PTSD: Emphatic Knowing


What is it called when one is overwhelmed by terror and helplessness? Neurosis?  According to Merriam Webster neurosis is defined as: 

an emotional illness in which a person experiences strong feelings of fear or worry;  a mental and emotional disorder that affects only part of the personality, is accompanied by a less distorted perception of reality than in a psychosis, does not result in disturbance of the use of language, and is accompanied by various physical, physiological, and mental disturbances (as visceral symptoms, anxieties, or phobias).

I suppose one could label me neurotic once I’ve been triggered. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an apparatus that purposefully intervenes with perception. Sometimes it’s a good thing; as it allows me to keenly and accurately pinpoint danger. Contrarily, this altered state sometimes depresses me. It’s pervasive and there are times when I feel afraid for days and days; unable to experience security. The procession is aggressive and I typically go from stoic to disorganized. At my worst, my autonomic functions disassociate and I feel disconnected.

We call this hyper-arousal. It’s intrusion has me expecting danger; a reflection of how my traumatic moments have imprinted, henceforth reflecting a numbing response I have no choice but to surrender to. Trauma devotes itself to some of us and as a result our systems of self-preservation are on permanent alert, which feels like danger may happen at any moment. It’s haunting. 

Physiological arousal or hyper-arousal may look like: startling easily; sleeping poorly; alertness; vigilance; irritability, and explosive or aggressive behavior.

Its persistence can make life maladaptive as one continuously searches for safety and security. 

Imagine how difficult it is to feel safe in our current world whilst invaded continuously by calculated acts, disingenuous humans and ceaseless traumatic events that are overwhelming for typical denizens; while it is more difficult for those like me to locate a sense of control, connection and meaning following additional horrors.

 In 1981 post traumatic stress disorder was first included in the diagnostic manual of the American psychiatric Association described traumatic events as outside the range of usual human experience. 

The above definition of post traumatic stress may not be accurate today as it becomes more evident that all forms of sexual assault and domestic violence are so prevalent they cannot be described as outside the range of ordinary experience. 

The fortunate ones have the privilege of labeling “unusually traumatic events” extraordinary.  Trauma overwhelms the ordinary human adaptation to life. Unlike commonplace misfortunes, traumatic events generally involve threats to life or bodily integrity or a close personal encounter with violence and death.

Generally with PTSD the fear involves threats to life or bodily integrity or a close personal encounter with violence resulting in helplessness and terror. According to the comprehensive textbook of psychiatry the common denominator of a psychological trauma is a feeling of intense fear, helplessness, and loss of control. Identifiable experiences increase the likelihood of harm include being taken by surprise, trapped or exposed to the point of exhaustion. The likelihood of harm is also increased when the traumatic events include physical violation or injury; exposure to extreme violence or witnessing a death.

 The human response to danger:

• encompasses both body and mind •arouses the sympathetic nervous system.                                                  •causes the person in danger to feel an adrenaline rush                                                 •a state of alert follows                  •attention becomes concentrated on the immediate situation                  •perceptions may alter

When working with traumatized individuals I normalize the changes that occur with arousal, attention; perception and emotions because each are normal adaptive reactions that prepare us for fight or flight. The difference is , when traumatic reactions occur->the system of self-defense becomes overwhelmed and disorganized. 

With post traumatic stress disorder the traumatized person may experience intense emotion without clear memory of the event. They may not remember everything in detail, but may find themselves in a constant state of vigilance and irritability without knowing why.

Symptoms have a tendency to take on a life of their own. This kind of fragmentation tears apart a complex system of self protection that normally functions in an integrated fashion central.

People coping with PTSD  suffer from a combination of generalized anxiety symptoms and specific fears and do not have a normal baseline level of alert or relaxed attention; instead they have an elevated baseline of arousal. Their bodies are always on the alert for danger. They also have an extreme startle response to unexpected stimuli as well as an intense reaction to specific stimuli. It also appears that traumatized people cannot tolerate stimuli that other people would find really annoying. Instead, they respond to each introduction to the stimuli as though it were a new danger; resulting in continuous arousal. Hence, the reflex to escape and avoid certain stimuli.

Numerous types of sleep disturbance are associated with trauma. People with posttraumatic stress disorder take longer to fall asleep, are more sensitive to noise and awaken more frequently during the night. 

At times, it is difficult to resume life’s normal course because the trauma repeatedly drops in and time stops. Those experiences are encoded in my memory and spontaneously appear into consciousness whether I’m awake or asleep.


Our dreams are unlike ordinary dreams. Mine include streams of traumatic memories. While awake, small insignificant environmental stimuli can be perceived as signals of danger;thus arousing violent reaction.

Reliving a traumatic experience whether in the form of intrusive memories, dreams or actions calories-the survivor is continually struck by terror and often rage. These emotions are different from ordinary fear and anger and are outside the range of ordinary emotional experience. They can overwhelm the ordinary capacity to process feelings. At times emotional distress is so intense, we may go to great links to feel protected with the hopes of eliminating the possibility of triggering the posttraumatic syndrome.