Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that develops after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event which involved threat of death or injury to the person or others, and caused feelings of helplessness, horror, or extreme fear. PTSD symptoms include:

  • Re-experiencing the traumatic event by frequently recalling and thinking about it, dreaming about it in nightmares, or becoming extremely upset by things or situations that remind you of the event.
  • Avoiding things or situations that remind you of the traumatic event, or having a numbing of responsiveness. For example, a rape victim might avoid visiting the street where she was raped, or try to avoid thinking about the rape. Regarding numbing of responsiveness, the victim might feel less interested in others, feel alienated from others, and feel unable to experience positive emotions.
  • Increased arousal, for example finding it difficult to fall or stay asleep, finding it difficult to concentrate, being extremely watchful and easily irritated.

If you have been suffering from the symptoms that are mentioned above for more than one month after experiencing a traumatic event, you may be suffering from PTSD.

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. (DSM-IV). (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

 

It has been found that women [1], as well as people who are suffering from depression or other anxiety disorders, people who have experienced trauma when they were children, and people who are generally anxious, insecure, and tend to worry about things, are more likely to develop PTSD after going through a traumatic event [2]. Furthermore, many women who have been victims of domestic abuse have developed PTSD symptoms [3]. Indeed, it has been found that if you have experienced traumatic injuries by another person, you are more likely to develop PTSD than if your traumatic injuries were caused by an accident or natural disaster [4]. This could be because along with the fear for your life, your trust in other people and your sense of safety as a member of a community that is based on rules, are shaken [5]. For instance, a family should provide an environment where people feel safe, respected and loved. But in the case of domestic abuse, this sense of safety within the family and home is shaken and therefore is more likely to lead to PTSD. It is worth noting that even though the more severe the violence one experiences, the more likely they are to suffer from PTSD, psychological abuse can cause as much damage as physical violence [6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13].

Social environment is also of great importance since a positive social network can help a person deal with PTSD whereas a negative one can maintain the condition [14]. This may happen because positive social support restores our sense that we are part of a social group that takes care and protects its members while negative interactions strengthen the feelings of fear, lack of safety, and the idea that the world is a hostile place [15]. Unfortunately, an abuser will often try to isolate his victim from her circle of family and friends so that she will not be able to seek help from them. Or, he may behave kindly to her when her family or friends are present so that they will not believe her if she tells them that she is being abused. This way he is protecting himself so that he will not suffer the consequences of his abusive actions. Even if you feel trapped in an abusive relationship at the moment, there are people and organisations out there that could help you. Learn more by clicking here and here.

In addition to the factors mentioned above, avoiding thinking about the traumatic event has also been found to raise the chances of developing PTSD [16], and so is feeling detached (for example as if you were being outside your body, as if the world was not real, as if this wasn’t happening to you) during the event or trying to suppress memories of it afterwards [17][18][19]. This could be because such avoidance mechanisms prevent you from facing and confronting the memories of the traumatic event [20]. Lastly, studies have shown that if you are feeling extreme guilt after experiencing a traumatic event, you are more likely to develop PTSD [21]. You need to understand that you are not to blame for your abuser’s behaviour. He may try to convince you that it is your fault and that you have made him act the way he does but this is not true. The reason why your abuser is abusive towards you is because he wants to control you. The reason why he is blaming you is to keep you from leaving him and to give you false hope that if ‘you are good’, he will not hurt you again (emotionally or physically). This is also not true, as abusers will even set you up in order to ‘justify’ their abusive behaviour by putting you in situations where you are bound to ‘fail’ [22]. No one deserves to be treated this way and healthy relationships are about love and respect for one another, not abuse and control.

Traumatic events do not affect just you. If you have children, especially if they are infants or preschool-age, they can also be affected. When both a parent and a child are experiencing the same stressful event, their emotional responses are strongly related, which shows that a parent’s emotional evaluation of a situation influences the child’s emotional reaction [23]. In plain words, if the mother becomes frightened, the child becomes frightened as well. And unfortunately, studies have shown that when a parent is suffering from PTSD, their child is also likely to develop PTSD later in life [24][25][26][27]. If you have children and are in an abusive relationship, you can read ways to cope by clicking here and here.

If you feel that you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD, please click here to find out how PTSD is treated. Find hope in the fact that PTSD is treatable and that with the proper treatment you will not spend your life in fear.

 

REFERENCES

[1] McNally, R.J. (2003). Remembering trauma. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

[2] Breslau, N., Davis, G.C., & Andreski, P. (1995). Risk factors for PTSD-related traumatic events: A prospective analysis. American Journal of Psychiatry, 152, 529-535.

