Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is a ‘challenging’ (difficult) diagnosis to live with, and hard work to heal from. The symptoms seem ‘irrational’ and you may feel like you are ‘going crazy’ at first. One thing which is known to help reduce PTSD symptoms is finding positives which resulted from the PTSD. Many people speak openly about finding meaning after trauma, or experiencing Post-traumatic Growth.
Certain types of traumatic experience may make finding meaning from trauma seem almost impossible, for instance if the trauma included the deaths of others. Witnessing such an experience leaves many people with survivor guilt: the belief that others should have survived instead of them.
An alternative approach to seeking positives is to consider if some of your current, disruptive symptoms may have a few unexpected benefits. Here are some of mine:
Hypervigilance – alert to changes in environment which may indicate possible danger. If the temperature in a room isn’t quite what it normally is, the lighting looks different or there is a slight draft many people just don’t notice. It’s useful to notice the early signs of a problem with the air conditioning or heating, a light bulb which needs replacing, a window that isn’t closed properly, etc.
Dissociative trauma survivor Carolyn Spring says she has never had a mobile phone stolen but her husband has had two, because he doesn’t expect the people around him to do bad things.
Easily startled – Both times I’ve been pick-pocketed in a crowded area I noticed right away, and without thinking yelled and started moving. Both times the thieves dropped what they stole, although one quick was enough to remove most of the money first. I would not have known who the other thief was if he had not started running after hearing me yell incoherently.
Emotional numbing – The ability to remain calm and thinking logically in a crisis:
Internationally known terrorism expert Dr Jessica Stern credits this for her capacity to remain calm while interview dangerous terrorists overseas. Dr Stern’s PTSD dates from a childhood rape. Emotional numbing may also allow someone to give a good description of an attacker without the distress and confusion caused by overwhelming emotion.
Physical numbing – Occasional physical numbing allows you to cope with physical pain more easily. Combine this with emotional numbing and you get the ability to do basically medical care quickly, even if other people are panicking or fainting at the sight of the injury.
Soldiers find themselves fleeing from danger without even knowing whether they have injured until afterward.
Avoidance – PTSD itself acts to protect you during trauma: combat veterans like Jake Wood says the hypervigilance of the ‘danger mindset’ helped soldiers sense potential danger and react instinctively to avoid it. So avoidance helps survival.
Coping mechanisms for Amnesia – Growing up with Dissociative Identity Disorder meant growing up with amnesia, and been frequently criticized or punished for forgetting to do things at the right time. This led to adopting a series of ways to track time and organize myself including writing everything down, and checking the list repeatedly (more hypervigilance). I’m amazed when I hear comments about how ‘well organized’ I am. (The downside includes being hours late or missing things if an alter decides not to go of course!)
Amnesia for some of the trauma – This gives you the benefit of time to adjust to PTSD symptoms, and process some parts of the trauma, instead of having to cope with the knowledge of the entire trauma at once.
Depression & Anxiety – not symptoms of PTSD but common results of PTSD. Both have given me greater empathy for other people’s struggles, and talking to people with depression or anxiety has given me different insights into thinking patterns and coping techniques, which have helped ease my own symptoms.
Can you relate to any of the examples above?
Which positives can you find in your own symptoms?
If you can see Post-traumatic Growth, or see how your trauma responses symptoms helped you cope during trauma, then leave a comment.
- PTSD – Can it come from strength rather than a sign of weakness?
- DENIAL is a memoir of PTSD, by Jessica Stern
- Positive outlooks – posttraumatic growth
- Does Post-traumatic Growth mean it was all for the best?
- Mental Illness: Memoirs of Healing
- Jake Wood (Haiti earthquake response) author of Among You: A soldier broken by war