How Could You Know if You have PTSD, and When To Seek Help?
It’s not that hard to find out if you have PTSD. You have to begin identifying if you experienced an event that shocked you, or overwhelmed you to an extreme.
Criterion A. EVENT
PTSD is about ONE event, like a car crash, a surgery, witnessing something life-threatening, or seeing an individual(s) dying; or rape/non-consensual sex; a natural disaster (like a hurricane, tsunami, earthquake, etc).
Sometimes the event is not that extreme by definition but it could have been extreme for you. I remember a therapist that had just opened her private practice and while with a new client, she saw something moving extremely fast in front of her; she screamed and raised her legs to the sofa. The client looked at her in horror not understanding what had happened. The client even thought that the therapist had reacted to something he was saying. What crossed the office is incredible speed was a mouse, and the therapist developed PTSD symptoms after the event. Once she processed it, she realized that it was not the mouse itself that caused her to develop symptoms but the idea that her reputation could be tainted by having mice in her office and by her reaction. That could have jeopardized the success of her practice, and that was overwhelming and terrifying.
In order to meet criteria you have to have symptoms of each of the 5 groups of criteria.
Criterion B. Intrusive symptoms:
Unexpected or expected reoccurring, involuntary, and intrusive upsetting memories of the traumatic event
Repeated upsetting dreams where the content of the dreams is related to the traumatic event
The experience of some type of dissociation (for example, flashbacks) where you feel as though the traumatic event is happening again2
Strong and persistent distress upon exposure to cues that are either inside or outside of your body that is connected to your traumatic event
Strong bodily reactions (for example, increased heart rate) upon exposure to a reminder of the traumatic event
Example: In the case I mentioned, the therapist kept seeing shadows running around her house, office, etc. Whatever she was, she thought she was seeing shadows. She had strong bodily reactions as well, like sudden sweat, etc. She was also having nightmares of losing her clients.
Criterion C. Avoidance
Avoidance of thoughts, feelings, or physical sensations that bring up memories of the traumatic event1
Avoidance of people, places, conversations, activities, objects, or situations that bring up memories of the traumatic event.
Example: the therapist was avoiding talking about the incident because she felt ashamed and fearful of the opinion of others for having a mouse in her office
Criterion D. Negative changes in thought
Inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic event
Persistent and elevated negative evaluations about yourself, others, or the world (for example, "I am unlovable," or "The world is an evil place")
Elevated self-blame or blame of others about the cause or consequence of a traumatic event
A negative emotional state (for example, shame, anger, or fear) that is pervasive
Loss of interest in activities that you used to enjoy
Feeling detached from others
Persistent inability to experience positive emotions (for example, happiness, love, joy)
Example: the therapist's fear was constant and persistent. Even when she called an exterminator and set up traps, she was still feeling extremely afraid. Also, she couldn’t remember what had happened after she got scared in front of the patient.
Criterion E. Changes in arousal
Feeling constantly "on guard" or like danger is lurking around every corner (or hypervigilance)
Heightened startle response
Impulsive or self-destructive behavior
Irritability or aggressive behavior
Example: she was evidently hypervigilant, checking in every corner, every sound, everywhere if there were signs of a mouse. She easily startled and she was having problems falling asleep.
Criterion F. Duration
The above symptoms last for more than one month.
After 2 months of not having those symptoms diminished, and still creating insecurity, fear and shame, she had the courage to tell her therapist. She didn’t think she had PTSD because she couldn’t believe that a mouse could have caused her to be traumatized; she didn’t realize that the fear was about her financial and professional stability instead of the fear for a rodent.
If you have symptoms that meet the criteria for PTSD, and they are interfering with your life, you should ask for help. If they are fading away, you could wait a little longer if you want, but the longer you wait, the higher the chances that the PTSD will cause other problems. Remember that the body loses homeostasis when it develops trauma, and that is always bad for your system.