Traumatic experiences vary across the spectrum and can involve significant bodily harm or psychological trauma. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the most common diagnostic category used to describe symptoms arising from emotionally traumatic experiences. Although PTSD is most familiar in association with war veterans, you need not have been in a war to have PTSD. This disorder presumes that the person experienced a traumatic event involving actual or threatened death or injury to themselves or others, the perception where death was likely, and where they felt fear, helplessness, or horror.
It is my belief that trauma symptoms are mostly adaptive, and originally evolved to help us recognize, avoid, and survive dangerous situations. The three main symptom clusters in PTSD are:
- Avoidance: when the person tries to reduce exposure to people or things that might bring on their intrusive symptoms including emotional numbing.
- Intrusions: where the traumatic event is re-experienced in some form such as flashbacks or nightmares.
- Hyperarousal: the physiologic signs of increased arousal, such as hypervigilance or increased startle response, “being on edge.”
Although the typical traumatic disorder may be PTSD, there are variations in how impacts from a traumatic experience manifest. Someone may have many of the symptoms associated with PTSD, yet do not meet full medical criteria for the actual diagnosis. Anxiety, depression, dissociative phenomena, and other mood disturbances may arise in response to traumatic experiences as well. Individual differences affect both the severity and the type of symptoms experienced, and is likely related to the subjective difference of the individual.