How To Know When PTSD Is Dangerous

A good diagnosis will get you the right help to manage your symptoms and know when PTSD is dangerous. Being diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) can be helpful information to frame treatment and gain understanding and learn tools to manage your symptoms. Unlike other forms of mental illness, the symptoms of PTSD are caused by external events or situations which are done to the person rather than from an internal source.  If you have PTSD and are not being treated, that is often when PTSD is dangerous.  Your ability to function will decline over time. Everyone you come in contact with will feel the effects of your behavior and symptoms. Those who love you, especially children, will develop PTSD as well. Children learn what they live and living with an untreated parent with PTSD can have a major impact on their lives. A parent who has not processed and healed from their own trauma will pass their trauma onto their children. This process is not a conscious one. Most parents want to best for their kids. A parent with untreated PTSD is doing the best they know how. They don’t know what they don’t know. Are you this parent? Consider getting professional help. Seek a trauma therapist who is skilled and qualified to help you heal from your past trauma. Attachment-Focused EMDR developed by Laurel Parnell is especially helpful to healing. You will learn tools to heal yourself and help your children be healthy and securely attached to you. Trauma treatment is the best gift you can give your children. Many people live their whole lives not knowing they have PTSD. If you’re unsure if you’re dealing with PTSD, here are a few statements I often hear from clients when they enter treatment. See if you identify with them.

“I feel alone and isolated and have trouble making lasting friendships”,

“I’m smart and successful but I have this feeling of emptiness or that I’m broken inside.”

“I have a great life, a good husband, great kids, great job, and I feel depressed and anxious most of the time.”

“I don’t remember my childhood”

“I daydream a lot to cope with my life”

“I push away my unpleasant feelings”

“I only have negative feelings about myself”

“I have to pretend I’m ok”

“I feel like I’m leading a double life”

“I hide from others when I feel bad”

Identifying with these statements does not diagnose you with PTSD. It is a starting point for you to seek help and diagnosis from a professional who is familiar with the DSM V criteria for Diagnosing PTSD

8 Criteria for Diagnosis of PTSD in the DSM V:

  1. A Stressor is present– recurrent distressing memories of traumatic events or situations.
  2. Intrusion Symptoms – such as flashbacks, nightmares, triggers, which feel like you are reliving the trauma all over again. These are dissociative states that make themselves known to you in the flashback, nightmare or trigger.
  3. Avoidance – wanting to withdraw, numb, or isolate to prevent intrusive symptoms.
  4. Negative Alterations in Cognition or Mood – having overwhelmingly negative self-talk or distorted thinking.
  5. Arousal and Reactivity – Hyperarousal occurs kicking off the fight or flight response. Your amygdala releases chemicals in your brain which set you up for survival mode. The conditioned reactions are meant to keep you alive when your life is in danger.
  6. Duration – symptoms occur for more than 1 month
  7. Clinically Significant Distress – problems with relationships, jobs, school and other areas of functioning.
  8. Not attributable to effects of substance/medical condition
It is important to distinguish the difference between the types of symptoms which are problematic but not dangerous. Knowing when PTSD is dangerous is vitally important to get help and prevent any injury to self, others, and property. Trying to reason with someone who is dangerous can be deadly at worst and harmful at least

When PTSD is dangerous, the response to one of the symptoms results in harm inflicted on the person themselves, to loved ones around them, or destruction of property.

3 symptoms to be aware of when PTSD is dangerous to include:

  1. Intrusive symptoms like nightmares, flashbacks, and triggers

    When some PTSD symptoms are activated, the person can believe the original trauma is happening again. It’s almost like reliving it. Even if they don’t have a memory of the trauma, the trauma can be reactivated. If the trauma is alive in your memories or your body (and you’re not consciously aware of it), when triggers come up, your painful feelings and reactions are activated. When PTSD is dangerous, behaviors that affect the people around you occur. These may include pushing, shoving, punching a hole in the wall or even other risky behaviors like road rage or extreme risk-taking. Sometimes, if these reactions occur during a nightmare, the person experiencing the PTSD symptom can act without thought or awareness and unknowingly hurt another person. When dangerous, intrusive symptoms occur, this is a sign to seek professional help or support. Whether you’re the person affected by the PTSD or you love someone with it, counseling can help both parties.
  2. Negative changes in thinking or mood.

    This is especially important to pay attention to when someone has overwhelmingly negative self-talk or distorted thinking which leads to homicidal or suicidal actions.  When someone’s thoughts are filled with voices like,”I’m bad”, “I’m unworthy”, “I should die”, “Everyone is better off without me”... this kind of thinking is a warning sign that PTSD symptoms are taking over rational thinking and replacing it with dangerous thoughts. It’s important to know that it’s normal to feel stress or upset when bad things happen. But, when negative feelings and self-talk turn towards suicidal or homicidal ideation that it’s time to seek professional help. This is true for the person with PTSD as well as their spouse/partner, children, and family members. The truth is that when PTSD is dangerous it affects whole families and everyone may need support to manage what’s going on.
  3. An overactive fight or flight response.

    Hyperarousal is often a survival mechanism for soldiers at war who have to be incredibly protective of their surroundings out of a fear of the enemy finding them or worse, killing them. When combat vets return home, for many their fight or flight response remains in overdrive, even when they are safe and secure with their loved ones. If this symptom is happening, it’s often a sign that PTSD is active and in need of support to help put things in perspective. When the fight or flight response becomes dangerous, multiple treatment options often need to be addressed including, medication, counseling, EMDR, and support for the family. By looking at a holistic treatment plan, hyperarousal can be managed and brought back under control. While hyperarousal is often attributed to soldiers, they are by no means the only ones who struggle with this issue. Victims of abuse (physical or sexual), neglected children, car accident or other accident victims, people who experienced natural disasters or war-like traumas like 9/11 also exhibit overactive fight or flight responses. The treatment model above is equally as helpful for those clients and has been proven to ease the pain of PTSD over time.
  Although some people with PTSD can be dangerous or experience dangerous symptoms, not everyone experiences PTSD the same way. What is important is to get treatment so that the severity of symptoms don’t increase or escalate. By working with a trained EMDR or trauma therapist, healing is not only possible but is actually life-saving for those who suffer. If you’re in the Seattle or Tacoma area and in need of an EMDR or trauma therapist, please reach out. I can help you understand what is going on and lead you to the best next steps towards healing. Please call (253) 271-4896 for a private conversation about what you can do today to start a recovery process that works for you. And if you’re outside of the Seattle area, please reach out to this website to find an Attachment-Focused EMDR therapist near you.