Are You Affected by Infidelity and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
About Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
While not all betrayed spouses experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), many experience it to varying degrees. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), PTSD affects 7.7 million American adults. For most people, the symptoms of PTSD appear within the first three months of the trauma. For others, it can take years and another triggering event before PTSD emerges.
Those suffering from PTSD may have the following symptoms: They startle easily and have persistent, heart-pounding anxiety about what this all means for them. Not wanting to be fooled again, they often become hyper-vigilant, on the constant look out for any sign that things aren’t as they appear to be. That hyper-alertness tends to extend to other relationships as well because being betrayed by the person you trusted the most can make you feel like you can’t trust anyone. They may lose interest in things they normally enjoy.
They may constantly relive the facts around the betrayal and/or the moment the betrayal was uncovered. They avoid situations that remind them of the original incident, and anniversaries of the incident are often very difficult. They may have trouble concentrating and problems sleeping. They may feel hopeless and helpless. They can have crying jags or feel numb and detached, especially with people they were once close to. Emotions are easily triggered. If the husband is 15 minutes late getting home from work, his wife is a wreck when he arrives because that’s what he used to do when he with the Other Woman.
The physical effects of PTSD can be alarming. According to Dr. Mark Lerner, of the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, physiological responses may include rapid heart beat, elevated blood pressure, difficulty breathing, shock symptoms, chest pains, cardiac palpitations, muscle tension and pains, fatigue, fainting, flushed face, pale appearance, chills, cold clammy skin, increased sweating, thirst, dizziness, vertigo, hyperventilation, headaches, grinding of teeth, twitches and gastrointestinal upset.
Knowing that the crazy feelings you have are a “normal” part of betrayal can help with the scary feeling that you’re “losing it.” The good news is PTSD is treatable. Treatment can involve a combination of medication, talk therapy and EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro, EMDR uses eye movements, auditory tones and tapping, or other tactile stimulation to help trauma suffers process the information about disturbing situations.
The PTSD Checklist
Do you have any of the following problems? If you can check at least seven of the following items and it is several months after you have experienced a catastrophic event, it is advisable to have a professional consultation to determine if therapy for PTSD is indicated. In some cases, the emotional and mental changes are irrevocable.
I have strong physical sensations (e.g., sweating, rapid heart beat) when I think about the event.
I try to avoid having upsetting thoughts or having contact with things or places associated with the event.
My feelings are numb and I have difficulty experiencing normal pleasure and happiness.
I am always watchful to make sure I don't experience the same event again.
I have feelings of guilt associated with the traumatic event.
I have the feeling of being unreal or that the world is unreal.
I feel alienated or isolated from others.
I get irritated or angry a lot.
I have flashbacks of the event (feeling like the past event is happening all over again in the present).
I have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep because memories of the event come into my mind.
I have memory difficulties and trouble concentrating these days.
I am easily startled when I hear a loud noise or when danger seems imminent.
I have been relying increasingly on alcohol or drugs to get through the day.
Signs and Symptoms of PTSD Checklist
Understanding these signs and symptoms can help you know if you are impacted by PTSD in-relation to the traumatic event. While this list is not comprehensive, it can be a good place to start your journey to help and recovery.
Alienation, feeling disconnected or abandoned form the purpose of the world, feeling all alone.
Avoiding activities that arouse memories of the trauma/abuse.
Compulsive or extremely inhibited sexuality.
Cynicism, believing others are only motivated by selfishness.
Depression (sad, crying, angry, easily annoyed, on edge. These moods may happen in cycles or may be present most of the time).
Dissociation (spacing out).
Distrust of authority figures.
Distrust of those previously trusted.
Emotional distancing (not letting others see your true feelings).
Expressing a limited range of emotions.
Explosive anger or over controlled anger.
Flashbacks (intrusive memories) or feeling like you are reliving the abuse.
Feeling hopeless, despair.
Hyper vigilance (watchful, always in a ready state to respond to potential crisis or trauma).
Loss of interest in activities or work.
Loss of sustaining faith.
Memory deficits or blackouts.
Negative self image.
Nightmares – relieving the trauma experience through dreams.
