The following common misconceptions about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) get in the way of healing and need to be debunked.
MYTH 1: I am losing my mind.
- Sudden anger or rage
- Flashbacks (i.e. reliving the event as if it were happening right now in the present)
- Nightmares and difficulty sleeping
- Inability to experience positive emotions
- Difficulty performing basic daily functiuons
- Actively avoiding traumatic reminders
- Feelings of detachment from other people including loved ones
The above symptoms may not emerge for months or even years following a trauma. Because of this delayed reaction, a connection is not always made between the symptoms and the event, which can make the symptoms of PTSD appear to come out of nowhere.
Even once a connection is made, 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 PTSD healing process.
MYTH 2. Going to therapy will force me to discuss bad memories.
Talk therapy is actually not the first therapeutic treatment of choice for PTSD because talking about trauma when symptoms are not contained can trigger unpleasant memories, which worsens symptoms and causes further psychological damage.
The first step of trauma therapy includes learning how to contain or manage one’s symptoms. This is done through any combination of treatment approaches, including:
- Learning about the symptoms of PTSD
- Taking part in grounding exercises, creative expression and art
- Guided imagery
- Creating rituals
- Carefully monitored medication when necessary.
Once survivors learn to manage or contain their symptoms, they will quite often then want to talk about specific memories. The therapist may use various techniques to aid this process.
MYTH 3. I will never recover.
You can and you will, especially with the support of loved ones and professional treatment along the way. People who have experienced trauma of all types 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 wound on your body. Although we have confidence in the body’s ability to repair itself in most instances, we sometimes believe the mind and psyche cannot do the same. However, our mind and psyche can and do heal just as our body can. Healing takes time, of course, along with in-depth personal work and dedication to treatment. Healing does not mean the past disappears but rather that the past no longer has the power to dominate the present.
As survivors of trauma begin to heal, they may discover amazing insights and strengths about themselves, also known as “the gifts of trauma.”
The Gifts of Trauma:
- Becoming a more compassionate person
- Discovering your creativity
- Finding more meaning and purpose in life
- Developing a more perceptive intuition
- Experiencing spiritual connected-ness or oneness
- Establishing a strong sense of one’s self
- Discovering that you are stronger than you ever believed possible!
MYTH 4. If I start crying, I’ll never be able to stop.
The fear of unleashing the strong emotions associated with trauma can be terrifying. However, bottling up emotion and stress can harm the body leading to medical conditions such as muscle tension, headaches, insomnia, obesity, heart disease, depression, anxiety, gastrointestinal problems, and even skin conditions.
Don’t be afraid to cry. Crying helps release negative emotions such as stress. And despite how scary it may be to finally unleash all of the emotions and memories associated with trauma, it will never be as terrifying as it was to live through the actual traumatizing event.
Healing from trauma often includes some form of treatment that helps relieve the stress that has been building up in one’s body. This can include incorporating practices like meditation, art, exercise, energy and body work such as massage.
MYTH 5: I should have gotten over this by now.
Trauma changes the way your brain functions. Our brains react to stress in what is known as a fight or flight response. For people with PTSD, the brain is often stuck in “stress” mode, on a state of high alert, constantly vigilant for signs of danger. Because the brain is stuck in stress overload, it is not simply a matter of moving past a bad experience any more than other medical condition is a case of moving past the condition without treatment.
You would never tend to a case of strep throat using only cough drops. The streptococcus bacteria would continue to intensify and your condition to worsen, along with your pain! The same is true for trauma. If the root cause is not addressed, attempts to self-medicate or “just get it” are likely not going to be effective.
Yes, you CAN live a meaningful and fulfilling life after being diagnosed with PTSD. By engaging in the difficult and rewarding work of healing, you can reclaim your life and discover treasured characteristics about yourself that you might not otherwise ever known existed.