Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition of the nervous system. This condition has to do with the sensitivity of the nervous system. Its sensitivity is either heightened or numbed-out. When sensitivity is heightened we are easily startled, quick to panic, quick to rage, and irritable. When sensitivity is numbed-out, we seldom experience panic or rage. Also, we seldom experience joy from the activities that used to bring us enjoyment. In both cases, a major loss is the ability to trust people, events, and situations. Also in both cases, we have a strong urge to withdraw from social and leisure activities.
Once something has triggered the nervous system of someone with heightened sensitivity, it takes a long time to calm down…hours, days, or even weeks and months. It depends on the severity of the condition. The heightened sensitivity of the nervous system causes harsh internal sensations in our organs and muscles. These are the sensations of panic and rage – pounding heart, fast breathing, intense gut sensations like stage fright or butterflies, tense muscles, and trembling. Together, these sensations create an overwhelming urge to fight or an overwhelming sense of vulnerability, which creates the urge to withdraw and avoid situations that trigger these sensations. Some of the many triggers of PTSD sensations can include certain situations, events, places, smells, people, objects, and sounds.
In addition to the harsh internal sensations (overwhelming emotion), is the automatic replaying memory of the traumatic event/s that we experienced. As the memory is replayed, the overwhelming internal sensations are triggered. Our attention is locked on the replaying. We cannot function normally in social, work, and family situations because our memory is highly impaired, so is our ability to plan, or be fully aware of activities going on around us. Our attention is horribly distracted, and we easily lose track of time. These are the hallmark symptoms of PTSD – (1) intrusive memories/thoughts, (2) overwhelming internal sensations accompanying the intrusive memories, and (3) avoidance – the intense urge to avoid situations that will trigger the first two symptoms.