This is the second part of “So What Exactly Is PTSD and Who Does it Affect?” (read the first part) in Athena Dean Holtz’s series on Dealing with PTSD from a survivor’s perspective. Catch her introduction to the series here.
STUFFING THE PAIN ONLY MAKES IT WORSE
While this fact isn’t necessarily part of the definition, it’s what we found to be true about PTSD. It most often seems to manifest in a life if the trauma and its associated feelings have been stuffed, and the survivor avoids dealing with them in an unconscious attempt to escape the pain.
Certainly, as a Christian, we need to surrender these areas of suffering to the Lord and allow Him to have His way in healing us. Too often we seem to think because we’re saved and have given our hearts to Jesus that we are automatically new creations and don’t need to deal with past hurts.
It’s certainly much easier to say “Praise God, I’m victorious in Christ” and pretend everything is fine than it is to go through the hard work of allowing Him entrance into these hurts. We’ve so well compartmentalized and pushed them down into the dark crevices of our hearts that it’s just not that easy to access them. So what do we do? Go to church with our happy face on and keep people at arm’s length, believing we’re the only one feeling the way we do — the shame of it all turning us into a silent victim.
THE DELAYED FUSE
The other interesting fact is that there is typically a 20+ year delayed fuse. The survivor has stuffed away the pain, and forgotten about it, even though it’s still there, and still affecting them. Most everyone else in the person’s life knows there is something wrong. It just doesn’t seem to become obvious to the one who survived the trauma, until some 20, 30 or 40 years after the experience. This is often where flashbacks develop and the memories of what they’ve tried so hard to escape come flooding in.
The psychiatrists may say PTSD is incurable, but that doesn’t mean God won’t use the valley of the shadow of death to teach us to trust Him as He walks us through our healing. In fact, He will use it, as we surrender the pain and the memories to Him, to grow us, challenge us and strengthen us.
Before we wrap up this post, I’ll list the main symptoms of PTSD to help you see the kinds of results these un-dealt with traumas end up having on a life, and then let you take a quick Stress Test.
SYMPTOMS OF POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS:
- Flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts
- Isolation of self and family
- Emotional numbing and constriction
- Anger and rage
- Anxiety, nervousness
- Thoughts of suicide
- Substance abuse
Back in 1990 as part of a ministry to women PTSD sufferers, I developed the following stress test to try to help the women we worked with to identify the level of PTSD in their lives.
THE STRESS TEST
- Do you find it hard to cry, even when you lose someone who is close to you?
- When confronted with pressure, do you want to run?
- Do you keep people at arm’s length for fear of letting them get close, only to get hurt in the end?
- Do you ever feel all alone, even in the midst of a crowd?
- If you begin to cry, would you worry about losing control, and fear never being able to regain it?
- When you compete, do you give up easily?
- When bad things happen to other people, do you often feel like it’s your fault, even if it’s not?
- Do you feel too ashamed to talk about your past?
- Do you sometimes go for long periods of not wanting to talk to anybody and feel that life is hopeless?
- Do you ever feel trapped, like the walls are closing in on you?
- Do certain bad memories never seem to go away?
- Do things around you, i.e. smells, sounds, sights, etc. sometimes make you feel anxious or uneasy for no apparent reason?
- Do you feel that you can get along just fine without anyone else, and that you need no one?
- Do you keep things to yourself, knowing that others couldn’t possibly understand what you’ve been through?
- Do you feel like your life has been a waste?
- Do you feel that you are uncaring and detached from other people?
- Do you find it difficult to be around people who are in charge, not trusting them?
- Do you ever fear that your contributions are unworthy of anyone’s attention?
- Do you take your anger out on inanimate objects or your loved ones?
- Do you feel a hidden rage within you?
- Have you lost trust in God because of what He let happen to you?
- Are things that frustrate you hard to identify?
- Do most of your relationships fall apart because you refuse to open up and become vulnerable?
- Do you find yourself getting angry for no reason at all?
- Do you sometimes feel that nothing can help you?
- When other people are hurting, do you sometimes feel that you deserve the pain more than they do?
- Do you require perfect stability in your life, fearing that sudden change would devastate you?
- Are you uncomfortable when people walk closely or sit behind you?
- If things get out of order, do you feel thrown into a whirlwind of confusion?
- Are you generally suspicious or unable to trust other people?
- Are you unable to talk about yourself and your past experiences?
- Is it difficult to remember bad experiences?
- When you’re happy and feeling good, do those feelings seem undeserved?
- Is it difficult to open up and allow others to truly love you?
- Do you find it hard to have feelings?
- Have many of your successful achievements ended in failure because you just couldn’t keep going?
- Is it difficult for you to love others fully?
- Have you ever walked away from a good relationship for seemingly no reason at all?
- Have you nearly succeeded financially only to have your negative actions prevent it?
- Do you take chances with your personal safety, your health, and your success?
For every YES answer you give to these questions, give yourself 5 points. Then next time I’ll give you the scoring evaluation so you can get an idea of the level of help you might want to seek.