Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is condition where trauma survivors experience intense fear, terror, and helplessness on such a high level that they are unable to resume their normal life. PTSD can occur immediately after a traumatic event or many years later. Survivors who’ve experienced childhood trauma are especially vulnerable to developing PTSD later in life. But how do you know if you’ve developed PTSD? Below are some of the most common symptoms:
Trauma survivors who develop PTSD may have difficulty sleeping, an inability to concentrate, or experience extreme and intense emotions. For example, you may find yourself getting angry at the smallest annoyance or bursting into tears for no reason. You may also be in state of constant irritation or constantly looking over your shoulder because you’re afraid. This state of physical, emotional, and psychological arousal is normal right after a traumatic event, but if it continues for longer than three months, it could a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Traumatic experiences are so intense and terrifying that you may not be able to integrate them into your memories in a way that allows them to stay in the background of your mind. When this failure to integrate trauma happens, you may have intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event or recurrent nightmares. But this re-experiencing of the traumatic event isn’t just limited to your mind, in the case of PTSD you can also feel the trauma physically—the same level of terror, a fast beating heart, tensing of the muscles etc. If re-experiencing of the traumatic event is often enough, it can disrupt your ability to function and enjoy life. Fortunately, therapy can help you fully integrate a traumatic memory so that it doesn’t disrupt your life.
Many trauma survivors become numb and operate on “auto-pilot,” not feeling any emotions, avoiding things that remind them of the trauma, and losing interest in the things they once found rewarding. Just as the other symptoms listed above are normal right after a traumatic event, if this numbing continues it could be a sign that you’ve developed post-traumatic stress disorder. The danger of numbing is that you not only avoid things that could remind you of the traumatic event, you avoid friends and family in an effort to protect yourself (or them) from pain. But this type of avoidance can lead to isolation and loneliness which can slow down your healing process and leave your more vulnerable.
All of these PTSD symptoms can develop at different times, separate or together. They can also appear, disappear, and then reappear again. If you don’t receive proper treatment that helps you integrate traumatic events into your memory, this cycle of PTSD appearing, disappearing, and reappearing can continue indefinitely. Psychotherapy can assist in your heal process by helping you to face the traumatic event, discuss it, take active steps to confront the consequences of the event, and then help you fully digest what you’ve experienced so that you can continue on your road to healing.
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