3 Core Components of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
In this post, we introduce how to recognize post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and how it relates to sexual violence.
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
When a traumatic event occurs, such as an act of sexual assault, rape, or abuse, the impacts can last a lifetime. One result is post-traumatic stress disorder, abbreviated and commonly referred to as PTSD. PTSD is a form of persistent stress that occurs after you’ve experienced a traumatic event. While often associated with people who return from combat (or war), PTSD is also common in survivors of interpersonal violence.
The effects of trauma may last for days, months, or years after an event
Dr. Cheryl Arutt explains that one of the most traumatizing events for a person is experiencing violence at the hands of another human, particularly sexual trauma. And since the violence we address interpersonal violence, it means that it is likely someone the survivor knows. From an intimate partner to an acquaintance.
There are different types of trauma
For example, complex PTSD, which refers to trauma that builds on top of previous experiences of trauma as a result of prolonged exposure to abuse. Complex PTSD can occur in instances of intimate partner violence because of the close relationship with the abuser and if it took place over longer periods of time.
And, the effects trauma has can vary from person to person
The impacts can range from cognitive such as changes in the brain to physical such as impacting immune systems. Neurobiological changes can also occur within a person. This can be reflected in their response to stress.
In survivors of sexual violence, emotional and relational responses are common. Emotional responses could be an increased chance of experiencing changes in their mental health. For example, some survivors develop anxiety disorders or some form of depression. We’ll break these down in a different post later on. For now, let’s understand how to recognize PTSD through the 3 key elements:
3 components of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
1. Reliving the event
Reliving the event through flashbacks happens often when someone experiences PTSD. It’s not simply a like a memory when this happens. A flashback of this kind can be accompanied by physical or psychological sensations in your body. Such as muscle aches, pains in the body, rage, or crying. Responses vary from person to person.
What happens is that PTSD alters the functioning of your response to stress. Colloquially known as your “fight, flight or freeze” response. Even the smallest recollection and stimuli can trigger an intense reaction. This is particularly common in the first few months following an assault, however, can occur for sometimes after that timeframe as well.
2. Increased hyperactivity
When PTSD occurs, people may feel as if they are always in danger. Or that they need to be on guard to protect themselves. There is typically increased activity in the part of the brain, called the amygdala, used to regular our emotions and perceptions.
Small triggers such as sounds, smells, or similar surroundings can increase fear or panic in someone experiencing PTSD. For example, a similar texture or an environment where a traumatic experience occurred. Or seeing someone that might look like the person that hurt you.
While recovering from PTSD, survivors might experience increased irritability and difficulty concentrating. Another common response is a disturbance in sleep patterns. Poor sleep can then again contribute to feeling increased anxiousness. Sometimes making a person react strongly to even seemingly ordinary irritations.
3. Avoidance Behavior
Avoidance behavior sounds like the name suggests: avoiding things that might cause a flashback or trigger a hyperactive response. This could be avoiding reminders of an event. Or avoiding a space or place that the event took place in. This is what we to do protect ourselves from experiencing the pain or discomfort we felt while living through the traumatic experience.
This type of behavior can be intrusive and difficult for a survivor of trauma to deal with. It can impact your day-to-day life, and sometimes be difficult for the people around you to understand. It can cause people to withdraw from activities they might have enjoyed or previously liked doing. It’s a way of protecting ourselves.
If you’re experiencing trauma, you can work towards healing
Through support from the people in your lives, and finding someone who specializes in trauma and mental health to work with you. You can work to recover from your experience.
For some people, it’s helpful to connect with others who have had similar experiences. And for others, it helps to educate yourself about what you are going through. Find a way that works for you and that makes you feel comfortable.
We’ll be releasing a full resource list soon. For now, if you’re looking for someone to speak to in Bangkok, you can check out a few counseling centers such as Psychological Services International, Bangkok Counselling Service, NCS Counseling, or Bangkok Supportive Counseling.
How should you respond if someone discloses an experience of trauma to you
When someone discloses a trauma to you, how you respond is crucial.
Social connection and support can be vital to healing. We each have the power to help the people we love, family or friends, while they are recovering from PTSD. This could mean the difference between having PTSD for years and recovering sooner. Especially, if you’re the first person someone is sharing their experience with. How you respond can have an enormous impact on their wellbeing.
Unfortunately, often times when survivors of sexual assault come forward, they will experience what is called victim-blaming. Where they are questioned in a way that implies they are to blame for what happened to them. If a survivor of violence is met by judgment or in ways that they are forced to answer uncomfortable questions. (Like “what were you wearing?” or “what did you do to make this happen?” or “were you drunk?”) it can be harmful to them.
A helpful way to respond is with kind, non-judgemental words. If you don’t know what to say, just truly listening and acknowledging what they are saying to show support. Ultimately, how the survivor of assault wants to move forward is up to them. Your role as a friend or loved one is to support their decisions after experiencing trauma.
If you’re more of a visual learner. Here’s a couple videos that break down Trauma, and Anxiety (including explaining avoidance behavior):
If you or someone you know is experiencing trauma you can get support through the healing process in Bangkok, we’re here to help.
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