Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Anyone can develop PTSD at any age. When a person experiences a serious traumatic event or series of traumatic events that go unresolved, the individual’s sense of safety and trust are shaken and can lead to the development of PTSD. The effects of PTSD can be physical, emotional, and behavioural, and the individual experiencing PTSD will need to go through a process to re-establish their feelings of safety and connection.
The good news is that there are proven steps for the recovery process. At a glance, these involve recognition, expression, and supportive reception.
First, the person needs to be able to recognize what emotions, physical sensations, and thought they experienced. As the saying goes, ‘knowing is half the battle’ and this applies to recognizing and understanding one’s PTSD symptoms. Once you can recognize the signs, you can begin to address them. Thus, second, the person needs to be able to express these emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations openly. Third, there needs to be validation (both internal and external) of the person’s experience in order to support further processing when needed.
There can be interruptions within the process. When a person experiences extreme stress, as with a trauma, their brain automatically goes into what we call a freeze response (as fight or flight are often not an option). Communication between the thinking brain and the feeling brain temporarily breaks down and the thinking brain is not able to make sense of the traumatic event. A person then finds it very difficult to remember much detail of the trauma.
Another interruption occurs when the traumatized person has a flashback or a nightmare. This can be understood as the memory of a traumatic event coming to the surface. They are likely to do whatever it takes to avoid thinking about it and processing the memory, as it is just too painful. They can also experience such extreme discomfort that their brains may immediately (and subconsciously) disassociate the thinking and feeling parts (also known as ‘splitting off’).
Yet another common interruption exists when the traumatic experience that is being outwardly shared (which takes great courage on the part of the traumatized person) is not received with understanding, validation, and empathy. Often, the traumatized person likely already has an existing harsh inner psychological environment which now doesn’t support their own processing and they begin self-talk such as “I should have gotten over this by now.” etc.