What is PTSD and significant trauma?

The traumatic events in peoples’ lives can impact them in varying degrees. What may be of significant impact to one person could be experienced as something minor or normal to another person. The impact of a significant trauma can be noticeable right away or it can take years to surface.

With this in mind, how do you know if the traumatic events that you have experienced are affecting you in a manner that indicates that it is time for you to reach out for help? If you have been suffering with the negative effects of trauma for more than three months and this is causing you moderate to severe levels of emotional, mental and physical distress that is disrupting your home, work, academic or social life, then it is time to seek help. If you are experiencing the following symptoms that are associated with what is known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) you should consider getting professional assistance. The most common of these include:

  • Re-experiencing the trauma in the form of nightmares, flashbacks and feeling “triggered” as if the event were happening all over again
  • Avoiding situations, people or environments that remind you of the trauma
  • Unsettling changes in beliefs and feelings (Such as thinking and feeling that the world will never be safe again and that no one understands or can support you as needed)
  • Decreased mental and emotional functioning and increased anxiety (You may experience trouble recalling the trauma, have panic attacks, and notice difficulty with general short and long term memory, mood swings, managing anger, sleeplessness and motivation)

What causes significant trauma?

If you were exposed to a situation in which you or someone else were at risk or suffered serious harm (or death) and you felt helpless to change what happened, then this may have set into motion a personal post traumatic stress response. Some of the situations that can trigger this response include:

  • Veterans impacted by military action
  • Policing activities during high risk events
  • Fatal or near fatal work place accidents
  • Childhood abuse and neglect
  • Family violence
  • Exposure to bullying and mobbing at work or school environments
  • Victims of violent crime
  • Refugee as a result of national crisis
  • Significant losses (family, friend, employment, income, home)
  • Emergency first responders’ incidents

What should I expect from therapy?

It will be important for you to be patient with your recovery when you are experiencing the impact of significant trauma. It would be normal for you to feel unsure about getting help. You may also be thinking that what has happened is your fault. You may also believe you are strong enough to correct the situation or that the impact of the trauma will go away on its own. However, this may not occur and there is no shame in seeking assistance for this health concern due to the wounding that you have suffered. It has been shown to be beneficial for persons who are suffering with PTSD to work with a professional trained in trauma recovery. A professional can help you to stabilize and then improve how you are feeling and functioning. This can restore your confidence in managing your life so that you can look forward to a more promising future with a more resilient mind set.

Trauma is an indivisible part of human existence. It takes many forms but spares no one… trauma, in any of its forms, is not a failure or a mistake. It is not something to be ashamed of, not  a sign of weakness, and not a reflection of inner failing. It is simply a fact of life… but trauma is all pervasive… It continues to reassert itself as life unfolds… the traumas of everyday life, if they do not destroy us, become bearable, even illuminating, when we learn to relate to them differently.

Mark Epstein, MD “The Trauma of Everyday Life”

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