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PTSD in Women: Not All Symptoms Are Created Equal

Monday, 19 June 2017 06:00  by Taylor B.

According to the American Psychological Association, 50 percent of people will be exposed to at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. Traumatic events can result in extreme stress and adverse consequences for everyone involved. Although many people can get over a trauma with a little time, some people may experience longer-lasting problems. In fact, eight percent of trauma survivors go on to develop PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Although the condition was once primarily associated with male combat veterans, females are up to twice as likely to develop PTSD. Because of this initial association, the bulk of research regarding PTSD was primarily focused on male veterans who developed PTSD after returning from war after its discovery; however, the disorder often affects women differently than it does men. Consequently, women with PTSD are often misdiagnosed.

Women often experience different types of trauma than men do. This combined with differences in societal norms, brain chemistry and other factors means that symptoms manifest differently.

Common Causes of PTSD in Women

PTSD is a mental health disorder that includes upsetting symptoms linked to your exposure to traumatic events. Common causes of PTSD in women are varied. These typically include:

  • Sexual abuse
  • Psychological abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • War & combat
  • Terrorism
  • Natural disasters
  • Accidents
  • Sudden catastrophic medical events
  • Witnessing violent acts against others
  • Domestic violence
  • Severe automobile accidents

You can acquire PTSD through experiencing any of the above yourself or from witnessing negative events happening to others.

Traumatic Event

If you have experienced a traumatic event, like a kidnapping, mugging, car crash or house fire, you are more likely to experience long-term trauma as a result. In the case of something disturbing or destructive happening to you that you have no personal control over, you may develop real worries that this could occur again. You may feel very frightened and unsafe, particularly when you are alone.

You might find you’re struggling with upsetting and recurring memories and flashbacks of the trauma you’ve sustained when you have PTSD. For instance, if you’ve been in a severe car accident, you may have flashbacks to the event happening to you over and over again.

Because of this, along with the other symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome you may be experiencing, you could begin to modify your behaviors. For example, you might avoid driving or avoid certain people, places, experiences or events that remind you of this traumatic event. You could also experience mood, attitude and perception changes. Recovering from events like this often require professional help.

Sexual Assault/Rape

The National Center for PTSD defines sexual assault as any sexual activity between two people or more and where one person is involved without their consent. Sexual assault covers an array of experiences, such as unwanted grabbing or touching or sexual intercourse.

This includes victims of violence, those who have been unable to give consent due to being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, those who have been coerced or guilt tripped, or a number of other scenarios.

As a sexual assault victim, you may have repeated thoughts, nightmares and memories of what happened to you. You experience negative changes in your normal feelings and thoughts. You feel stressed, agitated, tearful, angry, and unable to sleep. All of these are feelings many women experience if they have survived a rape or sexual assault.

A study reported by the National Center for PTSD discovered that 94 out of 100 women who had been raped showed symptoms of PTSD after their experience. Thirty out of 100 of these women still had PTSD symptoms after nine months. In fact, nearly one in every three rape survivors develops PTSD at some point in their lives.

Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse can happen to anyone, male or female; however, women are much more like to be the victims of domestic abuse. Abusive acts in this category include but aren’t limited to the following:

  • Stalking
  • Threatening behavior
  • Physical violence
  • Sexual violence
  • Emotional or psychological abuse

Domestic abuse is a notoriously difficult cycle to escape. The abuser is often caring and kind when they want to be; however, they can turn abusive or violent within seconds. Victims feel constantly stressed and frightened about saying the wrong thing or upsetting the abuser in any way.

If your partner or loved one suffered from an addiction, they were probably often kind and apologetic to you after an outburst. They may have drank when they get home from work some nights and spent hours both physically and verbally abusing you. The next day, they were kind and back to “themselves,” seeming not to even remember the things they did the night before. You might have spent years holding onto these good days when they are sober and kind, hoping that eventually that would be their permanent state; however, it never changed.

By the time you escaped the relationship you were damaged not only from the abuse, but from your lack of action for the duration of the relationship. Coping with PTSD in cases like this often involves addressing both the emotional and physical trauma experienced.

Remember, you’re not at fault. The abuser is. Domestic abuse is wrong, and we can help you pick up the pieces and move forward confidently.

Abusive Childhood

As a child, you look to your parents, and to adults in general, as a source of warmth, love, and nourishment. When you have been taken advantage of by a responsible adult who should have cared for you, it is often a source of trauma.

An abusive childhood can leave life-long scars when it’s not dealt with appropriately. If you were sexually, emotionally or physically abused by a trusted adult, your physical pain might have subsided, but you still carry the psychological and emotional scars. If you were abused as a child, you may find it difficult today in maintaining healthy relationships with others, as well as yourself.

When thinking about telling someone about the abuse you were suffering, you may have been shamed, disbelieved or threatened into silence. This only compounds your trauma and can lead in time to PTSD.

People who experience childhood abuse often experience flashbacks. Perhaps you’re dealing with triggers that take you right back to the abuse you suffered. These could be anything from words people say to smells, tastes, touch or even the time of year. You may experience irritability, anxiety and agitation, or find that you are shutting yourself off from the world. If this sounds like you, take the first step and seek help today.

Traumatic Death of a Loved One

A sudden bereavement of someone you love can often leave you feeling traumatized. There are common factors that frequently influence your reaction. These are:

  • Whether you were present and conscious for the death of your loved one.
  • Whether you were also hurt or at threat of being injured at the time of their death.

You can also develop PTSD through being present at the death of a stranger, such as witnessing a fatal car crash or natural disaster.

