PTSD and Sexual Trauma

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a stereotype our culture often projects onto soldiers and veterans. But like all stereotypes it falls short. PTSD does not belong to one group of people and it is far more complex than often portrayed by the media.

PTSD is caused from being exposed to trauma.

This can include, but is not limited to:

  • life threatening situations
  • sexual assault or abuse
  • natural disasters
  • or accidents and injuries to self or those witnessed on others

sexual trauma

PTSD, like depression, affects the whole family. Healing needs to take place to move past the traumatic event and a strong support system is needed during this time. If you see a loved one or if you are suffering with PTSD it is important to seek professional help.

Would you know how to identify PTSD?

Movies, TV shows, and the occasional hyped up news report would have us believe that PTSD manifests itself in violence and extreme outbursts of anger. Anger is only one component of PTSD and it is rarely the reaction of those suffering. Many simply withdrawal.

There are 4 core behaviors of PTSD

  1. The individual will have experienced or witnessed a stressful event.
  2. Nightmares and/or flashbacks take the person back to the event where they re-experience it.
  3. There is an effort to avoid situations, places, and people that are reminders of the traumatic event.
  4. The individual may experience irritability, concentration problems, and sleep disturbances.
  5. A great read about this topic.

Sometimes we may not know that a loved one has experienced a traumatic event because they are carrying around guilt that keeps them from sharing. When they do come to us, we need to be ready to provide a non-judgmental ear and a safe place (physically and emotionally).

What to do if you suspect a loved one has experienced a traumatic event

If you do notice sleep changes, avoidance of people and places they once loved, or concentration problems let them know you have noticed and ask if something happened. Stories are often not shared until a direct answer is asked.
It is important to be supportive and patient. Do not force someone to tell their story before they are ready, but make sure that they know you are there when they are ready. Provide a safe place with your presence and have a safety plan in place if signs of self-harm or suicide become evident.

If you have PTSD

Ask for help. You do not need to overcome, attack, or stuff down the traumatic event on your own. When left untreated PTSD cycles from re-living the traumatic event to avoidance, to a trigger that brings you back to the event. Since 1980 there has been a great deal of studies conducted and treatments developed that can and will help you. But first, you have to tell someone you need help.

Don’t put off getting help. The longer you wait to address it the harder it becomes to do so.

How to know if someone is considering suicide

If you suspect someone is considering suicide the first thing you should do is ask them, “Are you planning to hurt or kill yourself?” Be direct.

Spend time educating yourself on the risk factors and warning signs. These include but are not limited to:

  • family history
  • current situation and religious beliefs
  • previous exposure to suicide
  • expressing hopelessness or feeling trapped
  • increased harmful activities such as increased drinking or drug use
  • lack of sleep or too much sleep
  • withdrawing
  • mood swings
  • and more

Provide your loved one with the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255. They are also available on live chat. If your loved one answers yes they are planning to hurt or kill themselves, stay with them and get them to a medical professional who can step in and help.

Help break the stereotype that comes with PTSD by starting the conversation with your loved one. Make sure they know you are a safe place. And if it is you struggling with PTSD find a friend or counselor you trust. Do not carry this burden alone.

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