In the recent years, and with so many war veterans having been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as well as above than average incidents of shootings, and specifically the recent one close to my home, in Parkland, Fl, I decided to write this article that will hopefully help to bring some clarity as to what PTSD is, and some suggestions how it can be treated.

There is no one correct treatment. I base this on my personal experience of having suffered significant trauma which was a result of all types of abuse during my childhood and adolescence and even later on I my adult life, trauma related to being in abusive relationships. I had experienced nightmares and some flashbacks for as long as I remember. This just serves as a guideline and I strongly recommend that if you feel that you suffer from PTSD that you consult a licensed clinician or a psychologist.

Let’s first take a look as to how psychology field defines PTSD.

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association revised the PTSD diagnostic criteria in the fifth edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5; 1). PTSD is included in a new category in DSM-5, Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders. Full copyrighted criteria are available from the American Psychiatric Association (1). Here I am just listing a few.

To be diagnosed with PTSD, the person was exposed to: death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence, or similar, including any kind of abuse or domestic violence, experiencing it directly or indirectly by observing it.

Typical symptoms include: nightmares, flashbacks, emotional distress, and intrusive thoughts.

For example, for years following the abuse, I would have continued nightmares and I also developed sensitivity to criticism and aversion to anybody talking loudly. I would experience physical sensations, such as vomiting or upset stomach. Basically, I developed a trigger – in this case, loud voice.

Another example, in case of people that were exposed to violence – including shooting and guns, develop emotional distress with ANY loud noises that resemble gun shot. It can take years to heal and not to experience emotional distress when the trigger presents itself.

For person to meet criteria for PTSD, the symptoms need to last at least a month and they experience distress and functional impairment in several key areas of life such as social and occupational

(See https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/PTSD-overview/dsm5_criteria_ptsd.asp)

So what can we do about it?

1. Most of all, know that you are not alone. What helped me most is to seek support of friends who normalized my feelings that what I was experiencing was not the norm. My boyfriend’s family was nothing like my own and I experienced joy and laughter, and not abuse and tension, which was the norm in my family when I was an adolescent.

2. I also worked with several therapists, coaches, and healers and learned how to identify my triggers and how to manage my emotions and “rewrite my story”. One approach that was helpful with a pervasive memory of being severely beaten was finding therapist that was trained in EMDR and after few sessions I was able to tell my story without crying and was able to emotionally detach from the incident. However, the approach that finally started to help me in stopping intrusive and limiting thoughts and beliefs is when I learned and received training in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). In essence, this approach focuses on the linguistic and how we store and process memories. I have been able to start understanding that my negative programming due to being exposed to abuse and trauma colored my world and I saw the world as a threat and subconsciously sought experiences and people that confirmed that world is not a safe place and that people cannot be trusted. Only when I started changing my beliefs my life and my well-being improved.

3. Join a support group. Other people who have gone through similar experiences can not only offer validation; you will also feel understood. Not many people (including some therapists) really understood why I am not able to get better – in spite of years of therapy and medication. Medication can be helpful in the initial stages, but key is to understand the root causes and how your beliefs and thoughts contribute to the disorder.

4. Do journaling. When we are overwhelmed with thoughts, it’s key that we find healthy ways to manage them and get them out of our head.

5. Learn stress management and breathing techniques. I think meditation literally saved my life. I studied different modalities including mindfulness, zen, guided meditation, and meditation based on mantra (the Art of Living Foundation). I was able to heal insomnia and significantly reduced anxiety and depression symptoms.

I hope this was helpful to you. Please don’t suffer and there is no shame. Feel free to schedule a confidential phone consultation 561-299-1028 or simply click here: https://calendly.com/matejapetjelmft/30min. 

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