PTSD stands for “post traumatic stress disorder.” This disorder comes about in response to experiencing, hearing about, or witnessing something that exceeds your ability to cope. You become overwhelmed, and your body does not know what to do. The memory of the event is stored in a way that protects you emotionally. There is a cost for this emotional benefit, and this causes problems.
The diagnosis of PTSD is characterized by three major changes in behavior:
1. The repeated reliving of memories of the traumatic experience. These tend to involve intense sensory and visual memories of the event, which are often accompanied by extreme physiological and psychological distress, and sometimes by a feeling of emotional numbing, during which there usually is no physiological arousal. These intrusive memories may occur spontaneously or can be triggered by a range of real and symbolic stimuli.
2. Avoidance of reminders of the trauma, as well as of emotional numbing, detachment, and emotional blunting, often coexist with intrusive recollections. This is associated with an inability to experience joy and pleasure, and with a general withdrawal from engagement with life. Over time, these features may become the dominant symptoms of PTSD.
3. A pattern of increased arousal is the third element of PTSD. This is expressed by hypervigilance, irritability, memory and concentration problems, sleep disturbances, and an exaggerated startle response. In the more chronic forms of the disorder, this pattern of hyperarousal and the avoidance may be the dominant clinical features. Hyperarousal causes traumatized people to become easily distressed by unexpected stimuli. Their tendency to be triggered into reliving traumatic memories illustrates how their perceptions become excessively focused on the involuntary seeking out of the similarities between the present and their traumatic past. As a consequence, many neutral experiences become reinterpreted as being associated with the traumatic past.
Once people develop PTSD, the recurrent unbidden reliving of the trauma in visual images, emotional states, or nightmares produces a constant reexposure to the terror of the trauma. In contrast to the actual trauma, which had a beginning, middle, and end, the symptoms of PTSD take on a timeless character. The traumatic intrusions themselves are horrifying: they interfere with dealing with the past, while distracting from being able to attend to the present. This unpredictable exposure to unbidden memories of the trauma usually leads to a variety of (usually maladaptive) avoidance maneuvers, ranging from avoidance of people or actions that remind them of the trauma, to drug and alcohol abuse, to emotional withdrawal from friends or activities that used to be potential sources of solace. Problems with attention and concentration keep them from being engaged with their surroundings with zest and energy. Uncomplicated activities like reading, conversing, and watching television require extra effort. This loss of ability to focus, in turn, often leads to problems with taking one thing at a time and gets in the way of organizing one’s life to get it back on track.
As you can imagine, PTSD is very debilitating and significantly inhibits a person’s ability to function in many areas of his/her life. The good news is that the methods I use are very effective in resolving PTSD.