Following exposure to very threatening events people can go on to develop anxiety symptoms that can greatly interfere with quality of life. When we feel threatened our body injects large amounts of adrenalin and a stress hormone called cortisol into our bodies. The idea is that if we have a lot of adrenalin and cortisol we will be hyper-vigilant, hyper aware of the danger, ready to fight or run and focused only on the danger in the event so as to be best protected. Unfortunately for some of us this state of readiness or hyper arousal persists for months or years following the traumatic event. This is what post traumatic stress is. The state of hyper arousal can leave people feeling hyper-vigilant always scanning the environment for danger, unable to feel safe about what the future will bring and essentially expecting the worst, unable to concentrate, nervous and easily startled. Insomnia is also common. As a result of these very uncomfortable symptoms people can find temporary solace in the use of alcohol or sedating drugs and therefore be led down the path of addiction. Through medication prescribed by a Physician and proper counselling for PTSD life can once again become manageable.
As a Toronto Trauma Therapist with some certification and experience in treating the victims of trauma I tend to focus on interpersonal issues that sufferers often face. The symptoms of hyper arousal can be helped by undergoing PTSD therapy but the very physical symptoms are best helped by medication. The most detrimental of traumatic situations and also the ones that respond best to therapy are those stemming from child abuse. On top of the physical symptoms caused by the threat to survival, victims often can’t trust, can’t feel safe getting close to others, feel threatened by intimacy and become isolated or have extremely stormy interpersonal styles. Victims of abuse have learned that people can be dangerous and that they are at most risk of future traumas if they drop their guard with others. We all have a need as social creatures to bond with others, become affiliated and to have a sense of belonging. So people with PTSD are drawn by these instincts to get closer to people while they at the same time defend themselves against getting closer. This conflict can spill over into relationships where the trauma victim with PTSD simultaneously pushes away and pulls toward them the objects of their affection. This can leave others unable to cope with the person with PTSD leading to an abandonment of the person. This in turn is perceived by the person with trauma issues as further evidence others can’t be trusted.
The physical symptoms of trauma are often transformed into interpersonal problems. Since those with trauma issues have revved up nervous systems leaving them on edge they interpret innocuous events in personal relationships as threats and react accordingly. There are interpersonal problems created by the fight-flight state someone with PTSD is in and it is compounded by trust issues. For example, if someone with PTSD finds out that their partner ran into an ex when out shopping the sufferer of PTSD may conclude that their partner was having an affair. Their nervous condition primes them to be triggered by such an event. When the anxiety increases the threat becomes severe and this person may react aggressively or may deliberately say things or act in a way to sabotage the relationship. This survival type behaviour that is not appropriate or proportional to the situation serves the purpose of pushing away or scaring off the threat. Often people with PTSD in therapy tell me that they were embarrassed for acting so dramatically once they calmed down but that at the time it seemed like a real emergency. They feel concerned that they are pushing away someone they love but feel compelled to do it when perceiving a threat.
Trauma Therapy aims to help the trauma victim to interpret their survival instincts differently and to recognize that there nervous system symptoms are just that. As a Toronto Trauma Therapist I help my clients identify the social cues or social events that tend to trigger their already overactive nervous systems and to find other ways of responding to their triggers so that interpersonal problems can be managed. The symptoms may be there but how you learn to react to them can be much different. Through awareness of the trigger-nervous system reaction-response chains that occur in a PTSD sufferer’s personal life steps can be taken to come up with action plans to address the reactions and alternate responses can be chosen. Trauma therapy allows the victim of trauma or abuse to experiment in between sessions with new ways of thinking and behaving through greater understanding gained with the therapist about their condition. The trust building relationship that develops in sessions is useful to the client as a place to use the increased awareness to observe and refine efforts to change ways of thinking and behaving. A good trauma therapist offers the support and insight needed into their client’s successes and struggles to change themselves and helps them to master their symptoms and most importantly their relationships along the way.
Please Contact Demian Brown MSW, RSW and Certified Trauma Therapist Toronto for a telephone consultation at 416 648 0668 or email me to set up an appointment at email@example.com