Individuals struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) struggle to make sense of their traumatic experience. Often they relive their trauma and encounter constant reminders that can affect many parts of their daily lives. The traumatic event that triggers PTSD is usually something horrific, violent, or threatening. The person may have been a witness to this event or the event may have directly affected the person. The result, naturally, is an overwhelming fear and horror. But unlike other events, the fear, horror, and effects do not subside with time. Some of the most common events or circumstances that trigger post-traumatic stress disorder in individuals include:
The emotional effects of PTSD on sufferers can be devastating. They often become distant and emotionally numb in an effort to avoid the fear and horror they experienced and continue to experience. Other common symptoms of PTSD include:
Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from PTSD.
Left unattended, trauma can influence a person’s life for weeks, months, or even years. Fortunately, there are many things that can be done to help individuals dealing with PTSD. The following steps are designed to help you understand trauma and implement some practical strategies to help you overcome the negative effects of PTSD.
If you have not already done so, please take the trauma self-evaluation to see how the effects of trauma are influencing your life.Take an Evaluation
In our lives we have all encountered an event or events that could be traumatic. For example, if you watched the planes crash into the twin towers in New York City, you have been exposed to a traumatic event. When confronted with a traumatic event each of us has to come to terms with the event that caused the trauma. In other words, our mind is trying to make sense of what we experienced. Some traumatic events are so horrific that they will never make sense. However, that doesn’t mean that we have to live in constant fear and pain. Rather, our mind has the ability to navigate through the negative emotions and fear and move forward with life. In order to begin the “moving forward” process we have to understand trauma. Regardless of what event or events trigger trauma, there are some common components to the event:
Under most circumstances, we feel like we are in control. But when we experience trauma, we feel that we have no control at all. This is why trauma can create so much fear. In addition, traumatic events do cause real pain—feelings of loss, anger, grief, and sadness are natural painful responses to trauma. Unfortunately, many people attempt to ignore these natural feelings by subduing, ignoring, or hiding the pain of trauma. The consequences of burying these feelings can be long-lasting and can, in fact, hinder the natural healing process.
Every event we experience in this life forces us to make sense of what happened. However, some events are so difficult and painful to understand (e.g., a car accident where a loved one is killed, any kind of child abuse), that our minds struggle to grasp the meaning. When this occurs, the person who suffers often experiences the following:
One of the important parts of healing is to start understanding your symptoms and how they are influencing your day-to-day living. As you look through this list of common symptoms, can you identify how many you are experiencing? To better understand the causes and symptoms of PTSD, listen to the following by Dr. MK Downing.Listen Now
In an effort to help you better understand how trauma is influencing your life, please take a moment to do this exercise, “Trauma Symptoms in Your Life.”
Being mindful of your trauma symptoms and the ways trauma has affected your life, will assist you in the healing process.
“Trauma: Processing and Healing” - Audio by Brett Williams LMFT
“What symptoms should I watch for if I believe a loved one may be suffering from PTSD?” - Question answered by Wanda Brothers
“Struggling with feeling anything after returning from Iraq and struggling to talk about it” - Question answered by Joshua Turner LCSW
Having evaluated trauma in our life in step one and identified our trauma symptoms in step two, the next step is to begin to make sense of our trauma. In all people’s lives, there is a natural process that we undergo that allows us to take our experiences and incorporate them into our lives. The process is something that most of us never pay attention to because it happens naturally. The process looks like this:
The experience itself » We interpret the event » We react to the event
When you suffer from PTSD, you often get stuck in the third stage (the reaction stage) without ever really fully interpreting the traumatic event. By “stepping back” to the 2nd stage, you can work on interpreting or making sense of the event so that your reactions are healthy and less painful.
One of the concepts that is vital to healing from PTSD is understanding the actual source of the suffering: the suffering comes not from the event, but from your mind’s reaction to the event (the thoughts, memories and physical reactions to the event). Healing from trauma really requires changing the way you think about what happened, and that is not a one-step quick fix but a process that requires work. This sounds very difficult, but we will give you strategies to think about your thoughts, and then actively change them. The idea of being aware of your thoughts and reactions is known as mindfulness. In the following audio Dr. Kevin Skinner and Brett Williams LMFT discuss the basic principles behind mindfulness. Listen to the audio to get a better idea of what mindfulness is and how you can begin to practice mindfulness.Listen Now
What many people misunderstand about trauma is that healing does not mean that you won’t feel the pangs of loss or hurt. Rather, when you feel these natural emotions you won’t experience the common PTSD symptoms outlined above. This raises the question, “How should I deal with the overwhelming pain associated with my trauma?”
This exercise, “Seeing Your Thoughts Clearly,” is designed to help you deal with the feeling of being overwhelmed or out of control after trauma.
As soon as you begin to look at your thoughts and reactions to the traumatic event as the source of pain, you can begin to make changes. This doesn’t diminish the event or the pain it causes, but it does allow you to confront those thoughts. The following article by Dr. MK Downing discusses how understanding your thoughts related to a traumatic event can lead you to overcoming the pain.Read Article
“Letting Go of Control” - Exercise by Dr. Kevin Skinner LMFT
“PTSD-All You Wanted To Know But Didn't Know Who To Ask Part 2” - Audio by Dr. MK Downing PhD, MFT
The human mind and body act together as one. PTSD can affect both the mind and the body. Therefore the healing process must involve both as well. With a better understanding of how trauma affects your life, the next step involves learning things you can do with both your thinking and your behavior to begin to relieve some of the symptoms of PTSD.
One of the common reactions in those who suffer from PTSD is to become disengaged and detached from their lives. They stop doing many of the activities that they once did, especially those that they enjoy. One of the steps to healing is re-engage, even though it can seem like a tremendous chore.
For many people the idea of doing things—whether they are simple things or big things—is overwhelming. This exercise, “One Change, One Day,” will allow you to re-engage in a way that is not threatening or overwhelming.
By now, you should be growing aware of your thoughts and your reactions in your day-to-day life, but you should continue to practice so that it becomes easy, almost natural. Remember that mindfulness is supposed to be a gentle way of observing your thoughts and emotions without judging them and having strong negative emotional reactions.
Use the following “Coloring The Past” exercise to begin practicing being aware of your thoughts regarding your trauma and changing the mind’s reaction to them.
As mentioned in step 2, your reaction to traumatic events can cause suffering long after the event itself is over. Memories or reliving the event can trigger regret, guilt, or fear. If you can change how you view the event itself, you can also change the way you react to thoughts and memories of that event. This article by Paula Shaw, grief expert, explores the idea of changing how we view traumatic events—looking at the gifts hidden in tragedy.Read Article
In the following audio Dr. Kevin Skinner and guest clinical social worker discuss practical strategies to help people regain a sense of normalcy after trauma.Listen Now
“Trauma Psychotherapy” - Audio by Brett Williams LMFT
Managing PTSD and its effects is not something you do all at once. You need to work on your awareness, your reactions to your thoughts, and your engagement in life, and it takes time. This guided solution is designed to start the healing process by helping you identify your trauma symptoms, understand how trauma affects your life, and to identify strategies to help you move through the trauma.
Healing the Trauma of Abuse - Book
The PTSD Workbook - Book
“PTSD-All You Wanted To Know But Didn't Know Who To Ask Part 4” - Audio by Dr. MK Downing PhD, MFT
“Free Yourself by Healing Childhood Pain and Patterns” - Article by Paula Shaw CADC
“When Children Are Molested” - Article by Susan Adams Med, MFT