Trauma and PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers. Their emotions and physical self is violated. Some examples might be war, accidents, physical, emotional or sexual abuse, physical injury, witnessing a death or natural disaster.
The "fight-or-flight" response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm. But in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this reaction is changed or damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they're no longer in danger.
Explanations of PTSD focus primarily on the way that the mind is affected by traumatic experiences. Theorists speculate upon facing overwhelming trauma, the mind is unable to process information and feelings in a normal way. It is as if the thoughts and feelings at the time of the traumatic event take on a life of their own, later intruding into consciousness and causing distress.
There are five main types of post-traumatic stress disorder: normal stress response, acute stress disorder, uncomplicated PTSD, comorbid PTSD and complex PTSD.
Complex PTSD (sometimes called "Disorder of Extreme Stress") is found among individuals who have been exposed to prolonged traumatic circumstances, especially during childhood, such as childhood sexual abuse. These individuals often are diagnosed with borderline or antisocial personality disorder or dissociative disorders. They exhibit behavioral difficulties (such as impulsivity, aggression, sexual acting out, eating disorders, alcohol or drug abuse, and self-destructive actions), extreme emotional difficulties (such as intense rage, depression, or panic) and mental difficulties (such as fragmented thoughts, dissociation, and amnesia).
The treatment of such patients often takes much longer, may progress at a much slower rate, and requires a sensitive and highly structured treatment program delivered by a team of trauma specialists such as are found at Mirasol.
PTSD can cause many symptoms. These symptoms can be grouped into three categories:
Women seem to have a wide range of traumatic experiences. They are most likely to report rape, sexual abuse, domestic violence, being threatened with a gun, sudden death of a loved one, childhood abandonment and neglect, and childhood physical abuse.
Whenever we're treating a woman for one condition, we don't stop there. Frequently there are co-occurring disorders. Probably 90% of our clients admit with severe depression and an anxiety disorder. Women and girls will use substance abuse or an eating disorder as a way of coping with PTSD to help her control the intense feelings she's having.
Many times trauma is ignored by other health care professionals wrongly assuming that when the eating disorder or other psychiatric condition is in remission, the symptoms of PTSD will disappear. Ignoring the co-occurring condition can negatively impact recovery. When they are able to gain some semblance of recovery, they are at high risk for relapse.
Here is a list of other psychiatric conditions that frequently co-occur with eating disorders and substance abuse as well as other mental health conditions: