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Signs of PTSD and How to Get PTSD Counseling Help
What is PTSD?
PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and describes a host of symptoms that it is quite natural to experience after facing a shocking, dangerous or life-threatening event. It can also be caused by elevated, prolonged stress.
Our bodies are designed to protect us. So whenever a person encounters a high enough level of fear or tension, a rush of chemicals flood our brain, nervous system and other tissues. These chemicals induce what is medically known as “shock” — a state that is designed to protect us, by numbing both physical and psychological pain.
But an unduly extreme or protracted level of stress can result in symptoms that persist, even after initial shock has subsided. These symptoms are collectively known as “PTSD” and they demonstrate our body’s and psyche’s attempts to cope over the long term, with whatever trauma was endured.
What are the Signs of PTSD?
The well-documented signs of PTSD include:
Dissociation is something that brain chemicals facilitate when someone experiences trauma. Without the use of any external drugs, the brain will help someone to survive by releasing molecules called neurotransmitters that induce a sense of being detached from their thoughts, feelings and being. Dissociation can feel like anything from an out-of-body experience, to walking through the world feeling chronically disconnected. It can be accompanied by memory loss (otherwise known as memory “repression”), which is also designed to protect us. And perhaps most importantly, a lengthy state of dissociation is often a precursor for developing addictions. After all, if someone has been biochemically dissociative for a long period of time and it has become their predominant coping mechanism — then, reaching for external substances to enhance dissociation comes naturally
PTSD often causes a disruption in thinking patterns, for obvious reasons. Many of us “lose ourselves” in thought about matters that are not fundamentally devastating — so it makes logical sense that exposure to trauma can cause persistent internal reminders of the event(s), intrusive thoughts, vivid flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia and general difficulty concentrating.
Anxiety and Hypervigilance
It’s also natural that someone who faced a terrifying event would display Hypervigilance, a strong drive to avoid any potential threats by maintaining a continual stance of watching and preparing for danger. Hypervigilance is actually the human survival mechanism trying to do its job, however it also ensures that PTSD sufferers who do not seek PTSD treatment will live in an altered anxiety state — often accompanied by an exaggerated startle response and a host of addictive behaviors, that will “backfire” to compound problems and will never be able to effectively quiet the nervous system.
Trauma victims often engage in “all or nothing” behavior, to try to protect themselves. For example, one survivor might become an isolated “hermit”, in attempts to avoid any potential for harm — while another may become a “daredevil”, engaging in high-risk and self-harming behavior with a subconscious strategy to re-enact similar, endangering situations and “prove” that they can “handle” them. It’s also common and understandable that PTSD sufferers are plagued with avoidance of external reminders of the trauma, including avoiding any people, places or things that are even remotely reminiscent of it — even if they are not directly associated with it.
Trauma can shake one’s innocence, resulting in utter disillusionment about any sense of security or place within the world. So, it’s not surprising that PTSD survivors suffer from negative thoughts about themselves and the world, as well as difficulty feeling any positive emotions. And this can then manifest into a reduced interest in favorite activities and isolating from all social connections. A PTSD sufferer’s depression is often closely tied to the phenomenon of hypervigilance. For example, while avoiding direct contact with unhealthy individuals and environments is always recommended, the inclination for PTSD survivors to “shut down” from all resources for help and support can lead to dangerous levels of isolation. And survivors will tend to “shut out” enjoyable emotions and activities because they fear that allowing feelings such as joy or hope may lead to being “caught off guard” — in short, survivors are always waiting for the “other shoe to drop”.
PTSD survivors are prone to irritability, casting blame, rapid changes in mood or thinking, and lashing out (commonly called “acting out”) on others, simply because it’s natural for any human being to be filled with rage in response to a horrific event — but they are also just as likely to “lash” inwardly (“act in”), through self-destructive behavior patterns.
What causes PTSD?
Like most medical and mental conditions in Western society, many PTSD treatment professionals and online PTSD support articles define Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder solely by its symptoms. This insufficient information leaves survivors with a list of the difficulties that they are experiencing, without truly understanding answers their most important questions — “Why is this happening to me, and how can I either stop it or cope with it effectively?”
