When I first remembered the incest, I went online to visit several message boards for survivors of child sexual abuse and stumbled on the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. That was the first time that I ever realized I had almost every single symptom on the list during most of my late teens and adult life.
I thought I would post a lengthy article on PTSD symptoms in case other people did not know that there is an actual diagnosis, and logical reason, for what some of you may also have experienced.
PTSD Symptoms can include:
The recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of a traumatic event; recurrent nightmares of the event; intense psychological distress at exposure to internal or external triggers that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the trauma; avoidance of thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the event; avoidance of activities, places, or people that arouse recollections of the trauma; inability to recall an important aspect of the event; markedly diminished interest in important activities; a restricted range of feeling or estrangement from others; a sense of a foreshortened future; difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep; irritability or outbursts of anger; difficulty concentrating; hypervigilance and an exaggerated startle response; vivid memories that are accompanied by painful emotions that take over the victim’s attention.
Not all of the symptoms must be present; however, what symptoms there are must be connected to the trauma experienced.
Avoidance symptoms affect relationships with others: The person often avoids close emotional ties with family, colleagues, and friends. At first, the person feels numb, has diminished emotions, and can complete only routine, mechanical activities. Later, when re-experiencing the event, the individual may alternate between the flood of emotions caused by re-experiencing and the inability to feel or express emotions at all. The person with PTSD avoids situations or activities that are reminders of the original traumatic event because such exposure may cause symptoms to worsen.
Symptoms often go unattended by friends and family members due to the length of time that has occurred from the trigger. Instead, the person is likely to be blamed for the very behaviors that are causing him/her distress. This tendency prevents the person from coming forward and identifying the trauma as an issue. Instead, almost universally, the person desires ‘to move forward’ and/or not discuss what is most troubling for him/her, a sense of shame for having the symptoms. Moreover, the shame further blocks the person from accessing outside resources.
Many people with PTSD repeatedly re-experience the ordeal in the form of flashback episodes, memories, nightmares, or frightening thoughts, especially when they are exposed to events or objects reminiscent of the trauma. Anniversaries of the event can also trigger symptoms. People with PTSD also experience emotional numbness and sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety, and irritability or outbursts of anger. Feelings of intense guilt are also common. Most people with PTSD try to avoid any reminders or thoughts of the ordeal.
The inability of people with PTSD to work out grief and anger over injury or loss during the traumatic event means the trauma can continue to affect their behavior without their being aware of it.
PTSD can cause those who have it to act as if they are constantly threatened by the trauma that caused their illness. They can become suddenly irritable or explosive, even when they are not provoked. They may have trouble concentrating or remembering current information, and, because of their terrifying nightmares, they may develop insomnia. This constant feeling that danger is near causes exaggerated startle reactions.
Finally, many people with PTSD also attempt to rid themselves of their painful re-experiences, loneliness, and panic attacks by abusing alcohol or other drugs as a “self-medication” that helps them to blunt their pain and forget the trauma temporarily. A person with PTSD may show poor control over his or her impulses and may be at risk for suicide.
To explain PTSD requires a limited understanding as to how reasoning works. For most people, waking up to greet the day means the suspension of ‘what ifs.’ Instead, most people assume they know full well what the day will bring as well as how and why events will occur. Events of the day that coincide with the prediction assures them that the universe is a kind, reasonable and well- organized place. In this scenario, the brain can make sense of all that ensued. The brain is able to make sense of them, as the events are congruent with prior learning and understanding of how the world operates.
Imagine now that the day predicted goes awry. What ensues is chaotic and unexpected.
When a victim, or an adult survivor, of child sexual abuse and trauma experiences stress, or things not going as they planned, the child or adult will feel as though the abuse is happening all over again, as if the “good is being taken away,” or they may feel “why me?,” or “why can’t I get what I want?,” or as if the world might come to an end.
Survivors of sexual abuse do not react to the daily stresses of the world like people who were not abused do, and abuse survivors do not feel the same about the world as those who had loving relationships with their parents. Sexual abuse changes the entire world of the person who experiences it.
A person who was severely traumatized as a child might react very strongly to an event, or experience, where others would say, “oh don’t make a big deal out of it.” This is one of the things that abuse survivors feel differently and separated about. The rest of the world seems “okay” with stress, and the person who was once abused feels “different” or defective because they do not act, re-act, or feel the same about life’s snags as others do.
If you have experienced this….do not feel alone. Do not beat yourself up. You are not unique, you are NOT alone, and never feel “less than” anyone else.