Chances are that you know someone who either directly or indirectly experienced a traumatic event. Furthermore, they had, or continue to have, some difficulty moving past this event. Having a strong as well as persistent emotional reaction to a past traumatic event is totally understandable as well as normal. Typically, we refer to this painful process as Post Traumatic Stress.
Defining exactly what a traumatic event is may appear somewhat subjective. It isn’t. The consensus is that being a victim of child abuse, sexual assault, physical assault, being involved in a serious car accident, surviving a disaster, and witnessing or partaking in violence are all considered traumatic events. Of course, by no means should the aforementioned list be considered complete.
Typically, both during and after encountering a traumatic event(s), most people are understandably quite upset and experience a high level of nervousness and fear. Fight, flight, or freeze mode often accompanies these strong feelings. This high level of emotional as well as physical arousal and reactivity may continue for days, weeks, months, or even years.
In addition to a high level of arousal; recurrent bad dreams, painful memories, avoidance of similar situations, and mood changes are also quite common. Sadly, so is persistent anxiety, depression, irritable/angry mood, episodes of rage, disturbance of sleep, appetite, energy level, and ability to concentrate as well as substance abuse/dependence. Suffice to say, living with PTS can be Hell. Living with someone experiencing these symptoms can be quite trying, too (just ask my wife!).
Despite how common PTS is, believe it or not, some people actually don’t believe that this condition exists! Others believe that only the mentally and emotionally weak contract it and/or only veterans and first responders are at risk. In actuality, any one, who is at the wrong place and at the wrong time, can develop these symptoms. This even includes psychologists!
Furthermore, some children and adults may actually be at greater risk for developing PTS because of how loss, trauma, and related feelings were or, more precisely, weren’t addressed in the families they grew up in. In other words, in families where denial and/or avoidance are commonplace, these children often grow up to be adults ill equip to deal with loss and trauma down the road.
Therefore, as a parent, if you’re struggling with PTS, be courageous and lead by example. Confront your problems head-on. And, equally important, teach your kids to open their hearts and seek understanding, support, love, and help, when ailing.
For more information on how your PTS affects your children, stay tuned for my next blog. In the interim, if you’re struggling, please reach out to your family, friends, and, of course, Tom and Jen, at All Secure Foundation.
And, for non-emergent questions about child development and trauma, please feel free to contact me at “Ask the Child Shrink”.
Dr. James Shrink is a child clinical psychologist with more than 30 years experience. He specializes in evaluating as well as treating boys and teenage boys.