When most people hear the phrase Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, one image comes to mind: a shell shocked war veteran, forever changed by the traumatic experience of the violence of war. And while that is true, there are many veterans who suffer from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, that is just part of the population this disorder affects. As the title of the disorder suggests, anyone who has gone through a traumatic event can develop this disorder. Symptoms include flashbacks – instances in which individuals feel they are reliving their trauma, which includes physical symptoms like a racing heart, sweating, and difficulty breathing. They may also experience bad dreams and frightening thoughts related to the traumatic incident.
PTSD patients may also experience an array of avoidance symptoms including staying away from places or events that are reminders of the traumatic event, or avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event. If you hear someone saying that something was “triggering” to them, they mean that something in their environment has brought them back to relive their trauma. Recently in internet culture the term “triggered” has become overused, and has even become a way to joke about and minimize others’ trauma. This psychiatric term is an important and informative term needed in the mental health community, so it is important that we as a society do not morph this word into meaning something that it does not.
Individuals with PTSD might also experience symptoms of arousal or activity, including being easily startled, always feeling on edge, difficulty sleeping, or having frequent angry outbursts. People with PTSD may also experience trouble remembering parts of the traumatic event. They may have negative thoughts about themselves or the world based on their experience, as well as feelings of blame or guilt. They also exhibit loss of interest in activities and hobbies they once enjoyed, and other symptoms of depression.
Survivors of sexual assault make up a large portion of those affected by PTSD. An instance of rape or sexual assault is traumatic enough to warrant fear and anxiety that can change the physiology of your brain forever. However, if someone has been the victim of repeated sexual assault, or was apart of an abusive relationship, they may experiencing a special type of PTSD – Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
People who experienced chronic, repeated, or long-lasting traumatic events or violence may suffer from C-PTSD, which varies slightly from PTSD. Many of the traumatic events in relation to C-PTSD involve victims being under control of another person without being able to escape.
Individuals with C-PTSD may experience difficulties managing their emotions, with symptoms of severe depression, anger, and thoughts of suicide. Following exposure to a chronic traumatic event, a person may repress memories, experience flashbacks, and experience dissociation. The event can also affect an individual’s self-esteem, and cause feelings of helplessness, shame, and detachment. Individuals may begin to self-isolate of become distrusting of others.
C-PTSD can be unique for survivors of sexual assault and abuse because they often experience a tremendous amount of guilt and shame in relation to their trauma. They may feel partially guilty for what happened to them, or feel that they somehow deserved or invited mistreatment or trauma into their lives. It is also common for survivors with C-PTSD to empathize with their abuser or assaulter, and to humanize or put reason to the trauma they inflicted. Images, sounds, and smells can even trigger memories of trauma and send someone into a panic reliving their trauma.
If you have experienced a traumatic event, it is important to seek help in order to help you process. There are several forms of therapy that have been proven to help people who suffer with C-PTSD including dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), phase-based cognitive behavioral therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).
If you think you may be suffering from C-PTSD, or would like to learn more about it, you can do so at the National Center for PTSD.