View Full Version : Emotional Abuse and PTSD

01-23-2010, 12:34 AM
One of my characters has been emotionally abused by her family from the time she was 13, she is now 17. At 17 she caused a disaster that killed several people in order to avoid a rape. I figure that this experience likely led to PTSD.

So my question is what are some of the after effects of emotional abuse when your abusers are dead almost directly due to you, and how would that blend with PTSD caused by the same situation? Is PTSD likely?

Also, this is a fantasy, so things like going to counselling not really an option, though would likely be helpful.

If you are willing to share, stories of personal experiences both with dealing with someone with PTSD or having it yourself would be very helpful, but I understand if it is too personal. Thank you for your help.

01-23-2010, 05:06 AM
PTSD is the recurrent re-living of a traumatic event. This can be manifested by recurrent intrusive thoughts (sudden waking flashes of memory spurred by a similar circumstance) nightmares of reliving the event, compulsive obsessive disorder including repetitive actions. Starltle reflex often occurs particularly to combat veterans.

A combat veteran can be suddenly reminded of a combat experience by something similar happening such as a helicopter passing over head or something as familiar as a smell or odor.

Think of something during the abuse that would rekindle a memory, maybe something as easy as raised voices during an argument or a memory of the disaster (fire? flames? explosion?) that would cause a flashback.

PTSD can be as easy as suddenly seeing an explosion in water every time you see a lake or pond or as hard as gasping for breath as you run from them in the middle of the night when sleeping and sitting straight up as they almost get to you and then laying back down and starting to run all over again as soon as you fall asleep.

It doesn't get easier as you get older but you do get almost used to it.

01-23-2010, 09:08 AM
It likely in your character's case she might be feeling a lot of guilt. In long term abuse situations, the abusers exert control over their victims by isolating them from others who would give them support. They systematically tear down a person, diminish them until what's left isn't enough to fight back any more. Often this involves blame. "Your fault I drink, your fault you got hit, your fault you were raped you made me do it by dressing that way, if you were a better daughter and just listened to me I wouldn't have to hit you, now I feel bad and if you tell anyone what you made me do I'll kill myself in shame, it will be your fault I'm dead." etc.

It's easy to see what's wrong with the abuser's argument on the outside looking in, but for somebody who has been dismantled it is crippling to hear.

As far as PTSD, I have it from surviving abuse situations, among other things. I actually use a service dog to help me function, as my episodes got so bad I couldn't leave the house for a long time. When I encounter a trigger that reminds of the bad stuff, my mind goes on vacation. It looks like a petite mal seizure, where I am staring off into space, limp and unresponsive. Obviously, I can't drive with a condition like that, but now I have my dog who alerts me about 15 minutes ahead of time. Because of that, we have also been able to identify specific triggers and work on desensitizing myself to them, and managing my exposure. And now I'm allowed to drive again because it's considered "controlled" by the DMV, but only if my dog is in the car.

There are feelings of heightened anxiety. I'm always looking for safe places, like I'll often sit with my back to the wall in a corner if I can. Especially in public, like a restaurant or something. I like being able to see my surroundings. On days where I have higher baseline anxiety for whatever reason, my threshold for triggers is much lower and I get thrown into an episode more easily. Food plays a big factor. I notice that if I don't eat regularly, I have a much harder time.

For developing PTSD, people who have had some sort of early childhood trauma or abuse seem to be much more susceptible to developing it later in life when trauma occurs, where someone else would be able to rebound from it all right. I think your character having that abuse history would be a good candidate for being predisposed to PTSD.

Hope some of that was useful. If you need to know anything more specific let me know and I'll try to answer.

Chasing the Horizon
01-24-2010, 03:27 AM
I have no first-hand experience with PTSD, and sincerely hope to keep it that way. ;) However, I have studied trauma psychology with an emphasis on childhood trauma for over ten years, so perhaps I can be somewhat helpful.

There is a massively complex series of events which take place in the human mind when it's exposed to trauma. Most of these are poorly understood or not understood at all by modern science. Five people exposed to the exact same trauma will have five completely different reactions. The severity of a person's reaction to trauma depends on how good their coping mechanisms already are. Part of this is determined by experience, particularly childhood experiences (what was your characters life like before she was 13?). But coping skills also seem to have a biological (or perhaps spiritual) factor, because sometimes people with difficult childhoods and past histories of trauma react better than those whose previous life experiences dictate that they should have better coping mechanisms. In short, some people just seem to be born with better coping skills than others. We can compile statistics that show certain experiences, such as a lack of early parental involvement, make a person more likely to develop PTSD when exposed to trauma, but in the end there is no formula and sometimes just no rhyme or reason to how people react. (Am I being helpful yet? Didn't think so. :D )

That long paragraph was basically to say that your character can be as affected or unaffected as you want them to be. Some people show amazing strength when confronted with trauma and others amazing fragility.

If you decide you want to write a character with psychological problems as a result of trauma, I strongly suggest you do research far beyond the scope of AW or any other online forum. You need an understanding not just of PTSD and its possible manifestations (including the difference between normal and complex PTSD), but also an understanding of the conditions which frequently occur in conjunction with it, such as dissociative disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, and depression.

There are a lot of great online resources for researching PTSD, which would be a good place to start. I've read a lot of books on it, but have recently found that many are getting quite dated as new discoveries are made. Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman might be a good one to start with for a basic understanding, though.