The Amygdala, which is the very epicenter of the brain, responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and memory. Think about the Walking Dead, or any other Zombie movie or show. This center of the brain remember our most basic survival instincts and assigns emotions to them. Think about how this part of the brain would work in a soldier, someone whose job is to literally survive in an unknown place and be constantly vigilant.
Let’s now examine the Frontal Lobe, which is the last part of our brain to develop at 26 years old. This part is, ironically enough, responsible for judgment, emotional regulation, language, problem solving, sexual behaviors, and has been referred to as the “control panel” of the brain by Healthline.com. So, that same soldier from scenario 1 who is living on survival skills and constantly vigilant, has literally likely not even developed the emotional regulatory skills or problem solving skills to cope with the scenes that are being played out in front of him.
Once we have the bit of understanding about how the two most relevant parts of the brain to trauma exist, we can build a bit on that knowledge and trying to understand why a trauma response will prevail when a person with PTSD is confronted with, what they perceive to be a difficult or situation similar to a past traumatic event. I use the word “perceive” because the situation might not be a dangerous situation, but can be a “trigger”. I can use an example from personal experience with this.
I was in an abusive marriage. When I met the man with now I am engaged, I had to have special “rules”, especially during fights or I would breakdown into full-on physical flashbacks. Reliving the nightmares over and over. He could not stand and yell. He had to sit somewhere opposite the room from me and away from the door so I knew that I could escape the situation, need be. Those were issues that caused personal triggers for me. Every single person who has PTSD has a different set of triggers. People sneaking up on me (I am still constantly hyper-vigilant and it’s exhausting). Loud noises are triggers. Just because someone wasn’t at war, remember, that doesn’t mean that they can’t have PTSD or secondary PTSD.
Intrusive thoughts are one of the diagnostic tools for practitioners (therapists, counselors, or psychiatrists) to officially diagnose PTSD. When you find that you are experiencing flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, or even self-medication (drinking more than you used to or using other substances), these are red flags for you to reach out for help. This website gives an in-depth look at the most recent Diagnostic Statistical Manual (used widely by professionals) to diagnose PTSD officially. https://www.brainline.org/article/dsm-5-criteria-ptsd Your symptoms may feel like depression and anxiety at first, and may be those, but it’s an easy mistake to make. Reaching out sooner than later is much better (I waited until later and my story led me to a condition called PNES, which causes seizures), so please, get help now. It doesn’t make you weak. It actually, I think, makes you stronger. If I weren’t a practicing therapist at the time, I might’ve been more motivated to get help. There’s only so much healing you can do on your own.
Be sure to discuss every symptom that you’ve been having with your therapist (they’ll generally be the one doing your intake assessment, but they may not be the therapist assigned to your actual case). I recommend that you go to a therapist with ties to a psychiatrist (this is difficult to find if your therapist is private practice). Also discuss substance use, if you’ve been using any substances, prescribed or not. This information will go directly to your psychiatrist as this is the person who will possibly be prescribing medications.
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