Persons who have been exposed to actual, threatened death, serious injury, or violence (such as sexual or physical abuse) are at risk of developing PTSD. Furthermore, persons witnessing such acts, or listening to details of serious injury, violence, or death can sometimes end up with a series of disturbing symptoms like PTSD.
Symptoms Last Three Months or Longer
Should these symptoms continue past three months, the DSM advises that PTSD is a probability, particularly if these symptoms are interfering with the quality of the person’s life. It should be noted that not everyone who has experienced the above events will end up with PTSD. In fact, many people who are exposed to such experiences do not end up with PTSD.
Definition of PTSD
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a disorder defined in the Diagnostic Manual of Psychiatric Disorders as primarily an anxiety disorder with some dissociative features and negative cognitions. Interestingly, flashbacks are actually a dissociative state. Therefore, PTSD actually falls into both the anxiety and dissociative clusters of symptoms.
In order to qualify for the diagnosis of PTSD, a person who was exposed to the traumatic event must have either directly experienced the event, witnessed the event in person, or learned of the actual event. This can also include the threatened death of a close family member, or friend, or repeated first-hand, extreme exposure to the details of the event. Examples of traumas include combat, war, natural disasters, car accidents, sexual abuse, domestic violence, torture, ritual childhood physical abuse or sexual abuse.
Symptoms of PTSD
The symptoms involved with PTSD can include insomnia, hyperarousal, a feeling of being turned on and vigilant, and sped up with racing thoughts. A person may fall into the category of hypo-arousal, a feeling of being numb or flat. They may also be depressed and shut off (not feeling at all). One can move within both of these categories of hyper or hypo arousal.
Other symptoms include night terrors of the actual event or nightmares. Symptoms can also include flashbacks of the event or being reminded of the event through a trigger (something in the present that reminds the brain of the past event). These triggers can include smells, tastes, sounds or facial expressions. A person can develop negative cognitions such as “I can’t trust anyone”, or “the world is unsafe”.
Memory problems and an inability to focus or keep attention, due to intrusive negative cognitions or flashbacks, are also symptoms. Other symptoms like hypermnesia (thinking about a part of the incident over and over again), or amnesia is also common to PTSD.
Coping Behaviours For PTSD
Because these symptoms can be so unpleasant, it’s understandable that a person with PTSD might try coping behaviours such as smoking more, drinking more, isolating themselves, watching too much TV, and/or withdrawing from friends and family. Any addictive behaviour that can take a person with PTSD out of their mind is also a common coping behaviour.
Surviving Childhood Abuse
Those who have experienced repeated childhood abuse, sometimes end up with more complex post-traumatic injuries. The symptoms of PTSD are present but have been ongoing throughout childhood and continued into adulthood. These symptoms can show up as overreacting to relationship problems, an inability to regulate emotions, problems with anger, sleep and relationships.