To have one’s inner sense of security shattered, particularly at a young age, disrupts people’s perception of a safe world. “A lack of predictability and controllability are the central issues for the development and maintenance of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)[1]. The intrusiveness of the memories of past trauma appears to orient people toward doing their best to numb their feelings, to get away from those awful remembrances. I experienced this as I became more in touch with memoires of my own childhood abuse. I paid attention to and learned that I was shutting down my feelings, overeating to self-medicate or numb out, and dissociating to escape my traumatic feelings.

Three of the primary characteristics of people diagnosed with PTSD are:

Intrusive Re-Experiencing: This can occur through flashbacks and nightmares.
Autonomic Hyperarousal: Many times, people with PTSD continue to react to certain stimuli as if they are about to be annihilated.
Numbing of Responsiveness: To reduce being stimulated with these frightful sensations, some reduce their social interactions and isolate.

In therapy, two fundamental aspects of PTSD need to be addressed: “the deconditioning of anxiety, and the pervasive effects that trauma has on the way victims view themselves and the world.”[2]

Working with survivors diagnosed with PTSD is important work. Critical to successful treatment is a strong and healthy relationship between the therapist and the survivor. The damage was done within the context of a significant person in the survivor’s life. To be able to trust the therapist while working on traumatic material is very important for the healing process.

Within this framework of trust, the survivor can, over time, experience different aspects of his/her trauma, begin to feel the emotions associated with their trauma, and learn to express them in a healthy way. During this process, the goals are to stabilize, to recognize the physiological reactions to their stress, and to put into context how their past trauma has interfered with their present-day life and relationships.


[1] “Approaches to the Treatment of PTSD,” Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD, Onno van der Hart, PhD, Jennifer Burbridge, MA, Trauma Information Pages, Articles: van der Kolk et al (1995)

[2]  Ibid