If PTSD were a fire...
If PTSD were a fire, then avoidance would be the fuel that keeps it going.
When we experience trauma the incident(s) may haunt us long after the event is over. Stressful thoughts and memories, nightmares, flashbacks, and feelings related to the trauma can seep into our lives months or even years after surviving the incident. This is called re-experiencing and it often leads to significant discomfort and distress. Even though we are objectively safe in the present the fight or flight response may kick in when faced with reminders of the traumatic event. Our first instinct is often to find relief by getting out of the anxiety provoking situation as fast as we can. Escaping a situation or thought that reminds us of the trauma, or avoiding it altogether, may bring immediate relief in the short-term, however, the trauma remains and so does the work that needs to be done.
The symptoms of PTSD: re-experiencing the traumatic event, avoidance of things that remind us of it, and hyperarousal, or feeling on edge, irritable, and excessively watchful of the environment, often signal that there is still work to be done. These symptoms are like the flames of a fire, if we get too close it may feel very uncomfortable. So, we may turn our backs and walk away feeling the heat diminish and our comfort increase with each step further away.
However, an untamed fire in the wild spreads. The fire does not put itself out. When symptoms and reminders of the trauma are continually avoided the wild-fire of PTSD grows. Avoidance comes in many forms, such as: drinking or using drugs to numb negative feelings, distraction and keeping busy, isolating from loved ones, staying away from crowded places or anything that is a reminder of the trauma, and not talking about what happened and the impact it has made in one's life and relationships.
But when we have the desire to come back and face the heat we can see the whole picture, which puts us in the position to do the work that needs to be done to heal. There are many excellent and effective evidenced based treatments that can help when you are ready, including exposure therapy and Cognitive Processing Therapy. I have worked with many people as they overcame their traumatic past, it can be done, healing can occur when you are ready.
Connect with me for a free confidential phone consultation to find out if I am the right therapist to help you heal from your past.
3/13/2013 07:02:00 pm
I never thought about PTSD as a fire. On that note, when I think of fire, of course the movie Backdraft comes to mind.
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Dr. Baker is a Clinical Psychologist in Private Practice in Orange County. She specializes in: anxiety and panic, relationship issues, trauma, PTSD, depression, parenting and child behavior issues, Veterans, and more. Click here to learn more about Dr. Baker and her specialties or connect with her today.
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