One of the most frustrating aspects of living with trauma and PTSD is isolation.
It can be virtually impossible to explain how you feel or why you feel the way you do to other people. This is often a source of shame and embarrassment. People with PTSD often find themselves isolating. They may also give partial explanations to friends and loved ones because they know that the reality that they live will sound senseless to those who haven’t experienced it. Friends and family cannot understand how trauma alters the physical function of the brain because they have not experienced it.
People make judgments based on their experience.
We see a behavior that seems “odd,” and instead of wondering why or seeking out the story behind the behavior, we make assessments and draw conclusions. Trauma and PTSD are the why beneath many behaviors that are easy to judge: obsessive-compulsive disorders, self-abuse, anxiety and depression, addictions, self-harm and self-hatred, eating disorders, and many other negative coping mechanisms.
PTSD and social anxiety disorder (SAD) often occur together.
A diagnosis of SAD requires frequent and unending fear of social situations or situations where you are expected to perform in some way. (My symptoms peaked after a brain surgery and neurological episode that also affected my brain function.) You may also feel fearful about appearing anxious or acting in a way that will cause embarrassment or humiliation. You avoid situations that cause fear.
This was my experience, and friends interpreted my behavior as rejection. I was chastised, spiritually scolded, judged, and ultimately I decided that my friends were unable to offer the support I needed.
In retrospect, I can see that my behavior looked like rejection. But fear, not rejection drove my behavior, and at that time I could not find effective therapy to help with my symptoms.
People with PTSD feel isolated because others can’t understand what they have never experienced.
I incurred my greatest traumas caring for others. I would never change that. However, I was unprepared for the trauma symptoms that eventually followed. Eventually, I found compassionate friends who understood. They came alongside me without judgment and listened. They asked what support looked like. They learned about PTSD and trauma. They let me cry and grieve. They did not give easy answers but still spoke the truth.
Eventually I found effective treatment through the Instinctual Trauma Response Method, a treatment approach that effectively rewires the disconnection that occurs between the right and left hemispheres of the brain during a traumatic event. The ITR Method gives the trauma story a beginning, middle, and an ending and recodes the event in a way that allows it to be filed in the brain as a completed memory–in the past. More information about this treatment is available at HelpforTrauma.com.
The cognitive distortions that accompany trauma and PTSD also contribute to isolation.
People who live with the symptoms of PTSD withdraw because their brain is controlled by fear caused by adrenaline and cortisol released during traumatic events. Their brains become “stuck” in a fear response. Unfortunately, friends and loved ones often believe that logic and rationality will provide a solution to fear, when in actuality, the brain needs to be recoded.
Cognitive distortions include filtering out the positive and magnifying the negative, black-and-white thinking, jumping to conclusions, overgeneralizing catastrophizing (disaster will strike at any time), blaming (other people are responsible for our problems), “shoulds” (rules about how others and we should act), emotional reasoning, and other reasoning fallacies. This makes it difficult for people with PTSD to make well-reasoned decisions and to trust people.
People with PTSD need medical assistance to first address the physical damage in the brain. PTSD is a physiological problem that causes mental health symptoms. Addressing the spiritual aspects of symptoms and behaviors should come after an individual receives effective trauma treatment that restores the ability to make reasoned choices, control emotions, and see one’s self from a healthy perspective. Just as a diabetic needs appropriate medical treatment for the pancreas, the individual with PTSD needs appropriate medical treatment for the brain. Both should come accompanied by prayer and reliance upon God, our Ultimate Healer.
If you know someone who lives with PTSD and trauma, they also struggle with feelings of isolation. They need compassionate friends who are willing to listen and learn about trauma and PTSD. More than anything, they need the relentless love of Jesus, who never leaves us or forsakes us.