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PTSD Stigma: Why People with PTSD Can't 'Just Get Over It'

March 14, 2018 Elizabeth Brico

PTSD stigma says that people with PTSD can just get over the trauma and move on like a 'normal' person. Learn why getting over a trauma that causes PTSD isn't that easy at HealthyPlace.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stigma is alive and well. If you have PTSD, you've probably heard someone tell you to "just get over" your trauma. Maybe it was a well-meaning friend or family member, like my father who was frightened by my suicidal ideations. Or maybe it was a less well-meaning stranger, like the rude New Yorker who recently commented on my blog telling me to, "Grow up and take responsibility for [my] life." Whether the statement comes from a place of love or PTSD stigma, it doesn't make sense. Here's why.

Why PTSD Stigma Doesn't Make Sense

The PTSD stigma that says we should "just get over trauma" ignores three key facts about PTSD and PTSD symptoms.

The Trauma that Caused PTSD Doesn't Stay in the Past: It Exists in the Present

When people "get over" upsetting events, it's usually due to the passage of time. Take a breakup, for example. When a relationship ends, there is typically a period of grieving which may involve crying, talking to friends, getting a makeover, or having a rebound. These common post-breakup activities represent rituals that we use to process the event in the context of a cohesive temporal passage. But trauma is not the same as a breakup (PTSD Causes: Causes of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder).

While doing research on PTSD, I had the opportunity to speak with Bessel van der Kolk, a renowned trauma specialist who authored The Body Keeps The Score. One of the first statements he made during our call was that trauma is:

"not a story about the past. It's about how the past continues to live in your body . . . you're in a constant state of heartbreak and gutwrench."

I don't think there's a better way to describe PTSD.

For those of us who have undergone or witnessed a severe, life-threatening or sexual trauma, that experience becomes trapped in our minds and our bodies. Even when we are unable to clearly remember the details of the event during the everyday, we can suddenly become transported to that moment as though it is taking place once again. Trauma doesn't feel like something that happened a long time ago. It feels like it's just happened, or is still happening. How does a person get over something that is still going on?

Childhood Trauma Can Stunt Emotional Growth

For people who experienced trauma during childhood, there may be an added component of neurological damage that affects memory and emotional regulation.1 Even before this relatively recent biological discovery, psychology has long recognized the phenomenon of arrested emotional development, which is associated both with early trauma and early drug use. Essentially, someone who experiences a disruptive event during a time period when she is still maturing can become emotionally arrested at that age.

If someone is emotionally stuck at an earlier developmental stage than his physical age, he is likely to exhibit behaviors that others might find odd or immature. It doesn't mean that everything he says or does will sound like a 10-year-old. This is not an intellectual deficit. It does, however, mean that someone who experienced trauma at age 10 might respond to disappointment by raging or "throwing a tantrum" due to emotional stunting. This can also manifest in less obvious ways, like an under-developed perspective on the world, often labeled as "black-and-white thinking."

For people who experienced childhood and early adolescent trauma, moving past the event includes the added difficulty of correcting emotional stunting that likely results from neurological changes. That is no easy feat. It's certainly not reasonable to expect that person to magically get better if you tell him to "just get over it."

The Trauma that Causes PTSD Is Extreme

Finally, you need to remember that if someone has PTSD, she has experienced an event so extreme it disrupts her cohesive life experience.2 Traumatic events are so affecting because they fall radically beyond the expected human experience. They cause people to make illogical connections, such as between success and danger. If you have never experienced an event that makes you question the very nature of reality, then you simply cannot understand what it's like to be traumatized. Which is wonderful--but don't expect that a person who is traumatized will share your perspective of time, reality, and social conventions.

Sources

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/feb/13/childhood-abuse-growth-brain-emotions
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4166378/
Tags: PTSD stigma

APA Reference
Brico, E. (2018, March 14). PTSD Stigma: Why People with PTSD Can't 'Just Get Over It', HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 24 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2018/03/we-cant-just-get-over-it



Author: Elizabeth Brico

Find Elizabeth on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, her author page, and her blog.

