Ok, now that you know what PTSD is (if you read my last post, if not go back and read it) you may be wondering who gets PTSD, or maybe even do I have PTSD? When traumatized individuals come into my practice seeking care, some have a sense of what they might be dealing with, but others just feel as if they are out of control and do not know what is happening. We will get more into the feeling out of control part of living with PTSD and why a person might experience that, but for today, I want to educate on the factors that contribute to some developing PTSD, while others who may have experienced a similar situation do not.
Just because you experience a traumatic event does not necessarily mean that you will develop PTSD. Like I explained in my last post, symptoms after a traumatic event are not uncommon, but it is when the symptoms hang around longer than a month that we start to get concerned.
So the question is what factors contribute to the reason that some people go on to develop PTSD while others go on unscathed?
The first factor is how frequent and intense the trauma was. If the trauma was a one time occurrence and the person felt supported and able to seek out help, then the likelihood is lower for developing PTSD. If the person was repeatedly traumatized starting as a young child, then the odds for developing PTSD grow substantially. Individuals with a history of prior traumas or other comorbid disorders such as depression or anxiety are also at higher risk of developing PTSD.
The type of traumatic event also influences the adjustment after the trauma. If the traumatic event was a natural disaster, then the development of PTSD is less likely than if it is a combat event or the experience of being attacked or violated by a trusted partner or family member.
The manner in which a person copes is also a factor in developing PTSD. Resilience is the ability to cope with tough times and bounce back from trauma. Some things that contribute to resilience is having a strong support system, being flexible in your thinking and the way you see things, seeing the cup as half full, having problem-solving abilities, spiritual beliefs, and a sense of humor. A regular exercise routine does not hurt either as it enhances a sense of well-being. To sum it up, having healthy outlets, outlooks, and habits can help protect you against the development of PTSD.
Social support, in particular, is the most powerful protector against overwhelming stress and trauma. We as humans are social creatures. We need one another to live and thrive. After a trauma if an individual does not feel they can go to others to get support and care, then it makes coping with the trauma much more difficult.
After a traumatic event our physiology is on overdrive (I will go into this more in a later post) and we need people close to us to help us feel cared for, seen, and heard. In order for the physiology to calm down we need a visceral feeling of safety. Think of an infant who needs touch and holding to calm down- those needs for us do not go away as we grow. Again, we are social beings and we need others to help us feel soothed and safe.
In our brains we have mirror neurons that allow us to take in another person’s movements, and emotional states so that we can be in sync with others. These mirror neurons make possible the feeling of empathy and being in tune with someone else. This feeling of being understood and supported can mean a complete world of difference to the traumatized person.
To think of an example to tie this all in, when I first moved back to the area after about 13 years of living and working in other cities, there was a noticeable difference in the clients I first started to see here. When I moved back in 2015, before I opened my private practice I was doing telemedicine. I had a few clients from along the coast, north of us, and there was a subtle/understood manner in which they talked that implicated a pre and post Hurricane Sandy world.
We live in an area that has a shared trauma of a natural disaster. Hurricane Sandy was devastating and it is felt in the stories that I hear from my clients and friends when they talk about life and how things changed so drastically from destruction to rebuild. Organizations such as Jetty and others that stopped everything to rebuild and bring people together are prime examples of how social support heals people after trauma. Those people who did not have access to support may not have fared as well.
So like I said trauma is a broad subject that can show up in many different ways in our lives. It is important to keep in mind these factors that can help protect against more intrusive and prolonged symptoms of PTSD…. Until next time. -Dr. B
Heck, S. (2013). Healthing and Resilience After Trauma. Home Study. heiselandassoc.com.
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