I’ve just been reading an excellent blog by senior trauma therapist Sara Staggs on After Trauma, and the words below in particulare really made me think about the fact that posttraumatic stress disorder can be viewed as a positive way of adapting to traumatic situations.
Triggers, Flashbacks, Avoidance, Hyperarousal… doesn’t sound positive
It’s fairly clear how avoidance can be positive during times of danger, but how can things like triggers, flashbacks and hyperarousal be positive?
Hyperarousal is being on edge and automatically alert, your body and mind are constantly watchful, expecting trauma to happen, you feel anxious, on edge and jumpy. It’s exhausting. But it also means that if a traumatic event occurs you will notice is sooner than those without the same level of awareness, allowing you to respond automatically, which could be a life-saving defense if you are a risk of danger.
The problem with PTSD is that your body and mind don’t automatically know when the trauma is over, so you respond to even minor stimuli (triggers) in the same way as major ones. If your trauma involved a fire, then the smell of smoke could well be a trigger which you respond to. If you have PTSD then your brain would respond in exactly the same whenever you smelled smoke, it would not pause to consider how much smoke there was, or what size of fire it was.
A part of the brain known as the amygdala is key in triggering this automatic reaction to the smoke; interpreting the smoke from burnt toast in the same way as the smoke from a house fire, in effect assuming that the house is on fire again, and generating the fight-or-flight response. If you are living in a war zone where fires are a daily occurrence then PTSD becomes a life-saving defense. That might not seem a particularly common living situation but if your homeland is in the midst of a civil war it could very well be. PTSD is more likely to occur if a person experiences multiple traumata, which is also when the symptoms would be a positive adaption to future trauma. It’s when you are in a safe space that PTSD symptoms becomes maladaptive rather than a positive adaption.
So can PTSD symptoms handled better?
Read more from the original blog
- Frodo Baggins and I (ihurtericabelle.wordpress.com)
- The Amygdala (knowingneurons.com)
- What are the most common types of PTSD symptoms? (femaleptsd.com)
- The History of PTSD (historyofptsd.wordpress.com)
- Is it possible to avoid PTSD? How would a trauma expert cope with trauma? (traumadissociation.wordpress.com)
- Psychotherapy Treatment for PTSD (psychcentral.com, After Trauma by Sara Staggs LICSW)
- Meaning from Ashes (psychcentral.com, After Trauma by Sara Staggs LICSW)
- Breaking the Fear (psychcentral.com, After Trauma by Sara Staggs LICSW)
- The Choice To Be A Patient (mirrorgirlblog)
- Bearing Witness to the Pain of Child Abuse Survivors by Andrea B. Goldberg, LCSW (traumadissociation.wordpress.com)