Stop Diagnosing Yourself with PTSD
Trauma is a big word, mainly associated with PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. In a nutshell, PTSD is an emotional trigger that occurs in relation to a terrifying event, whether witnessed or experienced. These events might include:
- A natural disaster
- Violence of any kind
Those who experience PTSD are triggered by sounds, events, and situations that remind them of the traumatic event. PTSD is a diagnosable mental illness characterized by emotional and/or mental disturbances in relation to the event.
PTSD can trigger anxiety, depression, OCD, flashbacks, fear, sadness, anger, or a combination of uncomfortable emotions that occur long after the event is over.
PTSD is not limited to those who experienced the trauma. Research has shown us that those who have experienced the trauma second hand, like a child witnessing violence or a person hearing about a violent incident involving a loved one, can also experience PTSD.
What is PTSD
According to the bible for mental health professionals, otherwise known as the DSM-5, to be diagnosed with PTSD, a person has to experience the following:
- Exposure or witnessed exposure to a violent or threatening event
- Intrusive thoughts in the form of at least one:
- unwanted memories
- emotional distress
- physical reactivity to an event that is a reminder of the actual event
- Some level of avoidance of trauma-related situations (via thoughts or external reminders)
- Negative alterations in cognition or mood
- Alterations in arousal or risky activity (difficulty concentrating, sleep, hypervigilance, risky behavior,etc)
- The symptoms must last for at least one month
- The symptoms create significant distress causing impairment socially or occupationally.
- Symptoms are not due to medication, substance use or other medical condition
There are two specifications
- Dissociative (feeling of being on the outside looking in or some sort of thought distortion
- Delayed (onset of symptoms may occur immediately, but full criteria not met until at least 6 months later)
What is Trauma
It is definitely common to have some PTSD symptoms after experiencing a stressor but remember that the symptoms must last for at least 6 months and must include the above criterion.
A layperson cannot diagnose themselves with PTSD.
Everyone with PTSD has trauma. Not everyone with trauma has PTSD.
The Difference Between PTSD and Trauma
For those with PTSD, the alarm systems in the brain of fight, flight or freeze are ignited. They are always on 10, always looking to protect themselves from harm.
Those with trauma have experienced a disturbing event that affects the ability to cope, can affect self-esteem, and hinder one’s abilities to feel a full range of emotions.
Everyone with PTSD has Trauma. Not everyone with Trauma has PTSD
I want to take the time to define the difference between the two because I keep hearing people telling me that they have PTSD.
Some of them who tell me this probably do. The majority do not.
You may experience some symptoms of PTSD after a significantly distressing event but find that those symptoms subside after a few weeks or months.
In this case, you may be experiencing acute stress disorder.
Adverse Childhood Experiences
People who were brought up in dysfunctional situations where they were exposed to substance abuse in the family, divorce, a parent’s loss of a job, death of a sibling or parent, domestic violence, illness, or some other event that disrupts the natural progression of development may (or may not, this is not a one size fits all) experience developmental trauma.
A study by Kaiser Permanente from 1995-1997, compared the abuse and neglect in children under the age of 18 to positive or negative outcomes in adulthood.
The study found that scoring just one Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) questionnaire was a red flag for educational difficulties (both academic and behavioral) brain development, and social maturation.
This infographic will break it down for you much better than I can.
What This Means
To me, this means that most of us experience trauma.
This also means that most of us are given early childhood messages, either directly or indirectly, that mold our perceptions of self and others.
Why Is This Important
If you read my blog or listen to my podcast regularly, you know that I am a firm believer in childhood experiences acting as our guide to how to mold our adult experiences.
Our brain develops a lot in the first few years of life. It tells us if we are safe, if we can trust people, how we should respond to stress.
Our brain is also busy at work during this time developing executive functioning skills.
Executive Function skills are those skills that help us to organize, control our impulses, recall information, sustain attention, and manage our time.
If our childhood was disrupted by events that caused our amygdala (the part of our brain that processes our fight, flight or freeze response) to go into overdrive than it will affect our thinking.
This is why I think it is ridiculous that ADHD has a one size fits all management approach. ADHD is a break in executive functioning, but it might be a different executive function for different people, which means that different interventions should be explored. But that’s another story.
If trauma stunts our ability to form a fully actualized image of self, then what does it say about our ability to have fully actualized experiences?
We can only have experiences that we allow ourselves to experience based on the experiences that we think we deserve.
In other words, if I don’t think I am worthy, capable or adequate, I am more likely to be drawn to situations and relationships that co-sign this feeling.
So now that I have made your brain hurt, let me give some suggestions about how to begin challenging the messages of childhood.
The first thing to do is to start to connect your emotions and thoughts to historical messages that you have received. For example:
Say that you get really angry every time someone suggests that you do something different than you have done it. Instead of just sitting in that anger, think back to times in your life when you would be told you were doing it wrong.
- Were you criticized a lot?
- Were you told that you were not good enough?
- Were you only recognized when you did things perfectly?
These messages in childhood helped to form your sense of adequacy. Therefore, when someone suggests a better way of doing something, you jump right to assuming that they are suggesting that you need to be a better person.
Once you connect your triggers to the history of your triggers (I get mad when people correct me, I feel like I need to be perfect, I am really sensitive, etc) you will develop a narrative of yourself based on lifelong messages.
The results are usually eye-opening
And a little bit annoying.
But empowering because now you are not walking around wishing you can change. Now you are walking around knowing what you want to change.
To begin to change the narrative, challenge the thoughts.
I like to call this evidence-based reasoning.
Basically, you take the thought (I am not good enough) and play the judge and jury.
Look for evidence for and against this claim. You probably won’t be able to find much that supports it. Not logically anyway.
Once you look back at the list and see that the logical evidence to dismiss the claim that you are not good enough outweighs the evidence for it. you know that your thought is based on anxiety, not logic.
Now you can attack the anxiety, and not yourself.
Now it is time for getting rid of old habits and bringing in new ones.
This is not easy. However old you are, you have had that many years to form the habit that you are married to right now. You are not going to form a new, more empowering habit overnight.
Be patient with yourself. It takes time.
My freebie page has free resources for identifying triggers, staying C.A.L.M, and slaying anxiety.
Start Where You Are
The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to start where you are.
This sounds like common sense, but it is not. Most of us try to start where we want to be. ‘
This typically results in failure.
Which turns to doubt
With leads to anxiety.
So, wherever you are, be where you are. And remember, you are worth the effort it takes to live an inspired life!