This Sunday is National PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) Day. At Fait avec Coeur we understand how important it is to care for our emotional state to maintain a healthy life.
In 2010, Senator Kent Conrad pushed to get official recognition of PTSD via a "day of awareness" in tribute to a North Dakota National Guard member who took his life following two tours in Iraq. It's relatively common knowledge that men and women who go to war come home a different person - if they come home at all. As the stories say, war changes a person.
It isn't just war veterans that have PTSD. It can come from any traumatic event in a person's life, big or small. Some people may not even realize they have PTSD, so here we discuss the causes, the symptoms, and ways you can deal with PTSD.
What Causes PTSD?
As mentioned earlier, anything that is traumatic, usually in the form of abuse or neglect, can cause a form of PTSD. The most common causes are:
- Combat exposure
- Childhood physical abuse
- Sexual violence
- Physical assault
- Being threatened with a weapon
- An accident
There are many other ways trauma can occur. We've all been through life events, and we deal with things differently from one another. Imagine going through the same event as one of your friends or siblings. Likely, you will both react and be affected by it differently—perhaps at differing lengths of time.
The Five Types of PTSD
According to Best Day Psychiatry, there are five types of stress disorders identified. These are:
Normal Stress Response
This type of PTSD is evident when events such as accidents, injuries, and illnesses. Many of us have probably experienced this kind of PTSD in some way. It is when unreasonable amounts of tension and stress can cause the onset of a Normal Stress Response. Normal Stress Response is managed by talking to friends and family for support. It usually doesn't last for long periods.
Acute Stress Disorder
Acute Stress Disorder is a precursor condition and may develop into PTSD if left untreated. Caused by life-threatening events, like natural disasters, loss of a loved one, or job risk, these high-stress events can cause Acute Stress Disorder. Treatment is via therapy, medication, and psychiatric treatments.
Uncomplicated PTSD is linked to one sizeable traumatic event rather than multiple events and is the simplest form of PTSD to treat. Like Acute Stress Disorder, Uncomplicated PTSD requires medication or therapy for treatment.
You can probably guess that, as the name suggests, Complex PTSD is complicated. Catalysts are multiple events, such as domestic abuse or exposure to war. The difference between Uncomplicated and Complex PTSD is its effects on a person. Complex PTSD can be diagnosed with a borderline or antisocial personality or dissociative disorder. Substance abuse, sexual impulsivity, anger issues, and depression are common behavioral issues that come hand-in-hand with Complex PTSD.
Comorbid PTSD is a blanket term for co-occurring disorders. Often people will suffer from more than one condition, which can cause much of the same behaviors as Complex PTSD. The best treatment is to see a professional.
Having PTSD can make it difficult for a person to:
- look after themselves;
- hold down a job;
- maintain friendships or relationships;
- remember things and make decisions;
- have a standard sex drive;
- cope with change; and,
- enjoy leisure time.
Twelve of the most common symptoms, according to PTSD survivor Lily Hope Lucario are:
- Fear of trust. If a caregiver or parent has abused them as a child, it can be difficult for a Complex PTSD survivor to trust anyone. It's also easy for that trust to dissipate, as the brain struggles to cope with any minor issue it may find in a relationship. A person can learn to trust, but it takes a lot of patience and usually professional help.
- Terminal loneliness. PTSD survivors have trouble connecting with others and struggle to make relationships. They often feel like outcasts, even when they are in a social setting with people they know. Socializing can exacerbate the feelings of being alone and detached, so they will intentionally isolate themselves in most cases.
- Emotion regulation. Being through one or more traumatic events can cause a person's emotions to overdrive. They can be subject to intense emotional outbursts and introspective emotional pain that they have trouble managing.
Flashbacks. There are three kinds of flashbacks PTSD survivors experience:
- Visual - where they relive the trauma in their mind;
- Somatic - where they feel pain in areas of their body that received abuse or trauma;
- Emotional - they get triggered often by events that do not reflect the trauma. It can cause them to react the same way they did during the trauma, which can often be an irrational reaction.
Over-analyzing people goes hand-in-hand with fear of trusting people. A survivor will often scan their environment and make subconscious judgments of people's body language, behavior, how they talk, and things they say before they even interact with them. It sets a precedent in their mind about that person, and if that person does anything to contradict these cues, it can cause fear and mistrust to build within the survivor's mind.