Susan
says:
May, 22 2018 at 10:38 pm
I just kind of happened upon you by a google search and read, then kept reading and was so interested to see the mention of Complex PTSD.
My therapist told me about a month ago what Complex PTSD is and she believes that I have it. She explained that until it became listed that she cannot put a name to what I have....then she explained all of the things we have discussed for so long and why it fits me....I have been struggling with the abandon everyone toxic theory, when people are clueless about another person’s life. Do you think being an overly sensitive person makes others view one as “ toxic, no fun to be around, always a “ downer” etc. I think that, that being an overly sensitive people and also perhaps, someone who doesn’t think everything in life can be made light of.... I think that.... I am very glad that I happened upon your blog, thank you
Maribel Jacuzzi
says:
May, 20 2018 at 11:01 pm
PLEASE HELP ME
May, 27 2018 at 2:00 pm
Maribel, if you are in crisis, please reach out for help. Here is one option:
Crisis Text Line is free, 24/7 support for those in crisis. Text 741741 from anywhere in the US to text with a trained Crisis Counselor. Crisis Text Line trains volunteers to support people in crisis and can direct you to other available resources.
Elliot
says:
March, 16 2018 at 2:52 pm
I was very much hit hard my youth- during years NO therapist took it seriously- the look said I don't know a damn thing about that- finally I have a therapist who believes me and may have experience I don ' t know yet- but yes I finally received a diagnosis of bi polar and PTSD- I have suffered because therapists felt that was full of nonsense and DID NOT believe me- so much for education

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Elizabeth Brico
says:
March, 21 2018 at 9:56 am
I'm sorry that you had to deal with so many dismissive therapists. It's a real problem that I think is often overlooked; we're taught to believe what medical or psychological professionals say without question. That's not always right. I'm glad you finally found someone who is willing to listen compassionately and help you.
Anne
says:
March, 16 2018 at 3:07 am
ICD 11 will have cptsd in it and is due this year 2018

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Elizabeth Brico
says:
March, 21 2018 at 9:57 am
That's great!
Sara
says:
March, 15 2018 at 8:40 am
Hello, I enjoyed your article but I would really appreciate if you would include complex PTSD as we experience the same relived trauma do to prolonged physical, sexual, verbal or emotional abuse. Implicit memory is activated in the same way in CPTSD - it’s not only created through single events. Thanks

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Elizabeth Brico
says:
March, 15 2018 at 10:03 am
Hi Sara, thanks for your comment and glad you enjoyed the article. My abuse was also not the result of a single event but rather a period of prolonged physical, sexual and verbal abuse that began as a young teenager and was preceded and followed by other singular traumatic incidents. Once CPTSD becomes an official diagnosis, I will probably meet the criteria for it. As it stands currently, however, CPTSD is not recognized as a clinical diagnosis, which is why I’m not using the term—but you’re right that neither PTSD that results from singular events or prolonged abuse can be just “gotten over” the way some people seem to believe. I hope that CPTSD is recognized by the APA and WHO soon, but until it is you can definitely read my articles on PTSD to be inclusive of all types of trauma (unless otherwise specified), not just that which results from a single traumatic event.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Amy
says:
April, 11 2018 at 3:06 pm
I'm so tired of trauma and trying to get anyone to understand that I see their point of view but mine is very different. 23 years of serve abuse and no help or understanding available mirrors the original traumas. I don't know why we have to educate other people they should education themselves or get lost as far as I'm concerned now. It's so exhausting

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

C
says:
January, 11 2019 at 6:27 pm
So. Exhausting. I got to the point during the trauma when I *HAD* escaped and was able to get into town with other people besides my abuser to 'help' me...by the first couple of times of trying to get help and trying to explain what unbelievable circumstance I was in and after *I* realized "Yes. THIS is really happening. There is a 'person' out there that not only will but DOES 'This'."....my patience and lack of sleep and food and mental stability was SO disrupted I just screamed and flipped out on the police, EMS, Hospital staff, social workers blah blah ...

I swear the repetitiveness of it and effort trying to get ANYONE to even remotely understand the degree of which I needed help, kind of help and ugh the "why?"....omg it was just like talking in circles while my abuser was INCESSANTLY gaslighting me, exhaust me and make me MORE disoriented and isolated.

I can logically rememeber now that *I* litterally was unable to conceive the first week of the abuse and I try to remember that but...it really is a horrible catch 22.

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