What is PTSD?


“The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma.” By Judith Lewis Herman

Definition: The DSM-5 states acute stress disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are complex psychological disorders resulting from a direct or indirect experience of one or more traumatic events, whereby, an individual directly or indirectly, witnessing a traumatic event directly or indirectly, learning of a traumatic event, and or repeated or extreme exposure to trauma and or aversive details of a traumatic event. The hallmark symptoms for PTSD are psychological distress, avoidant behavioral tendencies, heightened startle responses, hypervigilance, sleep impairment, nightmares, dissociation, involuntary and intrusive distressing thoughts, memories or flashbacks. It is important to note that acute stress disorder precedes posttraumatic stress disorder. The symptoms for acute stress disorder can last anywhere from three (3) days to one (1) month. The symptoms for posttraumatic stress disorder can last anywhere from one (1) month and can be pervasive for many years. Individuals with chronic posttraumatic stress have symptoms longer than three (3) years. Characterizations of acute stress and posttraumatic stress disorder include adverse changes in cognition, mood and situation reactivity.

Posttraumatic stress and acute stress disorders can be extremely debilitating and can have lasting negative consequences on a person’s life. Individuals who display chronic symptoms posttraumatic stress and acute stress symptoms may experience significant sleep impairments, poor executive and cognitive functioning, and impaired emotion regulation that may manifest in the lack of focus, increased irritability, disruptive or destructive behavioral tendencies, frequent mood changes, poor self-esteem, depression, helplessness, addictive tendencies that may cause poor personal and interpersonal relationships, reduced productivity, poor employment performance, job loss, financial instability, homeless and even suicide.

Trauma, regardless of degree, causes a tear in the human psyche. Many individuals may have acute stress disorder but symptoms dissipate within thirty (30) days. A relatively small portion of individuals experience symptoms beyond 30 days resulting in a posttraumatic stress disorder diagnosis. It is important to note individuals who receive treatment can fully recover. Individuals with chronic symptoms can last years and even the duration of one’s lifetime. Additionally, extensive stress and multiple traumatic experiences may lead to ongoing posttraumatic stress symptoms. Posttraumatic stress and acute stress disorders have debilitating effects often cause an individual to feel off balance, out of control and insecure about present and future events. Maladaptive coping further complicates a person’s ability to recover after a traumatic event. Individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder find it difficult to resume life normally after a traumatic event causing an incongruence between the self and the ideal self resulting in significant psychological distress. An individual’s attention and focus may be on returning to the self before the traumatic event occurred and to a place of perceived normalcy. There may be difficulty in embracing and accepting a new self with new norms.