When you’re with a loved one who dies suddenly, you may find that you cannot cope in the long-term. Emotions you may feel include:

  • Mental avoidance of the incident
  • Guilt
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Anxiety
  • Inability to sleep
  • Sorrow
  • Helplessness
  • Numbness
  • Restlessness
  • Tension

These reactions are perfectly natural in the first stages of grief, but if they continue and become debilitating, there is something not quite right. You need to seek treatment as soon as you realize you are not coping with the death of your loved one.

There is no exact timeline for your recovery when you are suffering from PTSD as every individual is different, and there are many causes of post-traumatic stress disorder in women. What is certain, however, is that you can get well again and go on to lead a fulfilling life.

The first step to treating PTSD is diagnosis, and this disorder is often misdiagnosed in women. Understanding the common PTSD symptoms in women, and how they differ from symptoms in men, is critical to an accurate diagnosis.

PTSD Symptoms in Women

There are gender differences in PTSD. Symptoms of the disorder in women are often different to those in men. Additionally, there are a few theories as to why females are twice as likely to get PTSD than men. These are:

  • Women are more at risk of sexual assault.
  • Sexual assault causes PTSD more frequently than other life events.
  • Women may tend to blame themselves more for traumatic experiences than men
  • Women may be more afraid to seek help coping with trauma, compounding the effects

Depending on various factors, PTSD presents through many behavioral, cognitive, physical and psychosocial symptoms. Some of the most common are:

Behavioral Symptoms of PTSD in Women

  • Angry outbursts
  • Engaging in substance abuse
  • Withdrawing from loved ones
  • Withdrawing from once enjoyable activities
  • Avoiding certain people, events and situations
  • Self-destructive or reckless behaviors
  • Acts of violence, fighting or destruction of property

Cognitive Symptoms of PTSD in Women

  • Depersonalization
  • Derealization
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Disturbing and vivid nightmares
  • Recurrent distressing memories

Physical Symptoms of PTSD in Women

  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Hyperarousal or the opposite
  • Sleep disturbances

Psychosocial of PTSD in Women

  • Hypervigilance
  • Persistent negative mood

Co-occurring disorders like depression, substance use disorders, bipolar disorders, major neurocognitive disorders, anxiety disorders, food addiction, or other mental health issues may also be present. Individuals experiencing any of these in addition to PTSD will benefit from dual diagnosis therapy that addresses PTSD along with any other co-occurring disorders.

How PTSD Affects Women Differently Than Men

As mentioned previously, females are at an increased risk for developing PTSD, as women are twice as likely to suffer from the condition than men. Trauma is very commonly experiences by women, with five out of ten experiencing this at least once in their lives. While both males and females have some similar symptoms of PTSD — numbing, hyperarousal, avoidance and re-experiencing — some other symptoms are more commonly found in women.

CNN reports that approximately one in three women is sexually assaulted once in her lifetime, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report. Therefore, the most common trauma for females is child sexual abuse or sexual assault. Rates of these types of abuse are higher for women than men. Also, women have an increased likelihood of being abused or neglected as a child, to have a loved one die suddenly in their presence, or to be a survivor of domestic violence.

When women have PTSD, they are more likely to feel emotionally numb, to be wary of anything that reminds them of the trauma, and to be jumpier and more easily startled than males. Men more commonly feel anger and have more issues controlling this and outbursts of temper than women.

Post-traumatic stress disorder causes men to tend to have more problems with drugs or alcohol, whereas women are more likely to feel anxious and depressed. One aspect both sexes share in common is that they may develop physical health problems due to the disorder.

In general, society expects women to behave in certain ways — as mothers, as wives, as daughters and as caregivers. Women are not supposed to be angry or self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why women tend to try to cope with their PTSD differently than men, or maybe the differences are biological.

Risk factors of developing PTSD for women, in addition to the traumatic event or sequence of events, include:

  • Insufficient social support
  • Being young at the time of the experienced trauma
  • Experiencing interpersonal violence
  • Suffering from other mental health issues
  • Having underdeveloped coping skills

Getting Treatment for PTSD

When the time comes to seek post-traumatic stress disorder treatment, it is okay to feel worried and anxious. You have no doubt been avoiding confronting your trauma for quite some time, and the thought of working through it is frightening.

However, when you face your deep-rooted fears, you are taking back control of your life. The traumatic event no longer defines who you are. Getting PTSD treatment is empowering and helps you learn so much about yourself and about the adverse situations you have survived.

There are some very effective treatments for PTSD. These include:

  • Therapist outpatient programs. Outpatient programs may be a good option for less severe cases of PTSD, or for those who are unable to take the time to enroll in a full-time inpatient PTSD recovery program.
  • Therapy groups. Therapy groups, such as ones for domestic abuse survivors, are useful for talking through and making sense of your experiences with others who have been through something similar. It can be comforting to realize that you are not alone in your traumatic experiences.
  • Inpatient therapy. Inpatient therapy such as the PTSD treatment offered at Brookhaven Retreat may be the best solution for severe cases or for those who want to fully commit a period of time to their recovery and healing. You can immerse yourself in healing and benefit from 24/7 support from well-qualified and highly trained staff who are experienced in diagnosing PTSD in women.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Treatment at Brookhaven Retreat

Here, at Brookhaven Retreat, we know that before you arrive here at our 48 secluded and serene acres in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, you’ve been through a lot. We offer you our support and expertise in a healing, pleasant, and nurturing environment. As a women-only retreat, we offer you a safe haven from the storms of life. Our team treats every woman as an individual and tailors a completely personalized, customized and comprehensive treatment plan that suits the person you are and what you have been struggling with.

Brookhaven Retreat is a wonderfully peaceful setting for healing. And, we’ve helped countless women to lead full and happy lives through The Lily Program®, which runs for 90 days.

Take our Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder test here and take your first step toward lifelong healing.

Last modified on Thursday, 31 August 2017 16:16

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