Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: When Nightmares Come True

PTSD | June 14, 2018 | Pennsylvania Counseling Services

What do these five people have in common?

Melissa witnessed her 3-year-old son lose his life in a car accident
Juan awoke to a house engulfed in flames
David fought in Vietnam
Nina experienced years of physical abuse from her alcoholic father
Christina was pressured into an intimate relationship

All five of the people above experienced a traumatic event. They or their loved ones were threatened, physically or emotionally, and they felt powerless to stop what was happening. Someone experiencing these traumas, whether a single event or repeated episodes, may suffer from a condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What is post-traumatic stress disorder?

PTSD is an anxiety disorder in which an individual relives or re-experiences an unusually stressful trauma. These recurring memories, flashbacks or dreams are often disturbing and are sometimes sparked by a situation similar to the original trauma.

For those who experienced repeated traumatic situations, daily decisions may be influenced in attempt to avoid settings that stimulate anxious feelings. Addictions and other forms of compulsive behavior often result as the person attempts to numb or avoid anything that reminds them of the original trauma(s). PTSD symptoms usually last at least one month and may occur weeks, months or even years after the original trauma.

What do PTSD symptoms look like?

Ironically, those experiencing PTSD often make choices or react to life in ways that increase the chances of reliving the trauma.

PTSD can be seen through the following symptoms or methods of emotional numbing:

  • Avoiding activities that trigger memories of the trauma
  • Avoiding thoughts or feelings connected to the trauma
  • Experiencing a lack of interest in previously important activities
  • Feeling distant from others and intentionally limiting the growth of relationships
  • Experiencing a limited ability to identify and experience a full range of emotions

  • Experiencing an inability to remember an important part of the trauma

  • Experiencing an inability to look forward to short-term events such as holidays, or long-term events such as planning for a career, marriage, children, etc.

  • Experiencing intensified PTSD symptoms in situations that resemble the trauma

  • Experiencing periods of jumpiness, difficulty concentrating or disrupted appetite or sleep patterns

  • Experiencing uncontrollable outbursts of anger

  • For children, forgetting learned skills like toilet-training or a speaking a newly acquired language

How can PTSD be treated?

To achieve healing, buried feelings need to be expressed. Healing comes through gaining support from healthy relationships. This is especially vital if a close relationship was destroyed by the trauma.

Some of those experiencing PTSD may need to consider counseling. Counseling provides a safe atmosphere in which a person can learn to reduce their anxiety and build healthy ways of coping with suppressed emotions. Unresolved feelings of grief, anger or guilt may resurface while dealing with the trauma, and counseling offers the support needed to safely process these emotions and enable the person to move on from the symptoms holding them back. In more severe cases, medication for anxiety or depression may also be prescribed as part of the treatment.

Past traumas can never be erased, but a person can choose to work toward healing the pain. With professional guidance, it’s possible to learn to let the past be the past and begin to look forward to the future.

If you or someone you know is having a difficult time coping with trauma, we can help. Check out our outpatient services page for a full range of treatment options including individual and family counseling.

For more information, resources and tips to raise awareness for PTSD, visit the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ PTSD Awareness webpage.