Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post traumatic stress disorder is a complicated subject. It might not be difficult to spot when a traumatic event happens to someone, but it is much harder to know how that traumatic event has affected them, and what the effects are likely to be in the longer term.
However much we try to understand what has happened to ourselves or to someone else;
- a bereavement
- an accident
- a violent attack
- repeated bullying
- collapse of an opportunity
- the discovery of an affair
traumatic events are very hard to be clear about.
Understanding PTSD Symptoms
Our word ‘trauma’ comes from the Greek word: trauma. It indicates that there has been a wound. But in all cases the nature of the traumatic wound will be unique.
Trauma overloads the mind or psyche. A consequence of this overloading is that part of the mind can become split off or dissociated from the rest of the individuals’ experience. This is partly an attempt to protect part of the mind.
It is as though part of the traumatised person was able to find a refuge to retreat into to protect them from being completely annihilated. One consequence of this is that splits exist in the mind which was previously whole, and that these splits remain.
In later life people who have experienced trauma and who have been left with these splits remain vulnerable to becoming caught up in them again. A potential experience of dissociation remains.
A person who has gone through PTSD is likely to have cut themselves off from the impact and severity of the original experiences in an attempt to survive.
The sufferer develops a particular sensitivity to anything that triggers a connection with the original traumatic experience without necessarily knowing what happened in the original events.
Trauma means the mind has been overwhelmed
The events that occur are too overwhelming for the mind to contain. This means that it is very difficult for the person who goes through trauma to have a clear sense of what has happened to them.
When traumatic events happen to someone they come as a shock, a bolt out of the blue. Suddenly the person finds themselves experiencing things that are too much to contain and process. One moment they thought they were safe, they knew where things were. the next moment everything has changed.
Traumatic experiences are very hard to keep in mind and remember in a coherent way.
One consequence of trauma is that it can be very difficult for someone who has gone through trauma to piece together an understanding of what has happened to them.
Signs of this kind of confusion and disorganisation are one way of understanding that someone is in a post traumatic state.
When you can’t quite grasp what has happened to you you are left in a difficult state.
You are trying to remember things that you can’t quite piece together. You may not be able to tell the story of your experience of the trauma. Trauma overwhelms the mind and the capacity for the mind to think, remember, tell a story. The individual is left in the post traumatic state, they cannot process what has happened to them and so it cannot be turned into an ordinary memory and become part of the person’s past.
Trauma disrupts the individual’s sense of time
After the traumatic event happens people can have the impression that life moves on, that time heals. This is true in one sense, time does move on, but for the person who has experienced trauma this is not the case. Traumatic events stay in the present. After trauma, the sense of time is not the same as it was before. Post trauma, the events or bits of the experience go round and round in fragmented thoughts.
PTSD symptoms include:
- feelings of anxiety, shame, depression, difficulties controlling emotions
- difficulties with concentration (dissociation)
- feeling you cannot follow through on your good ideas
- unexplained physical symptoms, pains in body
- bad dreams and nightmares
- being startled by sudden noises
- self-destructive behaviour, drinking, cutting, gambling, addictive behaviours
- problems trusting others
How Post Traumatic Stress disorder becomes misdiagnosed
What often happens is that the sufferer, unable to give an account of their experience (for the reasons described above) will talk about feeling low or depressed or being anxious. This can quickly be taken as the problem. The presenting problem of low mood, depression or anxiety becomes seen as the ‘illness’ the individual is diagnosed with, rather than the low mood being a symptom of an underlying condition. This means that someone may have endured unhelpful treatments, including prescription medicines for the wrong conditions in the past.
Realising that someone is struggling to piece together their account is one of the ways of identifying that they may be in a post traumatic condition.