Study of passengers from Air Transat near-disaster aids understanding of PTSD (click on this heading to read about the study)
It is exceptionally interesting that this study found that those who survived a traumatic event and suffered PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) processed their memories of the trauma differently than those who survived the same event and didn't suffer from post traumatic stress.
Surprisingly, it is the people with more detached recall, not the ones with the most emotional and detailed recall, who are more likely to suffer from post traumatic stress symptoms.
This seems counter-intuitive but perhaps gives us an important insight into PTSD--an insight that could become a tool to help those who constantly face trauma--like soldiers going into battle and emergency responders. They could possibly be taught in advance of anticipated traumatic events how to process the experience to best avoid suffering PTSD in the future.
Immersing oneself in the trauma as it is being experienced and putting words, thoughts and emotions to events as they transpire and consequently remembering those very personal responses to the trauma seems to be a key to successfully getting through and past traumatic events.
Feeling distant to the event and remembering it as if from a time and space outside the trauma may be an unhealthy way to deal with it.
In my novel FIREWALLS, Katrina suffers PTSD from the violence she experienced as a young teen in The Traz biker gang. As a child, she totally disassociated herself from the terror to the point where she refused to even think about it, choosing to believe instead that it hadn't happened. When it came time for her to help police investigators, she refused to put words to what she witnessed, saying that to do so would make the events real.
Skillful interrogation eventually broke through that barrier but she suffers for years from PTSD, never owning the event but rather focusing on the negative feelings she holds toward her tormentors and seeking revenge.
Not until she accepts the fact that she has a problem, does she begin to heal and not until she revisits the physical place where the violence occurred does that healing take shape. By allowing herself to become immersed in the memories she'd held at bay for so long, she is finally able to accept that the event happened in her past, will never change, is no longer happening and will not happen again. This insight is largely brought about by her comparing memories of that traumatic night to her current state--everything from the weather and the sounds about her, to her size and the time of day.
By personalizing the memories that up until then had been little more to her than answers to investigators' and psychiatrists' questions and court room testimony, she first came to 'own' the event and then move past it.
That old adage that one ought to "live in the moment" might well be great advice for those horrible moments as well as for the wonderful ones.
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