PTSD is an equal opportunity disorder.
He was a confident young man with strong values. Pride in country was part of his value system at a time when the country needed people willing to take up arms in a distant land. Others of his 60’s generation protested the war – he joined up. And it was not enough to just serve, he had to be part of an elite unit that was prepared to wage a war behind enemy lines. The consequences of the war for this idealistic young man was years of alcoholism, a chaotic marriage, disturbed sleep, and worst of all, unexpected flashbacks of the terrors of war. Mental health would come to understand his condition as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD results from a person experiencing or witnessing an event of actual or threatened death or serious injury, and, as a consequence, the person’s response is intense fear, helplessness, or horror. This young man who went to war with strength of body and character had to live with his struggles with PTSD. Other situations that may result in PTSD include domestic violence, sexual assault, natural disasters, and being a victim of crime. Are those who suffer from PTSD weak in character? Can they not just ‘get over it’? The fact is that when the stressor is sufficiently great, almost any individual will develop PTSD. Also, the severity of the symptoms a person presents have more to do with the intensity and duration of the stressful event than any pre-existing personality pattern. PTSD does not develop because of some inherent inferiority or weakness in a person. Trauma changes the person, not the other way around.
A traumatic event, whether it is on a battle- field, in a violent home, or as a result of a crime is in itself a tragedy that could happen to anyone – and our human response should be empathy. Too often, however, these people are re-traumatized by our insensitivity or lack of knowledge. The insensitivity can actually be more painful and devastating than the original traumatic event. This second wounding occurs when we ‘discount’ the experience – a person is distraught about a recent flood and our response is to describe another flood that had more homes and more lives lost. Another way to is ‘deny’ the experience – your friend confides in you about an abusive situation and your way to support is to comment – ‘he seems like such a good person’. Another way to re-traumatize the person is to ‘blame them’ – by pointing out how they asked for the violence.
What PTSD survivors need is our support as they seek help from an event that made them feel powerless and fearful for their own safety …an event that ‘was not the result of an inherent weakness on their part’.
Originally published in the ‘Tri-Cities News’ as a voluntary contribution to the community from Arthur Rathgeber.
The contents of this article are the property of Willow Grove Counselling, Inc. and further reproduction is given through written permission only. Copyright © 2012