[3] Jones, L., Hughes, M., & Unterstaller, U. (2001). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in victims of domestic violence. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 2(2), 99-119.

[4] Charuvastra, A., & Cloitre, M. (2008). Social bonds and posttraumatic stress disorder. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 301-328.

[5] King et al. (1995) as cited in Charuvastra, A., & Cloitre, M. (2008). Social bonds and posttraumatic stress disorder. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 301-328.

[6] Astin, M.C., Ogland-Hand, S., Coleman, E.M., & Foy, D.W. (1993) as cited in Jones, L., Hughes, M., & Unterstaller, U. (2001). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in victims of domestic violence. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 2(2), 99-119.

[7] Cascardi, M., & O’Leary, K. (1992) as cited in Jones, L., Hughes, M., & Unterstaller, U. (2001). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in victims of domestic violence. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 2(2), 99-119.

[8] Hattendorf, J., Ottens, A.J., & Lomax, R.G. (1999) as cited in Jones, L., Hughes, M., & Unterstaller, U. (2001). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in victims of domestic violence. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 2(2), 99-119.

[9] Houskamp, B.M., & Foy, D.W. (1991) as cited in Jones, L., Hughes, M., & Unterstaller, U. (2001). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in victims of domestic violence. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 2(2), 99-119.

[10] Khan, F.I., Welch, T.L., & Zillmer, E.A. (1993) as cited in Jones, L., Hughes, M., & Unterstaller, U. (2001). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in victims of domestic violence. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 2(2), 99-119.

[11] O’Keefe, M. (1998) as cited in Jones, L., Hughes, M., & Unterstaller, U. (2001).

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in victims of domestic violence. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 2(2), 99-119.

[12] Rollstin, A.O., & Kern, J.M. (1998) as cited in Jones, L., Hughes, M., & Unterstaller, U. (2001). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in victims of domestic violence. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 2(2), 99-119.

[13] Vitanza, S., Vogel, L.C.M., & Marshall, L.L. (1995) as cited in Jones, L., Hughes, M., & Unterstaller, U. (2001). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in victims of domestic violence. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 2(2), 99-119.

[14] Koenen, K.C., Stellman, J.M., Stellman, S.D., & Sommer, J.F.Jr  (2003) as cited in Charuvastra, A., & Cloitre, M. (2008). Social bonds and posttraumatic stress disorder. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 301-328.

[15] Charuvastra, A., & Cloitre, M. (2008). Social bonds and posttraumatic stress disorder. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 301-328.

[16] Sharkansky, E.J., et al. (2000). Coping with Gulf War combat stress: Mediating and moderating effects. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 109, 188-197.

[17] Ehlers, A., Mayou, R.A., & Bryant, B. (1998). Psychological predictors of chronic posttraumatic stress disorder after motor vehicle accidents. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 107, 508-519.

[18] Koopman et al. (1994) as cited in Rachel Yehuda (Ed.). (1998). Psychological Trauma, Review of psychiatry series volume 17. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, Inc.

[19] Tichenor et al. (1996) as cited in Rachel Yehuda (Ed.). (1998). Psychological Trauma, Review of psychiatry series volume 17. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, Inc.

[20] Kring, A.M., Johnson, S.L., Davison, G.C., & Neale, J.M. (2010). Abnormal Psychology (11th ed.) (p.144). Asia: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

[21] Riggs et al. (1992) as cited in Rachel Yehuda (Ed.). (1998). Psychological Trauma, Review of psychiatry series volume 17. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, Inc.

[22] Walker, L. E. (1979). The battered woman. New York: Harper & Row.

[23] Scheeringa, M.S., & Zeanah, C.H. (2001) as cited in Charuvastra, A., & Cloitre, M. (2008). Social bonds and posttraumatic stress disorder. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 301-328.

[24] Koplewicz, H.S. et al. (1993) as cited in Charuvastra, A., & Cloitre, M. (2008). Social bonds and posttraumatic stress disorder. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 301-328.

[25] Landolt, M.A., Boehler, U., Schwager, C., Schallberger, U., & Nuessli, R. (1998) as cited in Charuvastra, A., & Cloitre, M. (2008). Social bonds and posttraumatic stress disorder. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 301-328.

[26] Laor, N., Wolmer, L., Mayes, L.C., Gershon, A., Weizman, R., & Cohen, D.J. (1997) as cited in Charuvastra, A., & Cloitre, M. (2008). Social bonds and posttraumatic stress disorder. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 301-328.

[27] McFarlane, A.C. (1987) as cited in Charuvastra, A., & Cloitre, M. (2008). Social bonds and posttraumatic stress disorder. Annual Review of Psychology, 59, 301-328.