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What is PTSD?

By Paul Mallott BA (Hons) Counselling Dip CBT


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Can you tell if the individual next to you in a supermarket checkout queue has a cold, or whether your neighbour with a plaster cast on their leg, has broken something? A person with a back problem, do they get noticed for their problem? You see them washing their car, cutting the grass. Does it look like anything is wrong with them? PTSD, like back problems and other conditions that cannot be readily seen, is a silent problem whose sufferers usually hide it. Yet many suffer from its affects. Often, individuals with PTSD don't even know that they have the disorder, and many more keep their pain to themselves because they are afraid to seek help.
PTSD is an experience that horrifies and overwhelms. That experience can be anything from a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, a car accident, sexual assault, having served in a conflict, or even a Doctor saying you have a life threatening disease. Furthermore, PTSD, and the event which causes its affects in one person may leave another person dead. To understand why a single moment in time can change your life so dramatically, it helps to know just what exactly a trauma is, and how it can impact you both instantly, and over time.
PTSD is a bad memory that just wonít let go! Every case of PTSD starts the same way - with a trauma. The word 'trauma' comes from the Greek word for 'wound', a good definition, as trauma can wound the mind as well as the body. The elements which define trauma:
  • It's an overwhelming event...
  • It threatens life and limb...
  • It's unexpected...
  • It's an event that causes fear, helplessness, or horror in the person involved...
In short, trauma is a dangerous, shocking event that shakes both the body and soul. It can make you fear for your life and your safety, or the lives and safety of the people you care about most, and it can break down your psychological defences and shatter your sense of security.
Is trauma different from a stressful event? Every person has stressful moments, and those can be mighty intense, for example, you lost your job yesterday or the dentist says you need root canal treatment, it's a good bet you feel stressed. However it does not mean you've endured a traumatic event. Stress is like the wrinkle in a carpet, you can step over it, straighten it out without changing your course, but trauma pulls the carpet from under your feet. Trauma can change your view of life and yourself, it shatters your most basic assumptions about yourself and the world - "Life is good", "I'm safe", "I can trust others", "The future is likely to be good", and replaces them with thoughts like "The world is dangerous", "I can't win", "I canít trust other people", or "Thereís no hope".
Although stress and its affects, pass with time, the aftershocks of trauma can continue to mount, and push those with PTSD further into negative thoughts, negative actions, and feeling like a victim, both mentally and physically.

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