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Insight into Common Behaviors of People with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

written by: Daniel P. McGoldrick • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 11/20/2010

Common behaviors become apparent in many cases of post traumatic stress disorder. It's vital to understand what these behaviors are and why they are so prevalent in so many people who have PTSD. With understanding, empathy, and treatment, wrecked families can be restored, and lives can be saved.

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    Hyperarousal

    After reading this, you’ll see how entwined and overlapping the common behaviors of post traumatic stress disorder really are. In medical terms, hyperarousal is defined as a condition or state of mind exhibiting both muscular and emotional tension which is the result of the hormones released during a fight or flight or reaction. Psychological and physiological tension increase which causes anxiety, an exaggeration of startle responses, insomnia, extreme fatigue, the accentuation of personality traits, and lower tolerances for physical pain.

    What all that means to the person who has PTSD is that they feel constantly on guard because danger could be around every corner (which is also known as hypervigilance). You’re physically ready and still using all your mental faculties to prepare for an attack and defend those around you even when you’re in the most innocuous of settings. This is exhausting. Once you have experienced the reality of an extremely unsafe, evil, and violent world, it is hard to imagine the world you lived in before that, ever again. The former world seems to be only the stuff of fairytales and fantasy.

    Hyperarousal is also marked by being easily startled since a door closing, a furnace kicking in, or any thump above you in a building (noises that normal people hardly even notice) can remind the individual with PTSD of a bomb blast that killed their friend.

    Hyperarousal is therefore heavily intertwined with avoidance because you want to avoid places that will cause you to remember things you’d rather forget. The Benefits of PTSD Support Groups will explain why it’s invaluable to seek out others that have been in similar circumstances so you can join them on the road to recovery.

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    Avoidance

    scan0009 All this anxiety makes a person with PTSD have a short fuse with anger broiling under the surface, and irritability that they might often feel ashamed of. So the person afflicted by PTSD will want to isolate to avoid triggering these emotions and to keep from hurting people emotionally or physically, because these emotions feel uncontrollable.

    It’s almost like a blackout rage in some folks. By the same token, a person can also feel emotionally numb as a result of their PTSD, so their behavior might seem callous or distant to someone else. Driving by garbage on the side of the road can make a combat veteran remember the terrible consequences of an IED (improvised explosive device). Since mobile car-bombers were always a threat, tail-gating drivers can bring a combat veteran to the brink.

    The other side of the anger that this surely creates is almost always a deep and dark case of major depression, drowning one in a sea of questions that can’t ever be answered. The person with PTSD doesn’t have to actually be in a fight or flight scenario, they can either be reliving (on some level) the original event that caused the PTSD or some external trigger (a situation, a smell, a voice, or something that only their subconscious mind picks up on) might bring it on. In the most severe cases, the person might feel this extreme anxiety all the time. A rape victim will be plagued by so many associations that remind them of the environment where they encountered their attacker.

    Image courtesy of the author

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    Going further in our examination of common behaviors of post traumatic stress disorder, we turn to impulsivity. This rash behavior can be baffling to family members as it comes about for reasons they can't really fathom. When one is exposed constantly to the reality of death, and sees his or her comrades fall, it can form a lasting impression that causes the person to take living every moment like it was your last to the extreme. With a heedless attitude about tomorrow, the consequences aren't considered, substance abuse can crop in, and families destroyed or disbanded. But the person with PTSD may just be trying anyway possible to numb out the emotional anguish that war can cause. And the same holds true for anyone else who has PTSD because there are so many equally disturbing events and trauma that can cause it. However, we end our discussion with the hope that there is help and a way out with the resources given.
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    Impulsivity

    Impulsivity is rash behavior marked by actions that occur suddenly without any premeditation, control, or any regard for the consequences. Spending sprees, quitting jobs, self-harm, or going to place you'd otherwise not even think about finding yourself, are some examples. Do you see how easily this behavior could develop in a person who has been exposed long-term to an environment where they know they could die at any minute? What is the point of considering future consequences when there could easily be no future? Unfortunately this can morph into a devil-may-care attitude about saving money because it's easy to fall back on the thought that you might not be around to use it anyway; so spend it while you can.

    Part and parcel of PTSD is also a lack of focus, an inability to concentrate and memory lapses. These are all further sources of frustration and erratic, flighty behavior.

    Prevalent in the number of common behaviors of post traumatic stress disorder, impulsivity is likely linked to a desire to find relief from emotional pain which is why substance abuse is heavily associated with PTSD. And most sadly, an impulsive urge to commit suicide has removed far too many invaluable souls from our society. To give so much and so valiantly, only to later succumb to the unending darkness of PTSD because it seems there is no way out is tragically sad, because there is a way out. So if you have PTSD, or someone you care about does, do everything in your human power to get help in order to avert such tragedy.

    Speak to trained mental health professionals immediately. To learn about specific treatment plans that are available, read Successful Treatments for PTSD. Join a support group and work on your PTSD before it works you over. Don’t listen to anyone perpetuating a stigma about it; just divert any negative mental energy that comes at you with mental Aikido, because it would be cheerless and miserable to be trapped in a mind that thinks like that. You can find a way out and so many have recovered and lead fulfilling lives. There is no future in hoping for a better past. The link I provide below to Medicinenet.com has a long list of sources, sites, and phone numbers where you can get help.