A traumatic event is an extraordinarily stressful circumstance that shatters an individual’s sense of security and causes them to feel vulnerable and helpless. While traumatic events commonly involve a threat to one’s safety, any event that causes someone to feel overwhelmed can be traumatic, even if no physical harm is involved.
It’s perfectly normal to feel disconnected, anxious, sad, or frightened immediately after a traumatic experience. However, as time passes, the emotional, physical, and psychological shock caused by trauma begin to subside providing most people the opportunity to process their emotions, make sense of what happened, and move forward in life.
Unfortunately, many men and women who experience traumatic events become so overwhelmed by the trauma that they remain in psychological shock. These individuals often experience a continual threat of danger and the painful memories of the traumatic event never seem to completely go away.
If you’ve suffered a traumatic experience and are having difficulties feeling safe, reconnecting with other people, and moving forward in your life, you may be struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Although PTSD may feel insurmountable and it may seem you’ll never fully recover from your trauma, help is available for those who are willing to seek it and do the work necessary to take back control of their lives.
Effectively Identifying Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Most people experience at least a few symptoms commonly associated with PTSD immediately following a traumatic event.
If your sense of trust and personal safety have been shattered, feeling isolated, numb, fearful, or even a little crazy is perfectly normal. It’s not uncommon for people who’ve lived through a traumatic event to have nightmares and find themselves replaying the experience over and over in their minds.
Fortunately, most people find these experiences rather short-lived – lasting from several days to several weeks. But, for those with PTSD, the symptoms don’t get better over time… In fact, they often get worse.
We’re all unique individuals, and everyone experiences PTSD differently. However, there are some common symptoms experienced by many individuals suffering from PTSD, such as:
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Irritability or outbursts of anger
- Nervousness, paranoia, and hypervigilance
- Feeling emotionally numb and disconnected from others
- Intrusive, disturbing memories of the trauma
- Nightmares or flashbacks
- Inability to remember certain aspects of the traumatic event
- Avoiding situations and circumstances that recall the traumatic event
- Feelings of guilt
- Feelings of mistrust or betrayal
- Decreased interest in activities that once brought joy
- Substance abuse
- Depression, hopelessness, and, in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts and feelings
While these symptoms usually develop within the hours and days immediately following a traumatic experience, some may arise suddenly, gradually, or come and go weeks, months, or even years after the traumatic event.
It is also important to note that post-traumatic stress disorder not only affects individuals who live through a traumatic event, but also the men and women who witness the event, those who assist the survivors (such as emergency and relief workers), as well as the family members and friends of those who survived the experience.
Successfully Treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Attempting to avoid painful feelings and memories is perfectly normal, however doing so only makes PTSD get worse.
No matter how hard you try, you will never be able to completely avoid your emotions, and trying to do so will lead to exhaustion and adversely affect your relationships, your ability to function, and your quality of life.
Alternatively, rather than trying to avoid any reminder of the trauma you’ve experienced, PTSD treatment can provide an outlet for your emotions, reduce the power of your traumatic memories, and help you restore a sense of control to your life by recalling and processing the sensations and emotions you experienced during the traumatic event.
PTSD treatments commonly involve:
- Individual Counseling or Therapy – Psychotherapy techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy can help you explore and change your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs related to traumatic experiences, as well as help you learn coping skills so you can effectively deal with the symptoms of PTSD.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – EMDR techniques have been shown to be an especially effective treatment for people with PTSD. Eye movements and other bilateral forms of stimulation help “unfreeze” emotional fragments and memories that have become stuck in the brain’s information processing systems during times of severe emotional stress, thus allowing traumatic emotions and memories to be effectively processed.
- Medications – While some medications, such as Zoloft or Prozac, are occasionally prescribed to people suffering from PTSD, these medications only help relieve depression, anxiety, and other symptoms associated with PTSD. This relief may be necessary before one can benefit from other PTSD treatments such as EMDR, trauma counseling, or psychotherapy, but medications can not treat the causes of PTSD.
- Family Therapy – Because PTSD affects the family members of someone who’s lived through a traumatic event as surely as it affects the individual who personally experienced the trauma, family counseling and therapy can be especially valuable by helping everyone in a family understand the trauma, communicate more effectively, and work through any relationship problems that have appeared as a result of the traumatic event and PTSD.
If you believe you or someone you love is suffering from PTSD, the sooner you seek help the easier it will be to overcome PTSD.
If you’re reluctant to seek help, remember that the only way to successfully overcome PTSD is to confront your memories, emotions, and experiences, and learn to accept them as a part of your past.
A professional counselor or therapist that specializes in the treatment of trauma and PTSD can help you cope with the symptoms of PTSD, process your traumatic memories and emotions, overcome any adverse effects PTSD has caused in your relationships, and help you move forward in life with confidence and optimism!
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