Change Often Incites Fear in PTSD Recovery

April 16, 2015 Michele Rosenthal

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) recovery (and the actions it requires) often incites a lot of fear. It has to: creating change always takes you into uncharted territories that can make you question yourself. Frequently, the pain of facing difficult things, plus the exhaustion of attempting to break free from what’s controlling you will put you in situations that bring on a big feeling of “I can’t handle it.” This moment and feeling are the essence of fear in PTSD recovery and there are good reasons for feeling it.

Two Reasons Change Creates Fear in PTSD Recovery

After trauma, it’s a normal instinct to seek (and do anything necessary) to create a sensation of security. These actions turn into habits that create a sensation of being in control.

It's normal to feel fear in PTSD recovery because PTSD recovery requires change. Learn why you can't let fear in PTSD recovery hold you back.Healing, however, requires you to release those tightly controlled behaviors and approaches to life to expand your involvement in living in healthy ways. Implementing the changes necessary for this can feel frightening because:

  1. You want to feel safe. Your trauma taught you an important lesson: There is danger in the world and sometimes it will dramatically affect you. From this lesson you learned another salient message: You must be aware and protect yourself. In PTSD, this process (hypervigilance) can become so in control of your daily experience and perspective of the world that it drives all of your thoughts, actions, and behaviors. For a little while this is very smart. After trauma you needed to re-establish a feeling of safety and control as you began to navigate your post-trauma world. However, when the need for safety overwhelmingly dictates who you are and how you live your world considerably shrinks down. While this limits your personal and professional opportunities it also creates a world in which you feel able to count on familiarity; that wonderful sensation of everything being recognizable. The more known your world is the more secure you feel. It’s only natural that you would want to stay in your comfort zone, which means going outside of it (creating change) would feel dangerous.
  2. As humans, we thrive on repetition. The more repeated familiar experiences you have the safer you feel. In fact, your brain (How Trauma Affects Your Brain) learns by repetition. The more often it experiences something the more deeply it embeds neural pathways that become more and more efficient over time. From a survival perspective, this is a terrific asset: The quicker your cavemen ancestors learned to avoid the saber tooth tiger, the more likely they were to stay alive. In the realm of PTSD recovery, however, the brain’s power to learn can become a liability if it isn’t managed and balanced. The more often you engage in repetitive experiences that constrict your world (i.e. creating safety by shrinking your engagement) the more your brain develops a practiced mastery for all of the constricting actions you've been practicing. Thinking it’s helping you, your brain engages in those behaviors faster and more easily as time passes. Breaking these habits and patterns can feel uncomfortable, dangerous, and just flat out wrong.

And yet, adventuring into new territory can be the very thing that sets you free. Breaking habits and patterns and replacing them with more healthy ways of feeling safe and in control can actually give you back your life.

So, while change often incites fear in PTSD recovery, it can also be the agent of freedom and your path to healing. The key to managing the fear of change lies in exploring and discovering how to reduce the fear while at the same time connecting more deeply to behavior, thoughts and actions that infuse you with a sense of self-efficacy -- a feeling of “I can handle it.” that allows you to inch forward.

Michele is the author of Your Life After Trauma: Powerful Practices to Reclaim Your Identity. Connect with her on Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and her website,

APA Reference
Rosenthal, M. (2015, April 16). Change Often Incites Fear in PTSD Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Author: Michele Rosenthal

rhonda carpenter
April, 13 2017 at 1:27 pm

I would like to know more about this book mentioned, , my mom was murdered in 2002, I have currently been struggling with the pstd with some changes that have occured in my life

May, 9 2015 at 1:56 pm

I personally have experienced providing care someone who has PTSD. It is a challenging task because as a health care provider we have to be careful withe everything that we do and everything that we say. It is very important to learn what specifically happened to that person.
The individual that I was working with had developed PTSD due to child abuse and neglect at a young age. Due to the severe traumatic events that occurred in their life every movement matters. Even if I was in the next room and I made a certain noise. It could trigger a response in their brain. The person also responded to some situations with a behavioral action. The person I was caring for had severe PTSD. Sometimes the noise of foot steps coming down the hall made their anxiety flair.
PTSD can not be taken lightly due to the simple fact, that not everybody knows and understands what occurred with that individual at that given time.

April, 18 2015 at 3:46 pm

Michele I have been experiencing some hyper vigilance and realized the anniversary of the Columbine shootings is coming up. It was very personal for me -
I know everyone has there own source for trauma but I still can not imagine what those kids went through. I hope and pray as adults they are processing things in therapy and that they have access to someone like you and your writings.
Lisa Marie

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

April, 26 2015 at 4:12 am

Michele We just got your book today and can't wait to dig in to it. I am in a weird place with my blog. I share a lot of personal experiences and even though I have over 2,000 hits I have had very little comments. Have you dealt with this? If there is any constructive criticism you could give it would be great.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Michele Rosenthal
April, 27 2015 at 12:58 pm

@Lisamarie -- So excited for you to read Your Life After Trauma! Remember to access the free Resource Center, too:
Survivors don't always want to share, so you may find the comments sparse but the views continuing to grow. Just keep posting meaningful content!

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