People toss around the name and diagnosis of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) a lot; but what is it really? I’m not a psychiatrist … but a good friend of mine is, and she has quite a lot of professional experience with it. I had a conversation with her about it, and am sharing the core message:
People with PTSD don’t feel safe.
That feeling might arise from bad experiences that have happened to that person, or been witnessed by that person, or even have been performed by that person. Whatever the reason, the person has lost the inherent belief that nothing bad is going to happen out of the blue. Most of us don’t recognize that we have that as an inherent belief, and on the surface of our thoughts (especially as preppers) we may not; but it’s still buried in our psyche and directing our responses. People with PTSD don’t have that. They know deep down that bad things can happen for no reason and without warning … so they don’t feel safe.
Don’t minimize how they feel just because it doesn’t seem logical.
If you want to help someone with PTSD, don’t disrespect that feeling of lack of safety just because you don’t share it. Understand it. You can’t reason it away. It’s there. It’s not necessarily a life sentence, please understand; but it’s not going to evaporate in a moment as the person Sees the Light due to your logical arguments. So if you want to help the person with PTSD, help them feel safe. Understand that some circumstances that don’t seem scary to most of us can speak to the deep feelings of the person with PTSD and make the situation intolerable.
This goes beyond my conversation with my psychiatrist friend, but there’s a clear connection between this and a previous post here at BBBY on interrupting anxiety attacks. The amygdala is an evolutionarily old part of the brain that remembers frightening episodes and initiates defensive responses when it recognizes stimuli associated with such episodes. The aspects of the original experience the amygdala recognizes and responds to may not be the ones our conscious selves focused on, but they will trigger the defensive response nonetheless.
It takes an extra dose of understanding and empathy to recognize that someone else is experiencing something very different when they look at a situation. To me it may just be a crowd in a busy store, but to someone with PTSD it might be the scent of an attack (because the guy next to him during the attack had used the same scent) and his amygdala throws him into full scale defensive mode. I hope to never really see the world through the eyes of someone with PTSD; but I do hope that I can at least accept that their view is very different and help them cope with the reality they are seeing.