Numbness, inability to feel emotions.
Problems with intimate relationships.
Repeated failures of self-protection.
Self-injury or self-harm behavior.
Separation issues or codependency.
Shame, guilt, and self-blame
Sleep disturbances or inability to sleep.
Suicidal feelings, suicidal thoughts, and/or suicidal actions.
Withdrawal or isolation from family, friends, etc.
A wide band-like sensation of abdominal pain in the first few days after D-day. It feels similar to muscle strain, and causes the BS to curl up in a foetal position in an attempt to relieve it. It is possibly caused by the constant crying. It appears to lessen after 2-4 weeks.
Feeling mentally disheveled or unorganized.
The Physiological Response of the Body to Stress
Within the body is a ‘reverberating’ circuit, called the limbic system. A reverberating circuit is a neuronal pathway arranged in a circle so that impulses are recycled to cause positive feedback or, reverberation. This means if one part of the system falls out of balance, other parts will endeavor to compensate for the lack.
The limbic system controls a lot of the processes within the body such as; sleeping and waking cycles, temperature control, temper control, eating patterns and even hormones. Its role is to keep all these functions in balance, compensate and act like a giant thermostat, otherwise known as homeostasis.
A individuals mood is normally very stable. Excluding bereavement, moods and emotions return to normal after relatively short periods of time. Just discovered that you have won $1,000,000? Your mood will rise very rapidly ad stay up for a few weeks. However after this time it will settle at the old levels with only minor peaks as you buy your new car, diamond bracelet, or book a Caribbean cruise. Your mood will be no more different than it was before the life changing event occurred.
However, like any other part of your body, the limbic has a limit. If you bash a bone for long enough and hard enough it will break. This can be caused by illness such as flu. Post flu depression is normal in humans, although short term and not normally debilitating. Other causes of limbic malfunction are alcohol abuse, illicit drug taking, some prescribed medications, too many life changing event in close succession, and too many losses or facing of choices that involve conflicting needs. The commonest trigger is stress.
The point of malfunction is in the synapses. There are millions of these within the limbic system. They are the gap between the end of one nerve and the beginning of another. When a nerve impulse travels down the nerve fiber, it reaches the end with no difficulty. The tricky bit is jumping the impulse across the gap – the synapse. This is done by the nerve releasing certain chemicals into the gap to bridge it. When a sufficient amount of them reach the beginning of the next nerve fiber, an impulse is triggered off. Thus the gap is crossed by the impulse and the circuit keeps running.
These transmitter chemicals are greatly affected during times of great stress. They respond with plummeting levels, and it there is strong evidence to suggest that the nerves become less sensitive to the small amount of chemicals that are being released, although no-one really understands why. When this happens the limbic system grinds to a halt.
Characteristic Symptoms Arising From Stress & Trauma
- Feeling worse in the morning, better in the afternoon
- Early morning waking
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of energy
- Lack of enthusiasm
- Memory and concentration is reduced
- Loss of confidence
- Loss of sex-drive
- Less patience
The loss of memory is apparent, rather than real. As the sufferer is struggling to concentrate, they are unable to take in information correctly; therefore later on the information is just not available to be recalled. The ‘feeling worse in the morning’ is primarily driven by the reduction in the hormone cortisol which normally peaks in the morning and slowly drops during the day. The body expects this peak and the feeling bad is cause by the lack.
Elizabeth Edward’s Reaction to Husbands Confession – excerpt from ‘Resilience’ “In recounting her reaction when her husband confessed his affair to her, the wife said, “I cried and screamed, I went to the bathroom and threw up.” Though it’s not often written or spoken about, it’s well-documented that infidelity victims experience physical reactions such as nausea, diarrhea, gastro-intestinal disturbances, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, headaches, loss of appetite, insomnia – just to name a few.
As a result of the trauma of infidelity, many betrayed spouses also experience PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) symptoms such as depression, anxiety, raging anger, intense shame, guilt, hyper-vigilance, flashbacks, nightmares, and more. Many marriage and family counselors are now using trauma-based therapies in treating victims of infidelity.”
