Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
What is PTSD? - American Psychiatric Association
The first thing is to breathe a sigh of relief because PTSD is treatable. It’s never too early or too late to get help working through a traumatic event in your life. The next thing is to know you’re not alone. As humans, we have a two-fold biological response for how we react to a traumatic experience in our lives.
The first response is to remember and to understand the traumatic event so it does not happen again. For the vast majority of human history, this reflex has been necessary for survival. Our hunting and gathering ancestors needed to observe and learn from the traumas of being attacked or watching a loved one die, so they did not suffer the same fate.
The second response is to not relive the experience. This is perfectly normal. The original event was painful enough, we don’t want to go through the pain over and over again. However, the part of our brain that needs to understand and process the traumatic event overrides the part of our brain that wants to forget. The more we try not to think about it, the more we think about it.
It’s common to try and escape the memories and emotions behind the traumatic experience. Many people may turn to drugs, alcohol, opioids, sex, or shopping to numb the pain, while others try to hide it from themselves and others. The more we try to ignore it, the more it pops up at the most inopportune times- when we’re stressed out, fighting with a loved one, or things are not going well at work.
The feelings of hurt, anger, being upset, and feeling invalidated directly link back to the traumatic experience we’ve been pushing out of our mind.
Exposure therapy is the most effective technique for working through PTSD. Exposure therapy involves talking through the trauma in a safe, controlled environment with a trained mental health provider using specific techniques, such as mindfulness, breathing, and confronting beliefs and fears that surround the trauma.
Exposure therapy might sound scary or counterintuitive, however, it’s also scientifically proven to provide the best and longest lasting results to help you live a thriving life, instead of a surviving life. Just like for our ancestors, it’s important for us to look where we came from and where we are today.
Exposure therapy is not just talking about the experience, but about getting through experience. When we talk about it in the right environment, with a mental health provider who is only concerned about our well-being, we can start to confront the trauma until it’s a fact of the past. The trauma becomes a fact about our life, rather than something that’s controlling our life.