Have you experienced a traumatic event or events that continue to haunt you? Are you having flashbacks of the experience? Are you hypervigilant to certain triggers? Do you suddenly disassociate? If so, you could be experiencing Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a serious condition affecting 7.7 million Americans age 18 and older. Women are particularly vulnerable and are twice as likely as men to develop Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
Trauma can be defined as either “Big T” or “Little T.” Therefore, PTSD can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed either “big” or “little” traumas. “Big” traumas include such experiences as natural disasters, serious accidents, sudden deaths of loved ones, violence and personal assault in adulthood or childhood (i.e., rape, abuse, molestation, military combat, being robbed), or other life-threatening events. “Small” traumas include divorce, job loss, an abrupt move, financial difficulties, and any overwhelming life difficulties. Regardless of what propels us into fight, flight, or freeze mode, any experience that exceeds our capacity to cope can be stored as trauma.
Trauma is a part of life, and while it varies in severity, we all experience trauma on some level throughout our lives. Most survivors of trauma are able to recover and return to normal functioning within time. However, others will continue to experience stress reactions that do not go away on their own and may even worsen. These people may have developed Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
Typically, men experience more traumatic events than do women. However, women are more likely to develop symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. The most common trauma for women is sexual assault or child sexual abuse. About one in three women will experience a sexual assault in her lifetime. Women are also more likely than men to be neglected or abused in childhood, to experience domestic violence, or to have a loved one suddenly die.
There are three sets of symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, all of which can significantly impair one’s life. The first set involves re-experiencing the original trauma. This can happen when the survivor is reminded of the trauma in the form of a person, place, or event. It can also happen out of the blue through a random memory. The second set of symptoms includes purposely avoiding places or people that are reminders of the trauma. The survivor isolates herself from others and begins to feel numb. The third set of symptoms involves feeling on guard, easily startled, and irritable.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is a psychiatric disorder. However, it can affect biological changes as well. Those who suffer from PTSD can develop depression, substance abuse, anxiety, problems with memory and cognition, and additional issues related to physical and mental health. Difficulty with relationships and social behaviors is also a very common struggle for trauma survivors. Their symptoms can cause problems with trust, closeness, communication, and problem solving.
A traumatic event can often be too much to process. Without sufficient processing, the event gets stored away with all of the unpleasant sensations that accompany it. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder can be treated with psychotherapy. Early treatment is important as it may help reduce long-term symptoms.
Are you suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder? If so, know that there is opportunity for healing. Through trauma therapy, I will help you sort through everything your mind has held on to. When life experiences are processed in a healthy way, you will begin to integrate the trauma into your life in a productive and beneficial manner. Contact me today to schedule an appointment in my Longmont or Boulder, CO office.