Simply put, post-traumatic stress disorder is:
Post: It occurs after the event or situation is over.
Traumatic: The life-threatening event caused the trauma.
Stress: The trauma is causing stress.
Disorder: This stress is intense enough to disrupt or impair your daily routine and life.
Symptoms of PTSD include
- re-experiencing the traumatic event or events through intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, or nightmares,
- avoidance of thoughts, feelings, or reminders of the traumatic event(s),
- your thinking growing more and more negative about the traumatic event as time goes by,
- increases in irritability; aggressive, self-destructive, or reckless behaviors; or disruptions in concentration or sleep.
What’s the Impact?
A child who’s experienced trauma might regress in regard to skills he’s already learned. For example, a child who’s been successfully potty trained for some time may regress back to wetting the bed at night. The impact on teens can show up in their behavior: they may become disruptive, disrespectful, and destructive. These behaviors can put a strain on the relationship between you and your child.
But because we might not be aware of all the traumatic events our children have experienced, we might not recognize that these behavior changes are related to a crisis in their lives. For example, kids may not talk about an incident of sexual assault or bullying, out of fear that you may respond in anger or in a way that embarrasses them. So if your child is displaying some inappropriate behavior, take time to ask some questions. As parents, we often react by placing limits on inappropriate behavior, which is likely to result in our teens becoming more isolated at a time when they desperately need connection with others.
Kids may be confused about the changes in their own behavior. What they don’t know is that exposure to the traumatic event actually changes the anatomy and physiology in their brain in a way that’s not normal for their stage of life. When the anatomy and chemical makeup of the brain is disrupted and changed as a result of trauma, your child’s memory system and ability to cope with stress are also disrupted. Because of this, she develops new and usually unhelpful ways of coping with the aftereffects of the trauma.
So now your child is left with dangerous trauma changes in the brain. If she’s feeling isolated, that may lead her to feel afraid, confused, and alone. At that point, self-injury or thinking about suicide might seem plausible to her, since it’s a way to cope with and escape the pain of the situation.