Many misconceptions exist about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These myths get in the way of healing by creating obstacles for people seeking treatment and need to be debunked. Listed below are the top five misconceptions I hear.
I am crazy and am losing my mind.
No, you are not crazy nor are you losing your mind. PTSD is a normal reaction to an abnormal event(s). Some symptoms of PTSD include:
- Anger or rage that seems to arise instantaneously
- Flashbacks (reliving the event as if it were happening right now in the present)
- Nightmares, difficulty sleeping
- Inability to feel positive emotions
- Difficulty functioning throughout the day
- Avoidance of the traumatic reminders
- Not feeling attached to your body/a feeling of floating outside of the body and/or feeling detached from other people
To further complicate matters, sometimes symptoms do not emerge for months or years after the traumatic experience. Because of this delayed reaction, the connection is not always made between the symptoms and the event. This makes the symptoms appear to come out of nowhere.
Even once the connection is made between the symptoms and the traumatic experience, symptoms can surface randomly and sometimes in very public moments. Despite appearing to come out of nowhere, symptoms are usually prompted by a “trigger” or reminder of the traumatic event. Learning to manage symptoms is empowering and a vital step in the healing process.
If I go to therapy I’ll have to talk about unpleasant memories.
Although talk therapy is helpful for many problems, it is not the first therapeutic treatment choice for PTSD because talking about trauma when symptoms are not contained can
worsen symptoms and cause further psychological damage. The first step of trauma therapy includes learning how to contain or manage symptoms.
Trauma symptoms are similar to a tornado that blows fiercely, sweeping people and their lives into a state of chaos. Talking about traumatic experiences before symptoms are contained can awaken the trauma tornado and intensify symptoms. In trauma therapy, people are taught how to keep the swirling tornado at a safe distance.
This is done through a combination of treatment approaches such as learning about the symptoms of PTSD, grounding exercises, creative expression and art, prayer, guided imagery, creating rituals and sometimes medication. Once survivors learn to manage or contain symptoms, most want to talk about specific memories, and the therapist may use various techniques to aid this process.
I will always be broken and will never recover.
This is simply not true. People who have experienced trauma, even complex childhood trauma or have lived in war torn places, have been able to go on to lead happy, fulfilling and meaningful lives. Remember PTSD is a natural reaction to abnormal stress just as bleeding is a natural reaction to a flesh wound on the body. We expect the body can repair itself in most instances, but sometimes believe the mind and psyche cannot. This is faulty thinking. The mind and psyche can heal just as the body can. Healing takes time, in-depth personal work and dedication to treatment. However, healing does not mean the past disappears but rather that the past no longer has the power to dominate the present.
In fact, as survivors of trauma heal, they discover wonderful insights and strengths about themselves. These insights are commonly referred to as post traumatic growth or the gifts of trauma. A partial list of the “Gifts of Trauma” includes:
- Meaning and purpose in life
- Perceptive intuition
- Spiritual connected-ness or oneness
- Strong sense of self
- Thriver – I am stronger than I ever believed!
Carolyn Waterstradt, LMSW CAADC, CTS