Psychological Symptoms of PTSD
With depression, the person is no longer able to look forward to events. They have difficulty enjoying things or getting excited about things in the future. There is very little joy and if happiness is found, it’s in a very small amount – almost as if it is in a faraway dream.
The person worries excessively over things not considered a problem in the past. These worries can begin to take over their lives and control their actions.
Persons usually experience one or both of two kinds of guilt. One is feeling guilt over their means of survival during the traumatic event and/or blaming themselves for the trauma, as if they had power to control the situation. The other is what is referred to as “survivor’s guilt” which is feeling guilty because they survived, whereas their friends or co-workers may not have.
Avoidance/Lack of Emotion
They seem to be shutting down. They avoid any situation that could trigger their painful and frightening symptoms/memories and avoid
situations that cause emotions to “bubble up.” They may shut down during emotional situations and withdraw into themselves, rather than communicating with a loved one or trusted friend during these
This is a “hallmark” symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder based on Hollywood’s stereotypical version of a flashback. Real “flashbacks” occur by thinking or dreaming about the trauma. They are triggered by sights, sounds, smells, etc. that make the person feel like they are reliving the trauma in the present. Most times, the
traumatic situation creeps into their thoughts without them having any control over this happening.
This can be a flashback, reliving an event, and/or seeing/hearing things that are not really there. These can be very traumatizing and
challenging for a person to deal with, often one of the most frightening parts of PTSD.
Behavioral Symptoms of PTSD
The person is experiencing huge amounts of anger over “minor” things that never bothered them in the past. “Little” things are suddenly a HUGE trigger for gigantic screaming matches over what is, in reality, no big deal.
The person is going from being relaxed or only mildly irritated to “extreme rage” in a matter of seconds. This can be described as a “blowing up” in some families. It's like lighting a match to a tank of gasoline and it just explodes.
The person is pulling away from everyone. He or she is no longer able to share thoughts, feelings or emotions with those he or she loves. They also may not want to be physically close to anyone and begin to sleep in a different part of the house, may work extended
hours and find other ways to get distance.
Alcohol or Drug Abuse/Dependence
The person is using alcohol or drugs (illegal or non-prescribed prescription) to mask their symptoms and cover up issues they do not want to face and that are extremely painful to face. This is commonly called “self-medicating.”
Always Being on Guard (Hypervigilant)
A person is on guard for a potential threat or attack. The veteran with PTSD is constantly scanning crowds, traffic, and other areas for potential threats. A bag in the street is seen as a potential bomb. A person in an airport is “suspicious.” A rape victim may be looking over his/her shoulder for an unsuspecting attack.
The person is not feeling emotions normally. They feel very little emotion, if any at all, toward the people and activities around them.
They often seem vacant and like a hollow shell.
Person is struggling to remember things. Things are constantly being lost, past conversations are forgotten, and little details,
like phone numbers are difficult to remember. This may lead to aggression and frustration due to the lack of recall.
Lack of Concentration
The person is unable to concentrate in one or more areas. They may be struggling at work or at school, thus affecting their performance.
Concentrating on their favorite hobbies may be a challenge as well.
They may be experiencing extremely disturbing dreams. These may or may not be directly associated with their trauma. They can be combined with other symptoms. The nightmares can include sleepwalking and physical aggression while sleeping.
Unable to Fall Asleep or Stay Asleep (Insomnia)
The person is having difficulty falling asleep in the evening. It may feel like their brain “just won’t shut off.” They lie awake for hours despite being utterly exhausted. The person may awake from sleep to check doors and windows or to make sure family members are all present and accounted for. They may have other “odd” logical or illogical nighttime “concerns.”
Being Easily Startled/Increased Startle Response
The veteran is easily reacting to loud noises that sound similar to
explosions like gunfire or other “combat sounds.” Some common noises that cause this could be a car backfiring, a balloon popping,
fireworks going off and even bubble wrap popping.
The veteran feels they are not worth anything to society anymore. They may feel the loss of their job in military service or be concerned about their abilities being compromised due to disabilities. They may feel very “low” or “down in the dumps.” Rape victims may feel damaged and unworthy of love and support and/or blame self for the crime that happened to them.
Feeling Hopeless About the Future
The person feels that nothing positive lies before them any longer, as if there is no good in neither the world nor any good things in the
future. They become lost in a sea of nothing.
Not wanting to see/hear anything that reminds the veteran of deployment. The veteran avoids the news, movies, and other things that would remind them of their deployment. They may avoid memorabilia in the house, friends who were deployed with them and they may become agitated when confronted with these things. They may also try to avoid people who remind them of those who were in the location where they were deployed. A rape victim
may avoid dating or social situations that remind them of their traumatic event or may avoid locations that remind them of the event.
Lack of Appetite
The person may barely be eating enough to stay alive. Their
emotions have left them with no desire for food and, at times, repulsed by the thought of having to eat.
The person may be “self-medicating” with food, drowning their pain by endlessly eating. Sometimes this is combined with or alternates with lack of appetite.
Physical Symptoms of PTSD
The person may experience anything from a minor headache to a migraine that lasts for days. The headaches may be connected with other symptoms or appear/disappear on their own.
Rapid Heart Rate or Sweating
The person may experience profuse sweating and or “feel” or “hear” their heartbeat when they are reminded of their trauma or while they are experiencing flashback symptoms. Some people report that they experience this symptom without it being connected to their trauma and will break out in a sweat and hyperventilate (feel short of breath) even when they are not remembering the event. This can be incredibly distressing to them because it is out of the blue and for no apparent reason.
As mentioned previously, persons with PTSD may have some or all the above symptoms and they may present in varying degrees from one individual to next.
If you are experiencing symptoms of PTSD, help is available. Please see a physician and/or a mental health professional who specializes in PTSD.