Traumatic Events & Triggers
Following a traumatic event such as infidelity, almost everyone experiences at least some of the symptoms of PTSD. It’s very common to have bad dreams, feel fearful or numb, and find it difficult to stop thinking constantly about what happened. However, for most people, these symptoms are short-lived. They may last for several days or even weeks, but they gradually lift.
If you have PTSD however, the symptoms may not decrease. You may not feel a little better each day, and in fact, you may start to feel worse. But PTSD doesn’t always develop in the hours or days following a traumatic event, although this is most common. For some people, the symptoms of PTSD take weeks, months, or even years to develop.
The symptoms of PTSD can arise suddenly, gradually, or come and go over time. Sometimes symptoms appear seemingly out of the blue. At other times, they are triggered by something that reminds you of the original traumatic event, such as a noise, an image, certain words, or a smell. While everyone experiences PTSD differently, there are certain types of symptoms, as listed below.
PTSD Symptoms List
- Intrusive, upsetting memories of the event
- Flashbacks (acting or feeling like the event is happening again)
- Nightmares (either of the event or of other frightening things)
- Feelings of intense distress when reminded of the trauma
- Intense physical reactions to reminders of the event (e.g. pounding heart, rapid breathing, nausea, muscle tension, sweating)
Avoidance & Emotional Numbing
- Avoiding activities, places, thoughts, or feelings that remind you of the trauma
- Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
- Loss of interest in activities and life in general
- Feeling detached from others and emotionally numb
- Sense of a limited future (you don’t expect to live a normal life span, get married, have a career)
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Irritability or outbursts of anger
- Difficulty concentrating
- Hyper-vigilance (on constant “red alert”)
- Feeling jumpy and easily startled
Other Common Symptoms
- Anger and irritability
- Guilt, shame, or self-blame
- Substance abuse
- Depression and hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts and feelings
- Feeling alienated and alone
- Feelings of mistrust and betrayal
- Headaches, stomach problems, and/or chest pain
Suicide & PTSD
We know how post traumatic stress disorder can affect people. However, what we do not yet know is how the disorder will affect you or your loved one. This serious mental health condition can develop after exposure to a traumatic event. PTSD can increase the risk of suicide and self harm behavior. PTSD symptoms can interfere with someone's ability to function in everyday life and can lead to feelings of isolation and hopelessness. If you are experiencing symptoms of PTSD, it is important to seek help. There are many effective treatments available to help you find recovery. Take a look at the following warning signs to see when you might need to seek help.
PTSD & Self Harm
Suicide Warning Signs
- Appearing depressed or sad most of the time.
(Untreated depression is one of the leading causes.)
- Talking or writing about death or suicide.
- Withdrawing from family and friends.
- Suddenly visiting friends or family members (one last time)
- Feeling hopeless.
- Feeling helpless.
- Feeling strong anger or rage.
- Feeling trapped — like there is no way out.
- Experiencing dramatic mood changes.
- Abusing drugs or alcohol.
PTSD & Self Harm
Extended Warning Signs
- Exhibiting a change in personality.
- Acting impulsively and/or recklessly.
- Losing interest in most activities.
- Experiencing a change in sleeping habits.
- Experiencing a change in eating habits.
- Performing poorly at work or in school.
- Giving away prized possessions.
- Writing a will or getting "affairs" in order
- Feeling excessive guilt or shame.
- Buying instruments of suicide: gun, hose, rope, pills or other forms of medications.
- Writing a suicide note.
Suicide Stats by the Numbers
In 2006, suicide was the 11th leading cause of death in the USA, and 33,000 people took their own lives. It may surprise you to learn that suicide actually outranks homicide as the cause of death. Among teens and young adults, 15-24, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death. It should be noted that some people who die by suicide do not show any suicide warning signs, however about 75% of those who die by suicide do exhibit some suicide warning signs. We need to be aware of what the suicide warning signs are and try to spot them in people. If we do see someone exhibiting suicide warning signs, we need to do everything that we can to help them. Always take suicide warning signs seriously.
If someone you know exhibits several of the suicide warning signs listed above, immediate action is required. If you have concerns for a person, Google ‘suicide prevention’ in your area. If you, yourself, are contemplating suicide,please reach out to someone. Sometimes professionals assess suicide risk by using an assessment scale. One such scale is called the SAD PERSONS Scale, which identifies risk factors for suicide as follows.
