Family members may not quietly and peacefully accept what has happened...Family members have no choice--they must cooperate with the media, the police and sometimes the courts.
E.K. Rynearson, MD
Virginia Mason Medial Center
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What is PTSD? Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
by Connie Saindon, MA, MFT Founder: Survivors of Violent Loss
In World War I, they called it shell shock. In World War II they
called it battle fatigue. Now it's known as post-traumatic stress disorder or
PTSD. Many Vietnam veterans experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The
symptoms were demonstrated in several films depicting the Vietnam War - vets
waking up in the middle of the night with flashbacks, blocking out memories, and
refusing to discuss the details of their wartime experiences.
Many of us
are familiar with similar experiences such as the startle response and sleep
difficulties. War has taught us a great deal about the effects of trauma on
adults and we’re still learning about the effects of Desert Storm and the
current war in Iraq.
Through 24-hour news programming, we have constant
exposure to violent events worldwide. Many military families are glued to the
TV, unable to stop themselves from watching the violence in Iraq; hoping to hear
about their loved ones. We need to understand the effects of this close-up
coverage on real lives and families.
In addition to comprehending war
trauma, we are also learning a great deal about the effects of trauma on
children, and adults who had traumatic experiences during childhood. Very
frequently, those affected need treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Trauma is an event that is outside the range of usual human experience
and would be distressing to most of us. It can be experiencing, as well as
witnessing, violence, especially to one's loved ones. The trauma can either be a
physical threat or a threat to one's integrity. Examples are: The sudden
destruction on one's home, witnessing a serious accident, or being a victim of
an act of violence. A person will become more traumatized to the degree he or
she feels helpless during the event(s).
After a traumatic event, "fear
of further fear" can emerge, says Lenore Terr, M.D. in Too Scared To Cry.
This is frequently why some sexually abused children tend not to talk about
their abuse while it's happening. Human beings are like animals in that when
frightened they prepare for fight or flight, but often can't move.
Massive denial and numbing may affect children subjected to continual
horrifying incidents at home. When abuse becomes a predictable event, then
psychic numbing may be the result. A child with numbing may be polite yet have
difficulty opening up. Psychic numbing may be the result. This numbness may
become a way of life, in a place beyond expression, beyond feeling. These
children look at life through absent eyes. Also, their sense of time may go
awry. When wonderful things happen, time is too short. When bad things happen,
minutes can feel like hours. People who have experienced trauma can have their
sense of the future destroyed and may live only in the here and now.
Tori Amos' song "Me and A Gun" on her Earthquakes release album
captures how she coped while being raped. Her ability to put her mind elsewhere
helped her survive her ordeal.
Dr. Terr suggests that adults who have
experienced trauma tend to deny their feelings and have interruptive flashbacks.
Children do not tend to have flashbacks but they may have daydreams, and we may
see no problems with their schoolwork or activities.
indicator for identifying someone who has been traumatized is a major change in
personality after the event. Someone maybe quieter, bossier, or more immature
after a trauma. They are different in some way.
Unresolved trauma also
tends to reappear in the form of reenactments. In Stephen King's movie "Stand By
Me" there were three incidents regarding trains. The first was the adventures of
three pre-pubescent boys searching for the body of a boy hit by a train. A
second incident showed boys fooling around on the tracks and almost being hit by
an oncoming train. The third incident showed one of the boys getting stuck on
the track and, again almost being hit by an oncoming train. Dr. Terr reports
that at about age five Stephen King witnessed the death of a childhood playmate
that was hit by a train. "Stand By Me" may be a post-traumatic re-enactment for
One of my clients now realizes why she suffered from
migraines when others would help her in the kitchen. She was re-living a
childhood incident of physical violence that resulted in a severe cut needing
several stitches. Another woman found that the smell of sage evoked memories of
her rape. This became clearly evident when applying for a job in a rural town
where sagebrush was plentiful.
Traumatic events can drastically alter
one's personality and way of living. People who do the healing work realize
that, later in life, with the right circumstances, they may have to deal with
issues that resurface from the trauma. The effect of trauma never ends: Each of
us will deal with the symptoms and effects of trauma according to our own
timetable. In another article I will address the strengths that emerge from the
experience of trauma or hardship.
This brief article
cannot provide a comprehensive description of this area. It is only one of many
articles that provide a voice to survivors of trauma. The answers will come from
clinicians, researchers, and survivors. Let us know what you did to help
yourself so that we can pass on our collective wisdom and help one another.
Trauma long past can still controls more of our lives than we wish. We will
continue to discuss this topic and look forward to your input as well. Let us
hear from you.
Connie Saindon, M.A., MFT is a licensed Marriage and
Family Therapist and Traumatic Grief Specialist. She is the founder of the
Survivors of Violent Loss Program and provides training/supervision and
consultation. She can be reached at CSaindon@san.rr.com.