Everything bad that happens to us leaves a mark – a scar, an illness, anxiety, and for some people, a debilitating condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For people with PTSD, the trauma is never really over, because the slightest thing can trigger a memory: the colour of a shirt, the smell of coffee, a particular song playing on the radio. In the blink of an eye, you can find yourself transported back to the traumatic event.
Post-traumatic stress disorder can affect all areas of your life: your physical and mental health, your job and finances, your family, and your social relationships. If you have been through a traumatic experience, understanding PTSD and how the emotions are intricately woven within it, can lead you closer toward healing and peace.
What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
The American Psychiatric Association defines post-traumatic stress disorder as “a psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape, or who have been threatened with death, sexual violence or serious injury.”
It is normal – even healthy – to experience sadness, fear, or other “negative” emotions after a trauma. These emotions are tools that can help us process the stressful things that happen to us. If you lose your job or a loved one dies, you can expect to go through a process of grieving that differs from one person to the next. There is no right or wrong way to feel.
In most cases, those feelings of stress, loss, or desperation gradually dissipate as you adjust to the changes that have happened in your life. For people with PTSD, it’s not as straightforward. As time goes by, their symptoms don’t go away, and in some cases they get worse and create other struggles.
What Are The Symptoms Of PTSD?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition (DSM-5) lays out several criteria for the diagnosis of PTSD. These are described below.
Exposure to trauma
A diagnosis of PTSD may be made if you have been exposed to, or threatened with death, serious injury, or sexual violence. Exposure can take the form of experiencing or witnessing the traumatic event yourself, learning that the event happened to someone close to you, or being repeatedly exposed to details of the event. An example of the latter would be investigators collecting human remains from the scene of mass disaster.
A key characteristic of PTSD is the presence of intrusion symptoms, including at least one of the following:
- Recurrent intrusive memories of the traumatic event
- Dreams that are related to the traumatic event
- Dissociative reactions where the individual feels – and in some cases, fully believes – that they are once again immersed in the traumatic experience.
- Physiological or psychological distress resulting from internal or external reminders of the traumatic event
Avoidance of stimuli
Intrusive memories and bad dreams are painful to live with, so people with PTSD instinctively try to avoid stimuli that they associate with their trauma. They do so by attempting to block out thoughts or memories of the traumatic event, or by trying to avoid reminders of the trauma, such as people, places, objects, and situations.
Cognitive and mood impacts
Post-traumatic stress disorder can result in impairments in cognition and mood that are related to the trauma. You may be diagnosed with PTSD if you experience at least two of the following:
- You have a loss of memory surrounding part of the traumatic event, not due to physical head injury or substance use, but to dissociative amnesia.
- You experience persistent negative thoughts about yourself and your abilities.
- You have a distorted view of the traumatic experience that leads you to blame yourself or someone else for what happened.
- You experience persistent negative emotions, such as anger, shame, or fear.
- You have declining interest in previously preferred activities.
- You feel detached from the people around you.
- You find it difficult to experience positive emotions, like happiness or love.
People with PTSD are highly reactive, showing at least two of the following signs:
- You have outbursts of anger that have little or no provocation. These can be expressed as physical or verbal aggression.
- You display reckless or self-destructive behaviour.
- You are hypervigilant.
- You have a high startle response.
- You have trouble concentrating.
- You have trouble falling or staying asleep, or your sleep is light and restless.
A characteristic of PTSD is that it endures over time. You may receive a diagnosis of PTSD if the symptoms listed above persist for more than one month, and if it can be shown that they cannot be attributed to other causes, such as use of a substance or a medical condition. The diagnosing professional will also look at how your symptoms are affecting your life in terms of work, family life, social relationships, and other areas of functioning.
As with many mental illnesses, the symptoms of PTSD vary widely from one person to the next, based on several factors, such as the nature of the trauma, the person’s prior trauma history, and the extent of their support system.
Can Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Be Cured?
Many conventional mental health treatment providers provide therapy based on the idea that PTSD is a condition to be managed and not cured. Treatment often involves a combination of medication and talk therapy, during which the client is asked to talk about their traumatic experiences in detail. This can be a painful process that takes a long time. If and when treatment is concluded, the client still has PTSD, but they may have learned some strategies to cope with the symptoms.
At One Trauma, we do not believe that PTSD is for life, nor do we rely on talk therapy as a treatment method. Using the Heartbeat Trauma Release (HTR) Method, we will show you how to use the life energy that is within you to release the powerful negative emotions that are keeping you stuck and change the destructive thoughts that have arisen from your traumatic event. You do not have to divulge details about the incident, and you do not have to relive your experience. We have seen many people move past their traumas and go on to live the life they truly want.