Why do only some people develop PTSD?

 Are people who have PTSD just “weaker” than others? Can a person just “toughen up” in order to manage symptoms following the experience of a traumatic event?

According to The National Center for PTSD, whether a person will develop PTSD depends on a variety factors: the intensity and duration of the traumatic event, whether there was an actual injury or death that resulted, one’s proximity to the event, the person’s sense of control during the event, the intensity of a person’s emotional reaction at the time or shortly after, and the quality of support a person receives following the event. However, despite the abundance of research indicating the role such factors may play, there really is no clear, definite answer as to who will or will not develop PTSD.

Unfortunately, many people still view PTSD as a sign of weakness, and getting help for it as a sign of cowardice. There has been a stigma related to issues involving mental illness and mental health treatment, which often then involves a tremendous social pressure to not seek treatment, and instead try to learn to deal with symptoms alone. This stigma stands on a very shaky foundation of misinformation, ignorance about mental health issues, and the idea that the development and experience of distress following significant trauma somehow makes an individual “weak” or “not tough enough.” This notion is not only offensive, but it is also completely unfounded. One thing that is certain is this: Whether or not you develop PTSD has absolutely nothing to do with bravery or insufficient emotional strength.

Having witnessed again and again the extraordinary courage and strength within each individual who has sought treatment for PTSD, the inaccuracy, and frankly the absurdity, of this stigma is quite clear to me. When reflecting upon interactions I have had with people throughout life, both professionally and personally and in a variety of contexts, there is no doubt that the most courageous individuals I have ever encountered were those who sought treatment for PTSD. They came to treatment ready to remedy their symptoms, some willing yet slightly hesitant and others ready to tackle them head-on, and they emerged on the other side having regained control of their lives, actively living and enjoying life once again. That is courage.

It takes bravery and fortitude to share the experience of a traumatic event and the painful, often intense emotions associated with the experience with another human being. The sense of vulnerability experienced when these individuals share the trauma “story,” no matter how difficult, resonates deeply with me. Being the person who is trusted to hold these experiences with respect and empathy is truly an honor. Trauma experts are trained to be able to contain their own emotional reactions in order to provide the space necessary for the patient to begin the process of healing. Bearing witness to these very private events, helping people make peace with their pasts and begin to engage in life once again, is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work as a psychologist, and is incredibly moving besides.

Continue Reading: How does Union Square Practice Treat PTSD?