Managing Traumatic Stress and Combat PTSD Through The R-E-C-O-V-E-R Approach*
TEN FUNDAMENTAL TRUTHS ABOUT PTSD: 1-5
Fundamental Truth #1: PTSD, like diabetes, cancer and heart disease, affects millions of people. PTSD is often perceived as a condition experienced by male combat soldiers. In truth, it is NOT confined to males, to the combat experience, or even to soldiers. Some research indicates that up to 50% of the American population have sustained at least one traumatic experience in their life, and up to 20% of the population at large may experience symptoms of traumatic stress and/or PTSD. Of these, the single largest affected population is female… predominantly victims of rape and sexual assault (which affects approximately one out of every 2.5 females in this country). Other sufferers include victims of crime, natural disasters, domestic violence, physical and verbal abuse, traumatic accidents, vehicle crashes, burns, and a host of other life-threatening incidents. Life-threatening illnesses, or medical conditions which subject an individual to a loss of function and a state of helplessness or loss of control, may also initiate PTSD. The illness affects not only adults, but millions of emotionally, sexually and physically abused children each year. Current estimates for service members vary widely, and place the incidence of PTSD among warriors at between 20-50%, depending upon the type of unit and service one is engaged in, and type of traumatic exposure.
Fundamental truth #2: PTSD Does Not Make You Crazy. If PTSD affects that many people, from such a broad range of backgrounds, one may well say to oneself, "They can't all be crazy." And you would be right. PTSD is a disorder of anxiety. It is NOT a personality disorder, or a psychotic disorder. Not only does PTSDnot make you crazy, it does not make you "irrational", nor does it destroy your underlying competence as a human being. Something that often makes people feel "crazy" occurs when their PTSD appears to come out of "nowhere." This "coming out of nowhere" may be the way the illness FEELS, but it is not actually the way the illness WORKS. PTSD always comes from SOMEWHERE. However, the triggering or initiating event may occur months or even years before symptoms occur. As a result, the person doesn't make the connection between a past traumatic event and the onset of their illness. Not recogizing its cause, it may feel as though it came from "nowhere", when that is not actually true. It is NOT true that PTSD must develop within 3 months of an event, and that if it does not then it will not develop at all. That is a serious misunderstanding that many people hear and mistakenly believe.
Fundamental truth #3: PTSD Is A Real, Medical Disorder That Has A Biological Basis. It is true that, to some extent, our society has gone too far in its efforts to assign a biological cause for everything that ails mankind. In the case of PTSD, however, exactly the opposite happened. The biological was ignored. The mental health professionals who first evolved a clinical "definition" of PTSD (known as "diagnostic criteria") came out of a very long tradition dating back to the 19th century, in which all mental disorders were described, and defined, solely in terms of behaviors which were observed. At the time that the definition of PTSD was created, the scientific and medical knowledge of its underlying physical cause was not available in the form it is today. As a result, the old "behavioral" definition persisted and was not corrected. As a result, millions of PTSD sufferers have had to live with shame about their "bad behavior", and never knew that, IN FACT, they actually have a bona fide medical illness. PTSD is not just "in their heads", nor it is solely in their behavior. PTSD has a biological root, which leads to secondary behavioral side effects.
Fundamental truth #4: PTSD May Be Thought Of As Post Traumatic Survival Disorder: The underlying biological roots of PTSD are found in a complex system of stress reactions that are not only innate to all human beings (as well as many animals), but that are designed to protect a person's capacity to survive. This is the way nature intends to protect us, and is not cause for shame. Ordinarily, nature's method for coping with extreme or threatening stressors simply does its job, and we return to a normalized, balanced state, called homeostasis. If, however, the threat is too severe, or continues to recur, there is no opportunity for the body to return to the balance point. Instead, the human being may become "stuck" in "survival mode". The brain becomes so accustomed to the presence of a traumatic threat or stressor, that the survival response becomes habituated in the brain and central nervous system. The person cannot "downshift" out of survival mode, the perception of extreme danger becomes a chronic habit, and the PTSD sufferer continues to live as though danger were ever-present even when it has long passed.
Fundamental truth #5: Not All Survivors Of Traumatic Experience Develop PTSD. It is true that many people survive traumas without suffering from PTSD. Some of the factors that account for this are: (l) how soon they are rescued and brought to proper care and safety, (2) how quickly they are restored to a position of control in life, (3) how well connected they are to safe and supportive relationships, (4) how much they are in touch with their own inner spiritual existence and the meaning of their life, (5) how much opportunity their brains and bodies have to "rest and recoup" before being re-exposed to another traumatic event, (6) how developmentally complete is their early life upbringing, and (7) how much self confidence they have regarding their ability to manage and cope with life challenges, even though they cannot entirely control them.
Please see this website for the conclusion to this article, containing Fundamental Truths #6-10 about PTSD, and read about this topic in "I Always Sit With My Back To The Wall".
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