Five Misunderstanding about Trauma

“I’ve had every medical test known to man. I’ve even been to the mayo clinic. All they can say is that I am struggling with depression, anxiety and fibromyalgia. I know all of that is true. But there’s more to it! They recommended for me a psych evaluation, but I know I’m not a psycho!”

I asked her if she could share with me the things she was struggling with, in addition to the depression and anxiety.

Hesitantly, at first, she began the list. Then it began to pour out:

  • Relationship problems
  • I don’t sleep well
  • But want to sleep all the time
  • I’m restless
  • I can’t stay focused
  • I start thinking about things and I cannot make my mind stop
  • Sometimes I talk about things that have happened to me too much
  • Sometimes I shut down and won’t talk about things at all
  • Sometimes my memory just goes away
  • My brain is foggy way too much of the time
  • Counseling has been recommended, even by Mayo, but I just didn’t think it would help
  • I find myself isolating more and more
  • I don’t even look the way I look you still look even my posture has changed
  • I have these periods where I feel like I’m a little reckless which is not like me
  • Sometimes I check to make sure I turned the stove off even though I know I’ve already checked five times
  • I just can’t focus on anything
  • Sometimes I’m so emotional that I cry if someone sneezes
  • But just as often I am totally shut down
  • My moods seem to swing for no really good reason
  • Sometimes I feel like I’m totally insensitive which is totally not me

“Is that enough? And I know there’s no way all of that makes sense.”

I had put down my iPad pencil and my iPad about halfway through the list.

I smiled with compassion at her as I stated: “Oh my sweet girl, you just gave the best definition I’ve ever heard of what it’s like to live with PTSD. Can you share your trauma with me?”

Her response was one I commonly hear: “Oh it wasn’t that bad … it’s not like the veterans who have PTSD or anything like that. And I’m sure that I will just get over all of this at some point.”

I responded with great empathy: “And did you know that what you just said are the common misunderstandings about PTSD?“

She held her breath a moment and then she began to sob. And sob. And sob.

A common response of those with PTSD who have no idea what’s happening to them. When someone asks and validates, the sobs of weeks, months, sometimes years begin to erupt.

We are working through her trauma, step by step. She is doing great work, and already sees new hope.

I am writing this today because so many people understand PTSD. And if we can all be aware, and point people to the help they need, their lives can and will be transformed!

If you are one of them, I’m speaking to you with great love and compassion!

What do we misunderstand about PTSD?

1. That only veterans suffer with PTSD. 

Posttraumatic stress was certainly brought to the public fore front because of the many veterans who served.

And by the way, if you are one of them, thank you for serving. I honor you!

And if you are one of the many who returned from serving with PTSD, I hope you have gotten the treatment that you need and deserve!

Many people have been traumatized and suffer with post traumatic stress disorder.

Research indicates that 8 million people, or 6% of the population is diagnosed With PTSD every year.

But the sad thing is, that until the stigma of trauma calms, the belief is that most of those numbers are low because many never report or get help for their trauma.

About 50% of people treated for mental health issues have an accompanying PTSD diagnosis.

Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed than men. However, we have no assurance that the numbers are correct, because men are much less likely to seek mental health treatment than women.

Another reason that the statistics are believed to be low is that it can take up to 25 years for the symptoms of PTSD to manifest after a traumatic event.

Once again, I am so thankful for the veterans who served, and I know that government agencies have worked very hard to provide treatment opportunities for those with PTSD.

However, numbers of those diagnosed are from other disturbing circumstances or trauma are 70% greater than the reported cases among veterans.

Why is this important? Because many people who suffer with posttraumatic stress (and its horrible affects to their lives) are unaware that they too may have PTSD. 

Please review the symptoms above. If you know of anyone with the symptoms, provide them with some awareness.

Do not limit yourself to looking at veterans. They deserve to be acknowledged and helped, but those who have never served and have PTSD deserve validation and treatment as well!

I hope you will do your part to at least look to your circle of influence and share information with anyone who may be suffering with this disorder.

2. That an event must be life-threatening in order for it to be traumatic.

Because the diagnosis became popularized by the massive occurrence among veterans, many people mistakenly believe that all post traumatic stress diagnoses must be a result of life-threatening situations or events.

There are many events that can result in a PTSD diagnosis. The list is quite long, but here are some of those things that could result in PTSD:

  • Stressful experiences, including the amount and severity of trauma you’ve gone through in your life
  • War
  • Being confined
  • Childhood physical abuse
  • Adult physical abuse
  • Childhood neglect
  • Ongoing mental abuse
  • Ongoing emotional abuse
  • Ongoing verbal abuse
  • Rape
  • Sexual assault
  • Witnessing violence
  • Sexual violence
  • Physical assault
  • Being threatened with a weapon
  • An accident
  • Undesired career change
  • Severe financial loss or distress
  • Moving to a new area or country
  • Difficult divorce
  • Loss of a loved one

This is certainly not even close to an exhaustive list. 

