Post Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs when a person has been subjected to a traumatic situation. After the event, the person finds themselves suffering mental distress from the trauma to the extent that it is disruptive to their life. Common symptoms of PTSD are flashbacks, nightmares and heightened anxiety.
Perhaps a professional or support person has suggested to you that you are experiencing PTSD. You may have found this helpful or unhelpful depending on how you understand that concept. First of all, it might be helpful to rename it for yourself and call it Post Traumatic Stress Response instead of Disorder. After all, the reactions that people have to trauma are normal human responses. It is normal, after a traumatic event, to be more vigilant, or to experience nightmares or flashbacks. This is the brains way of trying to deal with the distressing sensations taken in during the traumatic event. It is also the brains way of trying to keep you safe from further harm. It is your brain saying to you “be careful”, “be on guard”, “be alert”.
A common way that people can experience PTSD is to be in a harrowing car accident. This is a single traumatic event. But for women who have lived with an abusive partner, they have not suffered one single traumatic event, but many frightening events, sometimes over a long period of time. While someone who has suffered a car accident, after being rescued, is no longer in jeopardy, women, dealing with an abusive partner, are still in danger. Even after separation women continue to be at great risk for injury. In fact, the most dangerous time for women is the weeks and months after separation.
For these reasons, the use of PTSD in reference to women who have experienced abuse needs to be done in a way that understands the complexity of the experience for women.
Maybe you are suffering from post traumatic stress response and maybe you are not. If you think that you are, it might be helpful to think of it not as a label that describes you but rather as a description that helps to name what has happened to you. You have experienced a great deal of abuse. This abuse has left you feeling overwhelmed, afraid, confused and exhausted. These are normal responses to what you partner has done to you. Post traumatic stress response is just another form of impact from the abuse. It should not be a label that leaves you feeling like you are “crazy” or that there is something wrong with you. Rather, it should help you to understand why you are feeling the way you are feeling.
You will want to be careful how others define you. If helping professionals use PTSD as a way to describe what has happened to you and they see your responses to abuse as normal human responses, you will likely feel comfortable with that. If, however, helping professionals use PTSD to define you, you will not likely feel comfortable with that.