You don’t need to go to war to experience Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. It is much more common among the general population than is generally appreciated. PTSD is caused when you experience an event that overwhelms your nervous system. After that, consciously or not, you no longer experience the same level of personal safety. The result is that in one way or another your nervous system keeps circling back to the trauma. Effective PTSD treatment overrides this traumatically induced automatic alarm circuit with a conscious competent self who can stay in the present. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder therapy aims to recover a sense of safety. This sense of safety we are aiming for would not be naive or oblivious to what happened. It would be the ability to handle it without getting lost in the emotional wound.
Simple PTSD is when you live through one overwhelming event such as a natural disaster, interpersonal violence or a severe accident. Calling PTSD simple does not mean it is not severe. It simply means that it’s origin was a single event that probably happened to an adult whose personality was already formed. With simple PTSD treatment is more straightforward than when many things happened in childhood.
Complex PTSD is where you have experienced repeated lapses of safety, usually when growing up. Even if each incident was relatively small and you don’t think about it now, the repetition adds up. If the trauma was either caused by your caretakers directly or permitted by their failure to protect you, the effects can be profound. Your ability to trust can be severely compromised. A history of complex PTSD sets you up to be more easily overwhelmed by trauma later in your life. If you suspect this fits you, you might want to read my section on Abused As A Child.
The established symptoms of PTSD can include:
1. persistent re-experiencing of the traumatic event through intrusive images, thoughts or perceptions, flashbacks, confusion or nightmares.
2. numbing of feelings, loss of interest in parts of life and avoidance of people or activities that might in some way bring back memories. Your world gets smaller.
3. hyperarousal such as impaired sleep, irritability or anger, difficulty concentrating, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response.
My work has convinced me that chronic physical pain or other unpleasant mysterious sensations can be an indicator of PTSD. Please see the section on Chronic Back Pain TMS
If you have PTSD, it tends to be hard to handle pressureful situations with other people. You can find it difficult to calibrate your response when people seem to be mistreating you, sometimes under-reacting, sometimes over-reacting. You might explode or freeze. It seems hard to find the right amount of forcefulness to defend yourself.
Overwhelming experiences tend to override our functional brain circuitry with dysfunctional circuitry. This often gives us repetitive false alarms. The brain has a strong bias for our survival over enjoying our life. Our unconscious tends to remember in an exaggerated way things that have hurt us. We are geared to overdo the sentry function even at the cost of quality of life.
PTSD is produced by threat, shock or injury that occurs in a state of helplessness. It can be anything that destroys our feeling of being safe or protected. Helplessness is very toxic in general. We all know that power corrupts. Well, helplessness is a corrupting absence of power. Just as too much power corrupts, so does too little power. It just does it in a different way. Too much helplessness has a profound and pervasive effect on us. If we get too big a dose of helplessness, we might do anything from get depressed to get drunk. We might explode, hide out, give up on life, or never trust anyone again. Time does not always “heal all wounds.”
In his book, The Body Bears The Burden, Robert Scaer, M.D., says the following about the reaction of most physicians to people who are emotionally injured. “The Mainstream medical profession refers to the constellation of symptoms resulting from traumatic stress as psychosomatic or psychological. Yet this syndrome may well account for many of the unexplained and poorly managed chronic illnesses that afflict us, and perhaps constitutes the major source of visits to the physician’s office.”
An interesting unhappy fact we are seeing with our returning soldiers is that you can be a tough person who can push an experience out of your mind and still be heavily affected. Your subconscious and your body both remember what happened to you, even if you succeed in forgetting that it happened. Your subconscious and your body are waiting for it to happen again. That state of being braced emotionally and physically wears us down. PTSD counseling can help you really overcome it as opposed to pushing it out of your consciousness.
Succeeding in pushing an experience out of your mind without really processing it can result in what is called Delayed Onset PTSD. Even though you believe you have put it out of your mind, you may have only put it outside of consciousness. Underneath it may be percolating, stamping itself into your nervous system.
POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER TREATMENT IS EFFECTIVE. PTSD psychotherapy has multiple goals. The key is to restore a sense of safety. Effective PTSD therapy teaches you how to modulate your arousal level, calibrate your reaction to situations, be comfortable in your own body and be free from being haunted by the past. You and I can work to return you to a state of flow where your interest in your own life and your confidence in yourself motivates you. You can learn how to be accurate in deciding who to trust. You can learn to remain mentally present instead of being explosive or intimidated.
There are many approaches to treating PTSD. The best approaches work with both the mind and the body. I am a certified EMDR Practitioner. EMDR is a very powerful approach to resolving post trauma and its symptoms. EMDR also lends itself to being highly customized for each individual client and therapist pair. Please see the section on EMDR for Trauma Recovery. My toolbox contains various other approaches to PTSD therapy besides EMDR. If you can reach Woodland Hills in the West San Fernando Valley, I would be glad to have the chance to help you free yourself from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.