PTSD and Women
When you imagine a classic sufferer of PTSD, do you think of a man or a woman?
You don’t need to be a male combat veteran to have experienced deep shocks to the core of your being, of the kind that create severe and lasting psychological distress in your life.
Post-traumatic stress disorder in women is gaining recognition as the field of trauma research matures. The more we learn about the subtleties and finer details of how traumatization can present in a person, the more women’s suffering is recognized.
Part of the delay in recognition of PTSD in women stems from the fact that women tend to manifest their symptoms in more subtle, internalized ways than men. For example, women are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression, whereas men may act out violently or use substances in ways that create more obvious problems.
Once we can recognize the telltale signs of lingering biological states of distress, we can see how much trauma has been a part of the lives of women all along.
Signs and Symptoms of PTSD in Women
Gender is not a determinant of PTSD. The symptoms of PTSD can present in any gender. However, it seems that some PTSD symptoms are especially likely to be present in women who have the disorder.
Are you easily startled by sudden sounds or movements in the environment? Women with PTSD are more likely to present with this trauma symptom than men and may be more visibly frightened or rattled.
Do you find yourself in heightened states of awareness, on guard, watching your back, monitoring situations for safety? The state of hyperarousal, or hypervigilance, is often accompanied by anxiety, trouble sleeping, agitation, inability to concentrate, and panic attacks.
Re-experiencing trauma is a core component of the PTSD diagnosis. Re-experiencing means feeling the feelings all over again, often provoked by distressing thoughts and bad memories invading the mind from out of nowhere. Re-experiencing may mean having nightmares, flashbacks, and intense fears or dread that an event is about to happen again or is happening again. Women are especially prone to re-experiencing.
When we start going out of our way to avoid contact with people, places, and topics that might remind us of our trauma because we are afraid of the feelings and flashbacks that could be triggered, we are in an avoidance behavior pattern.
Avoidance is one of the most widespread signs of PTSD in women. Depending on how much time and disruption to our lives is caused by our avoidance behavior, avoidance can represent a significant problem or merely a sign that we have wounds that need healing.
Depression is a sign of emotional distress that can be linked to some level of traumatization. Depression is typically connected to feelings of anger related to violations of boundaries of physical and psychological safety, and when anger is not released and resolved, depression is likely to result. Depression may be compounded in women because there is a greater social stigma around appearing to be angry and expressing anger.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is essentially an anxiety disorder in the extreme, as it revolves around the fear of having episodes of re-experiencing. Constantly worrying about when where and if we will suddenly be plunged back into psychological distress can create a lot of anxiety which is held in the physical body, mind, and emotions. Many women who are diagnosed with anxiety disorders are anxious because they are dealing with some form of traumatization.
Common Causes of PTSD in Women
PTSD is caused when an overwhelming, shocking event is perceived, and the event creates a nervous system response in the body and brain that becomes permanent instead of resolving back to normal.
To return to normal levels of arousal, the body would need to perceive itself as safe again, and the threat fully resolved. If the resolution back to safety does not happen fully, the hyperarousal energies become trapped in the body.
The residue in such cases is biochemical, in the form of elevated levels of certain neurotransmitters and hormones, specifically those associated with the state of stress.
The presence of these particular chemicals in the body explains why people continue to think fearful, angry, and helpless thoughts and feel stressed as a permanent feeling state, even when no longer enduring the original event.
The human nervous system gets activated whenever it is exposed to an event or situation that represents a threat to the human being’s survival. During childhood, our survival depends on being cared for by adults, so whenever there is a threat to a relationship bond with our caregivers, this is also interpreted by the nervous system as a life threat.
The trouble arises when the hyperaroused state is never concluded, and the body stays permanently shocked, and trapped in fear, anger, and helplessness rather than returning to normal after the event has concluded.
As you might imagine, to return to normal after a shocking event, we need a period of recovery and time away from more shocking events to repair in between. That is why repeated exposure to smaller shocking events over time can be just as damaging as one big event.
Any event that creates a big stress response that never gets fully repaired could be the origin of trauma. Examples of events that are commonly known to create big stress responses include:
- Sexual Abuse as a Child
- Sexual Assault at any age
- Physical Assault, such as being mugged
- Domestic Violence
- Witnessing violence to another person or in a collective event
- Car Accidents
- Involvement with the Military, especially combat
- Sudden and/or violent death of a loved one
- Loss of a parent through death or abandonment during childhood
How to Manage PTSD in Women
PTSD can be healed through comprehensive trauma therapy. Working over a longer period of time with a trauma modality like EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, or Parts Work represents the best path to healing the nervous system fully.
While recovering from core traumatization, it is important to also manage the symptoms of behavioral patterns of PTSD through many supportive modalities that will help reset thoughts, emotional patterns, and relationship behaviors.
If substance use is present, it is critically important to achieve sobriety first, or all trauma therapy work will be undermined.
Finding PTSD Treatment for Women
When looking for treatment for PTSD, look for a provider who specializes in trauma therapy, and someone who is working with a modality specifically designed for healing trauma at deep, and bio-neurological levels, such as Parts Work, Somatic Experiencing, or EMDR.
If you are using substances, prioritize getting clean and maintaining sobriety above all, seeking addiction treatment where necessary, as any work you attempt to accomplish while still using substances will not last. If possible, attend an addiction facility that offers trauma healing alongside addiction services, such as Villa Kali Ma.
Villa Kali Ma Can Assist Women With PTSD
Here at Villa Kali Ma, we have deep compassion and understanding for the intense suffering represented by a diagnosis of PTSD. We specialize in supporting women, and because women are especially likely to have experienced some form of traumatizing threats to their well-being, trauma healing is a daily part of our treatment work.
We offer EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, and Parts Work as a part of our core offerings for women. We also use other modalities that help women feel safe and strong again, including yoga, Ayurvedic diet, equine therapy, expressive arts therapy, outdoor therapy, spiritual perspectives (if resonant to you), and fun group activities with other recovering women, that help you discover core safety at all levels at last.