PTSD was first introduced into the public consciousness during the Vietnam War of the 1960’s. During that time, soldiers were coming home from war, and many were contending with severe post-traumatic episodes. Many soldiers came back addicted to opiates that had been readily available to them in Vietnam, and this signified the prime indicator of a PTSD epidemic.
Let’s consider a soldier in Vietnam. What survival skills serve him well?
It’s no coincidence that all of the symptoms and signs of PTSD including psychic numbing, psychic disruption, hypervigilance, extreme behaviors, depression and anger all “come in handy” on the battlefield — and in any chaotic or life-threatening situation. So it is vitally important for survivors to understand that PTSD is a normal response to an abnormal set of circumstances. There is nothing “wrong with you” — you survived an unimaginable tragedy, and now your survival mechanism has gone into its “overdrive” setting to protect you.
And, essentially, this “overdrive” setting is the crux of the entire PTSD issue. Just as an individual with a severe allergy has an immune system that is overreacting to an allergen — PTSD survivors’ survival instincts are overreacting to any potential for danger — so much so that, like the person who faces a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction in response to a bee sting or a peanut, PTSD is marked by extreme attempts at self-protection that actually threaten well-being.
How do I know if I have PTSD?
To answer this question, we must first define trauma. Most laypersons believe that only extreme situations (like war or a bad car accident) or extreme levels of abuse (like physical battery or sexual assault) will cause trauma, but this is not the case.
Children are emotionally, psychologically and physically fragile during their formative years. This is not a weakness, rather it is the natural and healthy state of being a child. So many things that may not be perceived as “life or death” for an adult are experienced in a “life or death” context by a child — including if certain formative needs for emotional supportiveness are not met.
At ARCS, we’ve worked with clients who have experienced PTSD symptoms from situations like climbing a tree as a young child and almost falling (event-based trauma), poverty and racism (situational trauma), being allotted “grown up” responsibilities too early in their lives (parentification), a parent who was overly emotionally attached and involved (emotional incest) and neglect faced in a household of many children (situational, covert trauma).
So many who would not necessarily qualify for a formal diagnosis of PTSD may still struggle with its debilitating symptoms. In fact, a case could be made that anyone challenged with substance addictions or behavioral addictions like codependency, relationship addiction, love addiction, emotional addiction, food addiction, internet addiction, sex addiction, gambling addiction, workaholism, shopping addiction, spending addiction, gaming addiction, or hoarding addiction very likely has symptoms and signs of PTSD and needs PTSD help!
This is because any behavior engaged in a compulsive way (even activities that are healthy when not compulsive, such as having an ice cream or organizing your sock drawer) indicates a drive to dissociate — it is an attempt to “not be present” with your own feelings, in order to numb them.
What is the Best Treatment for PTSD?
Despite what many professionals and facilities might assert, there is no singular best treatment for PTSD — or any other ailment. An interdisciplinary approach is always best, and countless studies have shown that multiple interventions are most effective when seeking to resolve complex conditions. Consider cigarette smoking cessation, as an example. It has been long-determined that smokers have a much higher probability of arresting their addiction by employing multiple interventions, all in conjunction with one another. For instance, someone who wears a nicotine patch and attends support groups will consistently fare better than someone who only applies one, or the other.
Recent advancements in neurological medicine have given new hope to PTSD survivors with a host of vanguard options, including everything from somatic (body-focused) healing techniques to new medicinal treatments. And just like the smoker who is trying to “quit” — it greatly increases the odds of PTSD recovery to combine new methods with those that have steadfastly proven themselves over time like PTSD Counseling, PTSD support groups, PTSD help lines and other forms of professional and peer-based assistance.
How PTSD Counseling Can Help
One of the unique features of ARCS PTSD Counseling is that most of our counselors are PTSD survivors, themselves, who have walked their own journey into healthfulness and empowerment. We work in partnership with our clients — providing a supportive and collaborative online space in which a customized healing plan can be developed with each individual.
Just like the Vietnam Veteran who has returned home safely — PTSD survivors must be given skills to re-teach their internal mechanisms that every time a “car backfires” (triggering stimulus), this does not mean that the “sky is falling” (life-threatening event). The challenging aspect about PTSD recovery is that an individual can already know this, but the instincts will override that intellectual awareness.
Effective PTSD Counseling teaches PTSD survivors how to “rewire” or “reboot” their disrupted instincts, toward safety and wholeness.