Nallor, Bunting, and Vazdarjanova (2011) suggest that traumatic experiences can lead individuals to develop phobias and PTSD, but that generally only about a fourth of the population goes on to develop diagnosable anxiety disorders. This is not to say that individuals do not experience symptoms after a trauma. Many trauma survivors will experience symptoms such as hyperarousal, nightmares, changes in self-esteem, changes in sleep, etc. Sherin and Nemeroff (2011) explain that the amygdala, which processes our emotions, becomes hyper alert after a trauma contributing to many of the symptoms noted earlier. However, survivors who are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder experience these symptoms for a prolonged period of time and the symptoms begin to interfere with their functioning in different areas of their life including occupationally and socially. So, what is the difference between individuals who go on to develop PTSD or another anxiety disorder and those who are more resilient?
Research is still being completed in this area. Littleton, Axsom, and Grills-Taquechel (2011) completed a study following the Virginia Tech Shooting on the relationship between distress and how individuals coped with trauma. The researchers found that psychological distress was directly related to attempting to avoid thoughts and feelings surrounding the trauma. Interestingly, the researchers noted that the distress was greater at a year than it had been at the six month follow-up. Avoidance strategies may initially appear beneficial to the person but over time appear to produce more distress. Pineles, Mostoufi, Ready, Street, Griffin, and Resick (2011) also suggest that avoiding the trauma can interfere with the natural healing process for a person who reacts strongly to trauma reminders by inhibiting the processing of the memories. Why did I share all of this information with you? I want to invite you to learn more about RCASA’s counseling services either for yourself if needed or to tell others about it who may be in need. Counseling can assist individuals in processing the trauma of sexual assault in a safe environment, hopefully before a diagnosis of social phobia or PTSD. Avoidance of the trauma may feel better in the beginning but studies have shown that avoidance leads to danger in the future by delaying the healing process and increasing distress. Please do not avoid the trauma, but have the courage to give us a call as we are always here to support you when you are ready.
Nallor, Rebecca, Bunting, Kristopher, and Vazdarjanova, Almira. (2011). Predicting Impaired Extinction of Traumatic Memory and Elevated Startle Response. Plos One, 6(5) Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3097191/?tool=pubmed
Pineles, Suzanne L., Mostoufi, Sheeva M., Ready, C.B., Street, Amy E., Griffin, Michael G., and Resick, Patricia A. (2011). Trauma Reactivity, Avoidant Coping, and PTSD Symptoms: A Moderating Relationship? National Institute of Health 120(1) Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3336155/?tool=pubmed
Sherin, Jonathan E. and Nemeroff, Charles B. (2011). Post-traumatic stress disorder: impact of psychological trauma. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 13(3) Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3182008/?tool=pubmed