Although all traumatic events affect us, our individual psyches and make ups determine how severe our reaction is to any traumatic experience or event.

For example, years ago, I had clients who were one year apart, 7 and 8 years old. They had been in a serious car accident in which both of their parents in the front seat were killed. They both survived.

One of them had some mild symptoms, and the other had severe PTSD.

Therefore, we know that we cannot just look at a list of potential traumatic events and assume they will fit affect every person the same.

It is the severe affect on a person that warrants a PTSD diagnosis.

Certainly all of these are not life-threatening. But they are true trauma.

In order to be true friends and great relatives, we must prepare ourselves to see symptoms of trauma and help other get help.

3. That trauma can be healed with medication.

Although many of the symptoms of PTSD, such as depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, etc. can be helped with medication, there is not a “pill” that will heal trauma.

Although I am very supportive of the use of these medications for symptomatology, research along with many years of professional experience in this arena have shown that there are specific things that must be worked through in order for trauma to be healed.

Healing from trauma is not something you can just list, and work through, in a few easy steps. However, with determination to do the work, it can become very manageable.

The problem is that many people who have PTSD know that there’s something “wrong” with them… But they see specialist after specialist and leave with no diagnosis. Other than occasional diagnoses such as IBS, fibromyalgia, depression or anxiety.

Certainly those maladies can all be a big part of PTSD. But treating those alone are like chopping down weeds in the garden. They do not get to the root, and will continuing popping up. 

There is just no other way to make the progress that needs to be made than to roll up one’s sleeves and address the trauma.

Make sure you find a coach, counselor or therapist who has extensive training in dealing with trauma. Only in recent years have we found consistently effective treatment modalities.

But you are not stuck with the trauma and its affects!

Use medication as recommended by your doctor to get through the symptomatology as you work on the trauma issue.

No one said that the healing would be easy, but it’s absolutely possible!

4. That people would just get over trauma with time. 

I’d like to say that one of the symptoms of PTSD is when the words “just get over it” sends chills up and down your spine.

The truth is, anyone suffering with PTSD would love to “just get over it.” In fact, many of my clients have tried numerous things before they got to me.

Things like:

  • Exorcisms
  • Hallucinogenic drugs in journeys such as “medicine journeys“
  • Sweat lodges to sweat it out
  • “Happy camps“ that teach you to do things such as jump up and down with joy to overcome symptoms of PTSD 

I am all for people trying various things to work through trauma. But the only research, long-term results are those connected to the trauma work that has been developed over the past 10-15 years.

There are no shortcuts. (Other than miracles from God!)

Not only is someone with PTSD not able to “just get over it” … Suggesting that can actually make them far worse.

As I said,  I can assure you that any of us who have been diagnosed with PTSD would love to “just get over it.” But hearing suggestions to “try this” and “try that,” suggesting that someone “just get over it“… Only deepen the wound of trauma.

If you know someone with PTSD, be a listening ear, be supportive, even if you don’t fully understand it. And encouraged them to seek out help from a professional highly trained in trauma work.

They deserve healing, and they deserve to have their lives back!

5. That the trauma will haunt you for the rest of your life and you will never get past it.

On the opposite end of the “just get over it” suggestions is the thought that “you will just never get over it and your life will have no quality or meaning.“

That is absolutely incorrect.

One of my greatest joys over the past 20+ years has been helping people identify the trauma in their lives, makes sense of all the symptoms that have been misdiagnosed, and working through the trauma to move to a very rich quality of life.

One of my best friends, Lisa, experienced severe trauma as a child.

The kind of trauma and abuse that would even be difficult to use in a movie script because of its disturbing nature.

Once she escaped, finished her high school education, went to college… And became a teacher… She was absolutely determined to help students who came from traumatic situations.

She rolled up her sleeves to address her old trauma. It was not easy, because like most people who have trauma, they have no one to talk to. And those who do talk to tend to fall into the answers of “just get over it“ or “you will never get over this!“

She believed differently because she desperately wanted to find answers for students. After completing her own personal trauma work, she began teaching the exact same concepts on the level of first and second graders.

As a result of her trauma, Lisa has now been promoted to a trauma specialist who works with kids of trauma, and also helps teachers within the school district to become trauma informed and aware.

A beautiful example of taking some severe trauma, rolling up her sleeves and doing the work, and then using it to help other kids going through very similar things.

I had the privilege of helping with some of the summer camps that she put together for her students over the summer … and I can assure you that there was nothing more rewarding!

It has been so fulfilling to see that the greatest healing she has experienced has been in passing her healing forward to these wonderful children.

Whether you have PTSD or a loved one does… Encourage them. Help them find help with a trauma specialist. And watch them as they heal, because you will likely see them finding ways of impacting the lives of others with PTSD.

Always be aware of any of the trauma symptoms.

Carry the message hope and healing to those that may have experienced trauma.

Just one word of care from someone who may not know them well, or maybe someone who doesn’t know them at all, will make a world of difference in their future.

Together, we can make a difference in healing trauma!