PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a newer term to describe, though perhaps less well, a condition induced by exposure to extreme psychological or physical trauma.
In World War I, we described soldiers as having “shell shock.” In World War II, it came to be known as “battle fatigue.” During the Korean War, it was “operational exhaustion” and finally came to be PTSD. Does anyone else notice the sterilization and softening of the language used to describe it?
We are talking about the military, and that is probably what most of us think of because of the conflicts we are currently involved in overseas. However, many other things can trigger PTSD.
Rape, sexual trauma, violent incidents, car crashes, domestic abuse, disasters, and so on. All of these things can also trigger PTSD. Moreover, perhaps even more surprisingly, we do not even have to see these things directly. PTSD can occur from having experienced it, been exposed to it, or even having been told about it.
Let’s stick with the combat analogy for a moment. Humans are not designed to hurt each other, although we seem to be exceedingly good at it. If you do not believe that, let’s go through a relatively famous thought experiment known as “The Trolley Problem.”
Imagine yourself standing on a set of railroad tracks. A fast train is coming down the tracks toward a group of people. You notice a switch to send the train onto a second set of tracks, but that will kill a single person standing on them. There is no time for any of course of action. Do you pull the switch?
For many, the quick and easy answer is yes. The loss of one person is preferable to the train killing a group of individuals. Tragic, yes, but logically speaking (for all you Star Trek fans), “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.”
So let’s change up this scenario a touch. The same setup but this time the only way to stop the train is to push the man onto the tracks.
Does this change things? Logically, no. One person dying is still preferable to many dying. And, technically, you are still responsible for the death of the man.
However, does it make a difference in your mind between pulling a switch and having pushed this man to his death? Do you feel differently about whether you could or would do it?
So let’s come back to the experience of trauma. As we attempt to reconcile the traumatic event, some struggle with being able to cope to the point that it interferes with day to day life. Guilt, depression, emotional pain, and soon become overwhelming and lead to symptoms such as:
- Intrusive thoughts
- Avoiding places, events, or things associated with the event.
- Avoiding thoughts and feelings related to the event, including self-medicating to do so.
- Easily triggered startle reflex.
- Feeling tense, anxious, or on edge.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Angry outbursts.
Mood / Thinking symptoms:
- Memory troubles.
- Persistent negativity about oneself or life.
- Distorted feelings of guilt or blame.
- Loss of interest in things once enjoyed.
So what can be done about PTSD? Well, typically a combination of medications and talk therapies (such as cognitive behavioral therapy) have been found to be the most effective. There is even a treatment that uses eye movement and trauma recollection to reduce the negative emotional impact.
Overall, there is help available for you or loved ones that are having problems dealing with emotional trauma. If you do not know where to start, follow some links below. There are also many local resources that can help.
You have heard it before, and you are about to hear it again. We are here to help. If you or someone you know needs assistance dealing with PTSD, please call me at 817-427-7092. If this is an emergency, CALL 911.
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