Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a very specific anxiety disorder that can occur after exposure to a severe trauma. There are three major categories of symptoms which include: 1. Avoidance 2. Re-experiencing and 3. Physiological Hyperarousal.
Avoidance is actually the hallmark of PTSD. People with PTSD try avoid any reminder or trigger of the trauma, which makes sense. The very nature of having gone through any kind of trauma can be excruciatingly painful to process. Our natural reflex as human beings is to quickly remove our hand from a hot stove. The same is true for reminders of the traumatic experience. However, in PTSD, the avoidance becomes problematic when it interferes with someone’s day to day life; when they can’t go places, interact with people, or function at work because of the avoidance.
Re-experiencing often takes the form of nightmares, intrusive feelings, memories, or recollections of the trauma. Usually this occurs when it’s least expected, and can really take people off guard. Not being able to get the traumatic memory or image out of your mind can greatly impair the ability to focus, concentrate, or feel present. Flashbacks and dissociation are common symptoms of PTSD.
Physiological hyperarousal is often one of the most uncomfortable symptoms of PTSD. It’s like the person’s autonomic nervous system (fight or flight response) is on overdrive and won’t turn off. This is why people with PTSD often develop what’s called a hyper startle reflex. It’s why you might see a combat veteran jump to the ground after hearing a loud bang or someone who survived a motor vehicle accident appear jumpy or nervous when driving. It can happen when a childhood sexual abuse survivor feels anxious when confronted with intimacy. PTSD develops because the nervous system hasn’t been able to “power down” and is now creating that anxious, jumpy, agitated feeling that feels like it will never go away. Psychotherapy, biofeedback, and medication can really help. Our outlook at West Maui Counseling Center is this: PTSD is not something that is wrong with you, it is something wrong that happened to you. Symptoms are normal reactions to abnormal situations. Through a safe, supportive therapeutic relationship, and additional components of a good treatment plan, people who suffer from PTSD can get better.
We have worked with people who have been struggling with their symptoms for decades, and have seen them return to living symptom free lives after a good course of therapy. Although trauma in any form is tragic, as human beings we find meaning in our suffering by recognizing the amazing resiliency inside us all as we heal. With good support and treatment, people can recover from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.