A study performed in 2015 at the Department of Veterans Affairs uncovered a strong clue as to why some people develop PTSD and some don’t.
The study was so long ago, I’m left wondering why it didn’t get more attention in the news.
The findings are relevant to us all. While PTSD is associated with combat veterans, not every combat vet develops PTSD, and plenty of non-veterans carry the PTSD diagnosis.
You don’t have to be a combat veteran to experience PTSD.
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) can follow any traumatic experience.
A serious accident or injury, natural disasters, a life threatening illness, abuse, or sexual assault can all lead to PTSD.
The event can happen in childhood or adulthood. Adults can continue to suffer PTSD symptoms from a childhood traumatic event.
You don’t have to experience the trauma directly either. PTSD can happen after witnessing a traumatic event happen to another person.
PTSD requires a medical diagnosis, but let me give you an overview.
Symptoms of PTSD are broken down into 4 distinct subgroups.
- Intrusion — These are unwanted distressing memories, flashbacks, and/or nightmares. Aptly named, they intrude on your wellbeing. Intrusive symptoms can also appear as intense emotional or physiological reactions to reminders of the traumatic event.
- Avoidance — Avoidance includes behaviors to avoid memories or external reminders of the event. Avoidance may present as refusing return to the location of the trauma or taking drugs or alcohol to suppress feelings.
- Negative Alterations of Mood or Cognition — This can appear as lapses of memory or blackouts regarding the traumatic event, an inability to experience positive emotions, or a persistent negative state. People with PTSD can feel detached, misunderstood, or like a burden. They can have negative expectations from life.
- Alteration of Arousal and Reactivity — People with PTSD may be easily angered and irritable, or reckless and self destructive. They may be hyper-alert, or easily startled. There are often difficulty concentrating and sleep disturbances.
A lingering question has been, “Why do some people develop PTSD and others don’t?”
Trauma is nearly universal. To one degree or another we all experience trauma in our lives.
Some face horrific events, but even relatively minor traumatic events can leave a lingering footprint.
Theories abound why some develop PTSD and others don’t.
Is it brain chemistry? willpower? genetics? a specific type of event? moral fiber?
So why do some people develop PTSD and others don’t?
Not knowing wasn’t good enough for one researcher.
Dr. Regina Hiraoka, a researcher at the Department of Veterans Affairs, wanted to know why some people develop PTSD and others don’t, so she created a study.
She assessed the veterans using the PTSD Scale for DSM-IV (CAPS). It’s a clinician administered structured interview for assessing the possibility of PTSD.
Then the veterans self assessed themselves with the Self Compassion Scale (SCS), and they self rated their level of combat exposure.
The findings were simple yet profound.
The researchers discovered a strong link between having low self compassionand developing PTSD. People with the lowest levels of self compassion had the highest severity of PTSD.
Even 12 months later, when study participants returned for follow up, self compassion levels predicted PTSD severity. The people with the highest self compassion had healed or had a marked reduction in symptoms while the people with the lowest self compassion had the most severe remaining symptoms.
Could we ask for anything better?
This is great news, and we can all benefit from the findings of this study.
Increasing self compassion is a drug-free, pain-free, no (or little) cost, side-effect free answer to help people recover from trauma.
Again, we’ve all experienced trauma in our lives. Even the small traumas of our past can take hold of us and dictate how we see and interact with the world..
Increasing self compassion is a healing tool that can better everyone’s life.
“Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.” — Albert Einstein
Increasing your self compassion.
Comfort yourself without judgment: Embrace and talk to yourself the way you would talk to a small child. You don’t have to remind yourself how awful things were or cast blame on yourself or anyone else. Just use reassuring words like this:
“I’m sorry you experienced that. I get that it was hard. You’re safe now. You’re ok now. Each day is going to get easier, and everything is going to be ok.”
Take care of yourself like your life depends on it: Eat good food, and exercise your body. Make sleep a priority. You’re doing these things for yourself because you care about yourself and nurturing your healing is the most important thing in your life right now.
I’ll say it again,
Nurturing your healing it the most important thing in your life right now.
That’s not selfish. You’re important to other people, and your role in the world can’t be played by anyone else. Nurture your healing now, so you can fill those purposes.
Deeply and completely accept yourself: There’s an affirmation I use with clients when I’m using Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) with them. It goes like this:
“Even though I feel this ________ I deeply and completely accept myself.”
Fill in the blank with whatever painful emotion you’re feeling.
Fiercely love yourself: Love yourself unconditionally. That’s not an excuse to be reckless or a jerk to other people. It’s permission to love yourself the way your creator loves you.
Express your love for yourself by being kind, being gentle, being understanding, and being empathetic to all the different parts inside you.
Some parts of you feel scared, some feel angry, or maybe some feel guilty. Love and be kind to all those parts.
Take Compassion Breaks: Take mini breaks throughout the day to focus on a sense of compassion. Even if it’s just for a minute or two, stop what you’re doing, take a deep breath and focus and feel the word “compassion” and what it means.
Notice what compassion feels like in your body. What does it do to your heart rate? Your breathing? Your digestion? The tension in your muscles?
Set a reminder on your phone to ping you regularly throughout the day. I set mine to just show me the word “compassion” every couple hours.
Healing your trauma breaks your chains.
Unresolved small and big traumas hold us back.
Carrying that trauma is like trying to run with a parachute on your back. It’s exhausting, and it doesn’t help you get what you want out of life.
Commit to healing your trauma both for yourself and for the world.
As we heal from our traumas big and small, we consciously or unconsciously radiate that healing vibration outward. The entire world benefits.
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