Loss of faith can often cause a person to feel jaded about their world. Because of their fear of trust, they believe the world is full of dangerous people. Walking away from their religious beliefs is a common reaction.
Inner child pain. When a person's needs weren't met as a child, often, they will carry that void into adulthood. These needs are generally subconscious to the adult but can be displayed as needy or searching for a father or mother figure as they long for safety, protection, and love.
Helplessness & toxic shame is when a person is repeatedly abused, and it can warp their sense of reality. They feel like nothing will ever be OK and believe things will never get better for them, giving them a sense of hopelessness. Toxic shame is when the abuser causes the survivor to feel like they don't deserve any better, and even after the abuse ends, they can carry this feeling of shame on into the future.
Search for a saviour is when survivors spend their lives looking for someone to "fix" them or save them, even long after the initial trauma has stopped. The issue with this is, they often end up in similar situations, thus further ingraining the insecurities and trauma.
Dissociation is where a person loses touch with reality, if even just for a second. While we've all daydreamed on our drive home, trauma survivors often suffer from dissociation on a much larger scale to cope with their emotions. This can develop into dissociative identity disorder (DID).
Mood disorders, like depression and anxiety, are common symptoms of PTSD. Often when a person suffers from comorbid complex PTSD, they also experience suicide ideation. Suicide ideation is the thought of suicide, rather than the action of suicide, and is a coping mechanism to deal with their pain. However, it can develop into a person becoming suicidal if they cannot cope.
Body pain. It's no surprise that deep, intense trauma can affect our physical beings. Stress and trauma can cause fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and other musculoskeletal pain.
What to Do if You or a Loved One is Suffering
If you realize that you might have some form of PTSD, seeking help is imperative. We list places you can get help at the end of this article. If someone you love is suffering, it can be challenging to help them, as they often won't want your help or don't believe they need help. So, while it can be challenging to navigate, it's essential to be there for them.
What Shouldn't You Say?
Here are some things you should never say to someone who is suffering from PTSD and what you can say instead, according to Katie Waskowiak, the emotional health writer:
Do not say: "It wasn't even life-threatening."
Try instead: "I know you're scared because of it, but you're safe now."
Do not say: "People have been through worse."
Try instead: "You can get through this hardship."
Do not say: "Stop over-reacting."
Try instead: "I understand you're scared, but I'm going to be right here next to you so that nothing happens. Let's do this."
Do not say: "You're faking it."
There is no alternative response to this — but there is an alternative reaction: educate yourself on the disorder so you can better understand what your loved one might be feeling.
Do not say: "I've been through something similar, and I don't have PTSD, so you don't have it either."
Again, educate yourself. You do not know someone's story; maybe this event was the straw that broke the camel's back (or the event that "broke" the brain). Not everyone who's been held up at gunpoint has post-traumatic stress disorder, just like not everyone who's been raped has PTSD. Someone who was shot in the ankle may be perfectly OK mentally, but that doesn't mean someone having been robbed is.
"You realize you're being completely illogical right now, right?".
Try instead: "I know that your brain is telling you that everywhere you go and everything you do could cause a trigger/you to feel as if you're in danger. Try to keep repeating to yourself that you are safe, no one is going to hurt you, and you will be OK."
Do not say: "Stop being so dramatic."
Try instead: "Deep breath. Let's talk through this. Why do you feel this way?"
Do not say: "You said you were OK."
Alternative: Don't always believe them when they say they are OK. They are often not OK. So instead of just leaving them be, maybe do something that will make them feel a little better. Anything to make them feel as if you not only care, but you care enough to bring them something that could potentially make them feel OK, if even for a short time.
What if You're the One Suffering?
It's essential to seek help if you have PTSD in any way. Even the mildest form of PTSD can affect our relationships, careers, and growth as human beings. We live in a time where it's more acceptable to ask for help. There are many options available, and it is entirely confidential.
SAMHSA's is a free national helpline in the US. You can seek help from a licensed therapist in person or get instant online access to therapists using platforms like Better Help. Group therapy - online or in-person - is also a great option - try Pace or Sondermind. Or, for something more immersive, there are also retreats you can go to, like The Recovery Ranch in Tennessee.
We hope that this guide helped shed some light on PTSD, and we urge those who are suffering to please get help. It's out there waiting for you; you just need to take the leap.
Emma Jade has been a trained esthetician for over 15 years. She is a sustainable skincare writer, educating and building awareness around proper skin health that doesn't cost the earth.
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