PTSD is characterized by intense fear, a sense of helplessness, or horror. It can affect all areas of a person’s life, their emotions, mental wellbeing, and physical health. And symptoms are generally worse in situations, like rape and abuse, where the trauma was deliberately initiated against those involved.
A person with PTSD may re-live the traumatic events, having flashbacks or other reminders and images that intrude on their waking hours, or in dreams and nightmares. These reminders may also trigger physical symptoms, such as heart palpitations or chills. Emotional problems, like anxiety, depression, and dread may also occur.
People with PTSD may avoid any reminders of the trauma, whether that is people associated with the experience, or places, or even thoughts of the trauma. They can distance themselves from family and friends, and withdraw from everyday activities and things they used to enjoy.
Relationship problems are common for survivors of rape and sexual abuse. Some survivors avoid intimacy, others avoid sex, and some avoid both, and create patterns in their lives where those coping mechanisms are maintained. But sufferers of PTSD who did not experience any sexual abuse can also have problems in their relationships, or in social situations.
Another characteristic of PTSD is being on guard all the time, and suddenly feeling anger or irritability. There can be problems with sleeping and concentrating, and sufferers may be startled easily. Self destructive behaviours, such as gambling, risky sex, drug use, alcohol abuse, or other problems like dangerous driving, may be present. Depression, disassociation, or other mental health problems can develop.
Not all of these characteristics may be present in PTSD, and the degree to which one experiences them may vary also. And PTSD may not develop until months or years after the trauma. Particularly in relation to abuse in childhood, symptoms of PTSD can pass, then reappear later in life. This can make it difficult to recognize when PTSD is occurring, as survivors may not associate their current feeling and behaviours with pas events.
Each time symptoms appear, however, they provide an opportunity for healing. Post traumatic stress disorder can be treated, using a combination of psychotherapy and EMDR.
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