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Rape Trauma Syndrome and PTSD

People who experience a traumatic event often feel sad, anxious, scared, or disconnected. Therapy related to trauma may be helpful if painful memories of the event will not fade, or if a person continues to have a sense of danger after the actual trauma is over.

Examples of traumatic events include natural disasters, war, plane or vehicle crashes, the sudden death of a loved one, terrorist attacks, kidnapping, rape, sexual or physical abuse, assault, childhood neglect, or other events that leave a person feeling hopeless or helpless.

When a person's reactions to trauma are at risk of being Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a number of factors are involved such as re-experiencing the traumatic event, increased anxiety, avoiding reminders of the trauma, emotional arousal, or experiencing numbing. Additional symptoms may include:

  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Shame
  • Irritability
  • Self-blame
  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Substance abuse
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Feeling alienated and alone
  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings
  • Feelings of mistrust and betrayal

The goal of therapy for trauma or PTSD treatment is to help people to relieve symptoms and deal with the trauma they have experienced. Instead of avoiding the trauma, in therapy a person has a safe place to explore their feelings and thoughts concerning the trauma. They have the opportunity to work through any feelings of guilt, self-blame, or mistrust. People learn how to cope with and control intrusive memories.

In therapy, people address any issues the trauma has caused in their life and relationships. They no longer need to attempt to contain their emotions, or lash out at others. They can take back a sense of control and no longer permit the trauma to take power over their lives. Getting their lives and themselves back can be highly freeing and is the main goal of therapy related to trauma and PTSD.

The Four Stages of Rape Trauma Syndrome

The news recently presented a story concerning three women who had been held captive by a man for nearly a decade. The man kidnapped and raped them repeatedly, traumatized them, and abused them. While this man's bail has been set at $8 million dollars, the fact remains that the women who were held captive are left to deal with the effects of their ordeals. One of the things they might have to face is, 'Rape-trauma-syndrome,' while another is PTSD. There are four stages of rape-trauma-syndrome:

Anticipatory Stage: This stage is when a survivor begins experiencing feelings of discontent or unease and starts realizing something is not right.

Impact: At this stage a survivor does things that do not make sense to themselves or others.

Reconstruction: This stage may last for years at a time and may involve a range of emotions and responses, yet anger is most common. It may be a spring board for action such as the pursuit of justice or counseling, but may also be turned inward.

Resolution: In this stage, a survivor assimilates the act of violence into their overall life experience and it no longer hinders them from their ability to live their life. Getting to this stage may be greatly hindered or assisted by the type of support a person receives during their healing process.

The Development of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. For example; the women held captive by the man described above, upon becoming pregnant after being raped by him, were starved for two weeks and then beaten. A person who develops PTSD may also have been the witness of a harmful event that happened to others. PTSD was brought to public attention in relation to war veterans, although it may result from a number of traumatic events such as:

  • Rape
  • Torture
  • Mugging
  • Bombings
  • Child abuse
  • Train wrecks
  • Car accidents
  • Plane crashes
  • Being kidnapped or held captive
  • Natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes

The Symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

People with PTSD might startle easily and become emotionally numb, particularly in relation to others with whom they used to be close. They may lose interest in things they used to enjoy and have difficulty with feeling affectionate, or become irritable. People with PTSD might avoid situations that remind them of the original incident and anniversaries of the incident are many times very difficult. PTSD symptoms appear to be worse if the event that triggered them was deliberately initiated by another person, such as in a kidnapping or a mugging.

The majority of people with PTSD repeatedly relive the trauma in their thoughts during the day and in nightmares when they are asleep, something referred to as, 'flashbacks.' Flashbacks might consist of sounds, images, feelings, or smells and are often triggered by ordinary occurrences such as a car backfiring or a door slamming. A person having a flashback might lose touch with reality and believe the traumatic event is occurring all over again.

Fortunately, not every person who has endured trauma experiences major or even minor symptoms of PTSD. Such is the hope for the daughter of one of the women who was held captive by the man described; she is only six years old and was also held captive in the house. The symptoms of PTSD commonly start within three months of the incident, although they may also emerge years afterward. The symptoms must last more than a month to be considered PTSD and the course of the illness varies among individuals. Some people recover within six months, while others experience symptoms that last longer. Still others experience symptoms of PTSD that are considered to be chronic.

PTSD affects approximately 7.7 million adults in the United States of America, although it can affect people of any age to include children. Women are more likely to develop PTSD than men and there is some evidence that susceptibility to PTSD might run in families. PTSD is many times accompanied by substance abuse, depression, or one or more forms of anxiety disorders. Certain types of medications and kinds of therapies usually treat the symptoms of PTSD very effectively.



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