Severe and protracted trauma, as we have seen, can lead to the development of complex PTSD. Often, however, this does not become clearly apparent until some way into adulthood, by which time compounding stressors have pushed us ‘over the edge’, so as to speak, and, perhaps in a state of utter desperation, we have sought out medical help and a professional diagnosis.
If we do indeed develop PTSD, our whole worldview is likely to have become profoundly, radically and fundamentally altered for the worse.
Our coping abilities will have been completely overwhelmed, leaving us feeling helpless and extremely vulnerable. Because of this, we find ourselves living in a world we no longer recognize – a world we perceive to be terrifying and full of danger. We never feel safe, constantly feel under threat and see enemies everywhere. It feels as if our very survival is endangered which leads us to feel:
– as if we are in a perpetual state of ‘red-alert‘
– as if our nervous system stuck in ‘fight or flight’ mode. (As I myself have, we may find ourselves shaking, sweating and hyperventilating for no discernible reason, or such a response may be triggered by the smallest of events that most people would find to be totally innocuous).
– paranoid, constantly under threat/in danger
Any previous notions and illusions (before the effects of our traumatic experience took hold) that the world is an essentially safe place will have been entirely shattered.
Inability To Trust:
Perhaps one of the most devastating and life-ruining symptoms of PTSD is that it robs us of our ability to trust other people. This can be due to ‘cognitive distortions’ we are likely to have developed, specifically, in this case, seeing others, their behaviour, intentions and motivations in an irrationally negative light. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be an effective treatment for this, and other, symptoms of PTSD.
An Increased Propensity To Become Angry:
We may, too, develop the following symptoms:
– low frustration tolerance
– extreme irritability
– easily angered / may suffer childlike tantrums (regressive behaviour)
– an inability to be assertive (instead, we are either submissive or overly aggressive – a middle path between these two polarities continuously eluding us)
– intolerance of others’ shortcomings/ ineptitudes (as we perceive them)
Emotional Numbing :
Many of our emotions shut down and seem impossible to reactivate; only negative emotions may remain such as depressive feelings, guilt (irrational but feels very real and deserved), anger and disgust.
We may constantly feel the need to avoid others/situations or often feel the need to escape/run away/hide/isolate ourselves on many occasions that most would be able to take in their stride.
We may find ourselves constantly responding to others defensively and feel a strong need to ‘prove’ ourselves to others, but never feel this has been achieved
We may become obsessively and exclusively focused on one or two issues relating to our traumatic experiences such as betrayal, resentment or exploitation.
As such we become ‘stuck’, unable to move ahead in our lives.
People affected in this way may significantly benefit from cognitive behavioural therapy or dialectical behaviour therapy.
You may also wish to read my related article entitled: CHILDHOOD TRAUMA AND SHATTERED ASSUMPTIONS THEORY.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).
Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of childhoodtraumarecovery.com. Survivor of severe childhood trauma.