Post traumatic stress syndrome

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Human beings are capable of adapting to different circumstances, and with the changes in our lives, we ourselves undergo change. Changes that take place inside of us help us survive a wide variety of circumstances. However, certain events, especially those that stretch over a period of time, can instigate a serious disturbance of our psyche, known as “post traumatic syndrome”. First, a person can be affected by a natural disaster, e.g., an earthquake. Second, the post traumatic syndrome can be elicited by tragic accidents, e.g., airplane or car crashes. Third, a stressor can be any number of unexpected situations: war, concentration camp, torture, execution, rape, etc. 


Post traumatic stress syndrome

When we talk about the post traumatic stress syndrome, we consider that a person experienced one or several traumatic events which deeply affected the person’s psyche. Such events are different from the entirety of one’s previous experiences, or have caused such great suffering that the person reacts to them with a strong emotional reaction. Normal psyche will indeed strive to lessen the discomfort in such a situation: a person who experiences such a reaction deeply transforms his own relationship to the environment so as to obtain even the smallest degree of relief. 

If the trauma was relatively weak, the increased anxiety and other symptoms of the syndrome would gradually fade in a couple of hours, days or weeks. If the trauma was strong, or if the traumatic events occurred repeatedly, the abnormal reaction can last for years. The other aspect of the post traumatic stress syndrome relates to the person’s inner world and is connected to the reaction of the person to the experienced events. We all have different reactions: a tragic event can cause a severe trauma to one person, but leave another person’s psyche practically unaffected. The timing of the event is also very important: the same person can have different reactions at different times. 

Simultaneously, a person strives to think, feel and act in such a way as to avoid painful memories. In the same way in which we acquire immunity against certain diseases, our psyche creates certain defense mechanisms against experiences of mental anguish. When this fails to happen, and when the person, for whatever reason, does not manage to release the inner tension, his body and psyche find a way to somehow adjust to this tension. This comprises, in principle, the mechanism of the post traumatic syndrome, where symptoms collectively appear as psychic derailment, although they in fact represent a deeply rooted behavior pattern related to the extreme events from the past.


Symptom of post traumatic syndrome 

The clinical symptoms of post traumatic syndrome are  the following:

Involuntary flashbacks – this is perhaps the most important of the symptoms of post traumetic stress syndrome, that signals the presence of this syndrome. Patient’s memory is suddenly flooded with terrifying, awful scenes connected to the traumatic event. These memories can appear during sleep, as well as while the patient is awake. In the state of wakefulness, the memories are triggered by situations that remind the person of what happened at the time, i.e., during the traumatic event: smell, sight, sound, as if they traveled back to the present moment. Vivid images from the past descend on the psyche and elicit a strong syndrome. Involuntary memories that appear during sleep are referred to as night terrors. In general, there are two types of such dreams: first, in which the traumatic event is re-experienced exactly as it was encoded in the person’s memory, with the accuracy of a video recording; in the second type of dreams, the situations and persons can be completely different, but some of the elements (person, situation, feeling) are similar to those that took place in the traumatic event. A person wakes from such a dream completely shattered; his muscles are tense, he is covered in sweat. 

Insomnia  (difficulty falling asleep or interrupted sleep) – in situations when the person experiences night terrors, the person may be afraid to fall asleep to prevent nightmares from reoccurring. Sleep deprivation that occurs on a regular basis leads to complete nervous exhaustion, contributing to the overall picture of the post traumatic syndrome. Insomnia can also be caused by the high levels of anxiety, inability to relax, as well as the feelings of physical or emotional pain that do not seem to pass. 

Unjustified hyper-vigilance – a person constantly checks one’s surroundings, as if constantly in danger. 

Explosive reactions – a person reacts strongly and decisively to even the smallest unexpected situations (throws himself on the ground upon hearing a low-flying helicopter, jumps around and takes up a fighting position when someone approaches him from behind). 

Emotional numbness – a person may lose, partially or in full, the ability to show emotions. It becomes hard to establish close and friendly relationships with others, and is not able to feel joy, love, creative inspiration, vitality and spontaneity. 

Aggressiveness – inclination to solve problems using force. While generally this refers to the expression of physical force, at times this means psychological, emotional and verbal aggression. Simply put, the person is inclined to use aggressive behavior in dealing with others in order to obtain some desired goal, even if the goal is not of vital importance. 

Disturbances in memory, attention and concentration – person has difficulty concentrating or remembering 

Depression – in the state of post traumatic stress disorder, a person feels like everything is meaningless and useless. This feeling is accompanied by nervous exhaustion, apathy, and negative attitude towards life. 

General anxiety – manifests itself physiologically (back pain, stomach cramps, headaches), psychologically (constant anxiety and worry, paranoid ideas, as for example, unfounded fear of persecution), in emotional experiences (constant feeling of fear, self-doubt, guilt complex). 

Rage attacks – these outbursts of rage appear most often under the influence of narcotics, especially alcohol, although they can also appear on their own. 

Suicidal thoughts – patient constantly thinks about suicide or plans actions that would eventually lead him to take his own life. 

Survivor guilt – feelings of guilt related to their survival in difficult circumstances which cost others their lives; characteristic for those patients who also suffer from emotional numbness (inability to experience joy, love, pity, etc.) after traumatic events. Many sufferers of this syndrome go to great lengths to avoid remembering the tragedy, death of their friends.



The traditional approach – enabling patients with post traumatic stress disorder to participate in various programs of adjustment – does not solve the problem, since the primary idea behind such programs is based not on helping the person get rid of his post traumatic stress disorder or psychological problem, but rather on an attempt to align the patient’s representation of reality with socially accepted norms. However, if those disturbing memories, behaviors, thoughts and feelings that have originated in the past exert a large influence on one’s present life, it is very important to acknowledge their existence, even if their presence appears ‘abnormal’, and to seek professional help.

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