SAD PERSONS Scale Indicators:
- Sex (male)
- Age younger than 19 or older than 45 years of age
- Depression (severe enough to be considered clinically significant)
- Previous suicide attempt or received mental-health services of any kind
- Excessive alcohol or other drug use
- Rational thinking lost
- Separated, divorced, or widowed (or other ending of significant relationship)
- Organized suicide plan or serious attempt
- No or little social support
- Sickness or chronic medical illness
Trauma in Children & PTSD
Many people are impacted by D-day, not just the betrayed spouse. Children, relatives, friends, co-workers, church members, etc, all will experience some feeling about the revelation of infidelity. The Devastation can reach far and wide.
A child with PTSD may also re-experience the traumatic event by:
- Having frequent memories of the event, or in young children, play in which some or all of the trauma is repeated over and over
- Having upsetting and frightening dreams
- Acting or feeling like the experience is happening again
- Developing repeated physical or emotional symptoms when the child is reminded of the event
Children with PTSD may also show the following symptoms:
- Worry about dying at an early age
- Losing interest in activities
- Having physical symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches
- Showing more sudden and extreme emotional reactions
- Having problems falling or staying asleep
- Showing irritability or angry outbursts
- Having problems concentrating
- Acting younger than their age (for example, clingy or whiny behavior, thumb sucking)
- Showing increased alertness to the environment
- Repeating behavior that reminds them of the trauma
The symptoms of PTSD may last from several months to many years. The best approach is prevention of the trauma. Once the trauma has occurred, however, early intervention is essential. Support from parents, school, and peers is important. Emphasis needs to be placed upon establishing a feeling of safety. Psychotherapy (individual, group, or family) which allows the child to speak, draw, play, or write about the event is helpful. Behavior modification techniques and cognitive therapy may help reduce fears and worries. Medication may also be useful to deal with agitation, anxiety, or depression.
Child and adolescent psychiatrists can be very helpful in diagnosing and treating children with PTSD. With the sensitivity and support of families and professionals, youngsters with PTSD can learn to cope with the memories of the trauma and go on to lead healthy and productive lives.
Healing & PTSD
When we look at how emotional problems affect us, we can look to tangible wounds and how our bodies heal from those. Take a broken leg, for instance. If left to mend on its own, the bone may heal improperly. The leg bone may heal and may look healthy and strong but it can still cause pain, discomfort and can even lead to walking difficulties. However, in order to be set properly, the leg will be supported by a cast during the healing process. Thus, the broken leg will heal better and once healed, the leg will function normally. Just like with a broken leg, even one set well, your healing will happen in spurts rather than a constant stream. You may have days when you initially feel wonderful. You embark on an ambitious project, only to discover your energy and enthusiasm flags and you are left feeling tired and weepy. What happened?
What happened was that there was a small amount of healing, such as that with the broken leg. You felt ‘better’, especially in comparison to how you felt ‘before’. Taking that to mean you are healed, you run around expending the small reserve of energy/healing you have gained. Once it is gone, you crash back into the emotional place you were. Unfortunately, because of the tendency of humans to think “I feel bad right now, ergo I will always feel bad”, depression sets in and the internal critic says things to the effect of “your hopeless, you couldn’t even perform this task the way you use to. You’re never going to be any good”. Since the Betrayed Spouse already has a substantially negative personal view about themselves, due to the sudden abandonment, the problem can easily become exacerbated.
You need to remember to take things in small amounts. Feel better right now? Try a small task. Still feel ok, try another small task. Starting to feel stressed, anxious or upset? STOP NOW. Leave it, come back to it later. You may baby your broken leg for a time after the cast is removed and that may also be the case in your emotional healing, but eventually, your life returns to normal. You never forget that you broke your leg and you won’t ever forget your inner wounds, but one day, they will not be the focal point of your life any longer. They will have their place, an inner place, to access but not to overwhelm. With the wounds properly healed and the toxic poison removed your life will resume with a measure of normality.
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