PTSD develops when a person has experienced trauma to such an extent that the brain is unable to process and integrate experience into its verbal memory center.
Verbal memory is how you integrate a new experience into the whole of your life learning map. “To remember” is to tell a story of the significance of a life event. What happened, what should have happened and what you have learned from this experience? Sometimes the event is so painful that your verbal memory process shuts down.
This is a defensive posture of the brain that protects you from experiences that are truly overwhelming. You simply do not have the means to process the experience in a healthy way; which means in a healthy adaptive and integrated manner.
The trauma may be “acute” — intense, sudden, and momentary. Examples include a soldier in a firefight, or a child lost in a strange and frightening place.
The trauma may be “chronic” — low level, but lasting over a long period of time. Examples include marriage to a verbally abusive spouse or even employment in an emotionally unhealthy workplace.
The brain shuts down its normal memory process. Instead of using words to relate and integrate the experience with other experiences in one’s life, the body relives the unspoken memory as surging waves of fear and/or re-activity.
Signs of PTSD include:
- Re-experiencing symptoms such as flashbacks or bad dreams
- Hyperarousal experiences such a feeling tense, edgy, anger, or difficulty sleeping
- Avoidance behavior such as staying away from certain places or people