Q: Over my lifetime I’ve had some bad stuff happen to me. Who hasn’t really. Mine maybe worse than other peoples and more than one time. As a result I tend to be jittery, irritable, distrustful of others. I can fly off the handle easily, even with loved ones. Sometimes this wears on my family members. They don’t know everything that’s happened to me but they know I’ve had some trauma in my past. Even so, my sister recently got exasperated with me and told me, “at some point you just need to get over it.” I don’t think I can. If I could I would have already. What should I tell her?
A: It sounds painful to hear your sister be so minimizing and dismissive of your experience. Even if it came from a good place, not wanting to see you suffer, her words were very poorly chosen no doubt. It’s possible what you were describing could be related to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition that can develop after a person has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist attack, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault. It can even be caused by childhood neglect. PTSD can affect anyone, and it is not a sign of weakness. Instead it could be helpful to think of it as a brain injury in an expected and predictable response to damaging experience. And repeated traumatic experiences can amplify the symptoms to something known as Complex PTSD. It’s important to note that PTSD is not just a mild response to stress, and people cannot just “get over it” or will it away on their own. Treatment for PTSD typically involves a combination of therapy and medication, and can be very effective in helping people manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
The most common symptoms of PTSD include:
- Intrusive thoughts and memories: The person may have recurrent, unwanted thoughts about the traumatic event, as well as flashbacks, which are vivid, sensory experiences that can make the person feel like they are re-living the event. Nightmares are also common.
- Avoidance and numbing: The person may try to avoid any reminders of the traumatic event, and may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. They may also feel emotionally numb, detached from others, and have difficulty experiencing positive emotions.
- Hyperarousal: The person may have difficulty sleeping, feel irritable and on edge, and have difficulty concentrating. They may also be easily startled and have a heightened sense of danger.
These symptoms can interfere with a person’s daily life, and can make it difficult for them to go to work or school, maintain relationships, and engage in activities they once enjoyed. Avoidance of people in social situations, as well as avoidance of feelings through substance use, can be common strategies people use to cope.
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of PTSD, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional. A trained therapist can help the person understand their symptoms, develop coping skills, and work through the traumatic event in a safe and supportive environment. Specific treatments such as EMDR or IFS are some of the more common therapy treatments. Medications can also be very helpful in managing symptoms described above. With the right treatment, people with PTSD can learn to manage their symptoms and live fulfilling lives. Many of our therapist specialize in working with trauma. Give us a call (240) 252-3349 if you have questions let’s discuss if we have someone who can help.