little bit more every time.