The recent terrorist attacks in Paris can aggravate the PTSD of people who do not even live in France. For those who live with PTSD, the Paris attacks send out ripples of traumatic triggers which can catalyze a fresh onset of PTSD driven behaviors. Not everyone with PTSD will react in the same way. But PTSD will usually try to push us into one extreme or another.
Ranges of Reaction
- Feelings of Dullness, Indifference
- Over-Sensitized Reactions
PTSD attempts to overwrite our identity so that it will just be a range of PTSD behaviors and attitudes (and not who we really are as persons). In its ongoing efforts to isolate us from healthy relationships, PTSD leads to extreme behaviors. In the case of a reaction to the terrorist attack, those extremes can render us to be over-sensitized to the attacks or, paradoxically, indifferent to the horror.
A feeling of alarm can result for those who are self-aware enough about their PTSD to recognize that they are feeling numb or indifferent in the face of the events in Paris. Generally, a person feels they should be concerned when over 100 people are murdered by terrorists. But the PTSD can cause a disassociation such that we don’t feel the concern. For those who are self-aware, they might feel more concern over the fact that they feel they should be more concerned about the attacks than they are.
If a person feels numb and absolutely unaffected by the terrorist attacks, that can also create a strain on relationships. We can appear to be cold-hearted to others when this happens.
On the other extreme, PTSD-driven responses to the attacks can cause us to be over-sensitized and overreact. We can become obsessed with the news, videos, or survivor interviews.
We can become hypervigilant and actually harm ourselves by trying to stay awake (on a self-imposed guard duty (like happened to me last night)) for an unhealthy period of time. Our PTSD driven behavior may influence us to try to “stand guard” and constantly check the doors and windows to make sure they are locked. Those who have handguns may constantly patrol their house with the safety off while they are sleep deprived because they have been rendered hypervigilant.
If they are over-sensitized they may be unable to function well on topics or activities which are not related to the Paris attacks. This means that healthy relationships are left dangling.
Please Note: I am not advocating one create an absolute information embargo and not know what is happening. But, seeking out and pondering the information should not push out all other activities and relationships.
The horror of the trauma in Paris can also aggravate other PTSD symptoms. The overwhelming sense of helplessness and not being able to control the situation or make it better can harm us. Headaches, body pain, tremors, deep anxieties, and numbness, can be activated by high-profile terrorist attacks.
One can be shriven with feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, anxiety, and a diminished sense of trust.
What To Do?
While there is nothing we can do that will undo the Paris attacks, there are things we can do to make sure that our PTSD does not utilize this tragedy to further diminish us.
What follows is a list, in no particular order, of things that we can do to protect us and possibly even help us heal to some extent.
- Talk to Somebody. It doesn’t really matter what you talk about. The conversation can be about something as heavy and important as the Paris attacks and how they affect you, or you might talk about a television show or a song or a sporting event that you both have some awareness of. The importance here is not so much the topic of the conversation as the life building role that this conversation can have. Conversation helps to establish that we are not fully isolated, not fully alone at the whims of our PTSD.
- Do Some Writing. Your writing can be public (as a blog post or a comment in an online conversation), or it can be private in your own personal journal. Writing can often fill the roles of prayer and creativity, actions which can stimulate healing.
- Be Creative. This can be one of the hardest things to try do when you are under siege from PTSD.
PTSD does not want us to be creative; it knows that creativity is a life-giving activity and wants to eradicate it.
Drawing, or painting, or doodling, can help us heal. This also applies to any form of music. For instance, I may force myself to take out the guitar in order to tune it and that usually leads to some improvisation or trying to play a piece of music. PTSD hates this. It does not want me to be expressive in any creative way. I may play something that’s dark or I may play something that is light.
The subject matter of your creativity is not important. What is important? The importance is that we engage in creativity because it brings us Life and hinders PTSD’s goal of isolation.
What Do Fools Believe?
A fool believes that there is no such thing as PTSD. Chances are we all know or have encountered this form of selfish idiot. But even amongst those who accept the possibility of PTSD there can be an awful gulf of ignorance (and in some cases avoidance or denial) about what can trigger PTSD.
Our PTSD can be triggered by events not directly related to our initial trauma.
If a person breaks a bone playing football, that bone will always be more susceptible to outside traumas – and not just susceptible to other games of football.
If our soul has been wounded by a particular trauma, we are susceptible to further wounding, even by unrelated traumas. Our body and our soul remember the taste of trauma. Other, unrelated, types of trauma, now that we are busy surviving our PTSD, can also wound us.
What Do Smart People Believe?
Smart people make a point of trying to learn more about PTSD. Smart people make a point of trying to understand the PTSD of their friends and loved ones.
Smart people know that PTSD can be triggered by a new trauma that is unaffiliated with the initial trauma that gave someone PTSD.
Don’t Be Surprised
Be aware that it is not unusual to be experiencing more of your PTSD symptoms because of what happened in Paris. Since having PTSD means that we should be doing constant assessment of our sensitivities, we ought not to be too surprised if we find that our PTSD triggers have been aroused. We ought not to be surprised if we find that we are either hypervigilant and anxious or more disassociated and numb than usual.
We still need to take care of ourselves and not give up.
Having knowledge about how PTSD affects us enables us to not be destroyed by our PTSD.
The last couple of days my PTSD symptoms, and my PTSD triggers, have been more sensitive (Why I am I not surprised). My negative PTSD coping mechanisms have tried to seduce me into harming myself in various ways. While that is unpleasant, I know why it is happening. And that knowledge enables me to better fend off those harmful seductions which means I can continue to survive and heal.
If you find yourself tempted to engage in behaviors that will harm your most important relationships, or you are tempted to isolate yourself from others who care about you, or if you are tempted to engage in any form of self-harm, then know that your PTSD is attacking you. Again, in my own case, even though I am quite some distance from Paris, I know that my PTSD has been activated by the killings there.
I meant to write this essay yesterday but was not in a good place in terms of my PTSD. I understood what was happening, but that does not stop the pain. But I knew that what I was going through yesterday was not my “new normal” that would define the rest of my life. Yesterday and today I have made a point to do some of the very things that I recommended above. And, I am better off for it.
Remember, you have value, your life is an important contribution.
Semper Pax, Dr. Z