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How To Write About Ptsd

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What Is A Flashback

How to Write Trauma, PTSD, and CPTSD in Fiction

In my online classes, I often get asked for help in writing two kinds of flashbacks. One kind of flashback is the idea of a glimpse into a characters past, basically a cut scene to somethings that happened before. This is usually written as a dream or as backstory. These are really hard to do well in deep pov because much of the time they come across as author intrusion.

Be objective about whether the reader needs to know ALL of that info in one place. My personal rule for backstory is to answer one question for the reader and leave them with two more. To drip in the backstory a sentence, a phrase, at a time. If youve got a paragraph, two paragraphs, a whole chapter thats just a look at the past, for the sake of looking at the past, kill your darlings. Yes, other authors use them, and theyre not wrong per se, but theres a great post here by K.M. Weiland about writing this type of flashbacks.

Know Which Kind Of Memories Your Character Is Dealing With

Emotions are the key to capturing the effects of these memories for readers. Emotions have three jobs: to warn us, to tell us something, or to protect us. This is super helpful when thinking about how to SHOW the effect trauma memories have, or why theyre triggered. I go into more detail about emotional context here.

With any trauma memory, theres one or more emotion concerned with protecting the character from this ever happening again. So any character with a trauma background could have those memories brought forward by feeling too small, insignificant, or weak . Any situation that recreates that feeling can trigger the trauma memory: someone standing next to them while theyre seated, having to speak with someone in authority , etc.

For those with PTSD, this triggered emotion will activate survival instincts the character will immediately NEED to obey and are often be disproportionate to the situation. Usually, whatever helped them survive initially will be the default reaction. This is not a reaction they can think their way out of. In real life there wouldnt be much internal dialogue to rationalize or contextualize or self-soothe . They may, however, be aware that their reaction isnt rational to the present situation, though it made perfect sense in the trauma situation.

Ptsd Can Be Treatedyes Theres Hope

If you are overwhelmed by symptoms or negative thoughts that you suspect are related to PTSD, you should contact your health care team to discuss the possibility of a PTSD diagnosis. You can also contact a local mental health facility, like McLean, to get the help you need. You dont have to struggle on your ownthere is a path to recovery.

If you recognize the symptoms in a friend or loved one, you should always reach out to them and offer support. Whether they accept your help or not, knowing that youve offered can be incredibly helpful to those who are affected by mental illness.

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Flashbacks Should Be An Individual Response

Flashbacks come in various severities, so do some research into them. At its most severe, a flashback can cause you to lose all connection with your current reality, like a nightmare you cant wake up from.

When discussing the topic of flashbacks with friends and family, most assume its just a memory, like remembering your first kiss or your first time at Disneyland. However, thats not what its like at all. For most people, myself included, flashbacks are an intense re-experience of a traumatic event, which feels like its happening now and involves all your senses. In effect, it feels like being re-traumatized, even though you are not actually experiencing the event for realRead the whole post here.

There are emotional flashbacks, where you remain conscious of where you are and whether youre physically safe, but your body is convinced youre in imminent danger and that emotional response tangibly controls you.

Because most emotional flashbacks do not have a visual or memory component to them, the triggered individual rarely realizes that she is re-experiencing a traumatic time from childhoodRead the whole post here.

Who Has The Highest Rate Of Ptsd


The risks of one developing post-traumatic stress disorder depend on how traumatic the event is.

Of the different traumatic events, rape has the highest PTSD prevalence at 49%, compared to natural disasters at 3.8% .

PTSD after rape statistics also show that:

  • 94% of women who were raped develop PTSD symptoms during the first two weeks after the traumatic event .
  • 30% of them still experience PTSD symptoms nine months after the incident .
  • 75% of sexual assault survivors were diagnosed with PTSD a month after the incident. This drops to 54% after three months, and it further drops to 41% after a year .

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Slow Down The Process

When writing about a traumatic event in your life, slow down. The writing process opens you up to reliving the event. Its tempting to rush through difficult scenes or skip over details. Take your time.

Feel every emotion. Remember the small details, like scents. It will hurt. Meet your painful memories with insight and follow where your thoughts lead. Try to find understanding and acceptance in what was.

Consider this portion of the writing process valuable for you. You might need to spend more time writing than you would a nonfiction piece on birds, but remember, you are doing this part for yourself. This is where you heal.

Many studies show psychological trauma patients who process past events fully through writing suffer from fewer illnesses, visit the doctor less often, and notice fewer depression symptoms. Their emotional and psychological well-being improves. Physical health soon follows suit.

So please do it for yourself. If what you write doesnt fit your story completely, store it for another time. You might be able to use the material later. Or, you could dispose of it when youre ready to start a blank slate.

Its up to you whether or not to tell your stories. Theyre yours to do with as you see fit. But if you choose, you can tell your story and transform your life.

Understanding What Makes An Event Traumatic

A traumatic event becomes part of a persons deepest self. Experiences on the traumatic side are the events that bring about the toughest life lessons you face in adulthood. The challenges create the biggest changes, both good and bad.

Trauma comes from events like:

  • Natural disasters
  • Loss or separation from a parent in childhood
  • The death of loved one

Living through a traumatic event affects every person differently. Some have post-traumatic stress disorder, continued distress, anxiety disorder, dissociative disorders, depression, suicidal thoughts, and a variety of other mental health issues.

No two people react the same. The younger you are when the trauma takes place, the length of time the trauma took place, and many other aspects determine how you may react. The more anxiety, the more consequences become evident in adult life. The devastation comes out in adulthood, even for people who dont remember the traumatic event.

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Eye Movement Desensitization And Reprocessing

EMDR is a trauma-focused psychotherapy approach. It involves recalling a traumatic memory, including the thoughts, feelings, and body sensations that come up while doing so.

In some ways, it is similar to exposure treatment. What makes it different is that while recalling the traumatic memory, people are asked to focus their attention on an external stimulus that invokes side-to-side movements of the eyes. It is thought that the side-to-side eye movements help to facilitate the processing of the belief by activating both brain hemispheres.

The National Center for PTSD provides more in-depth information on trauma-focused treatments.

How To Write About Ptsd In Deep Point Of View

How to write a complete Nursing Care Plan for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD

October 23, 2018 by Lisa Hall-Wilson

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD is a popular device for fictionauthors. PTSD forces your characters to overcome insurmountable obstaclesemotionally and mentally. Characters who are at war with themselves in additionto any external conflict just makes good fiction.

The problem is writers research symptoms and run with it. Theres so muchmore to PTSD than flashbacks that can add emotional layers, depth, andconnection for readers.

**UPDATE** So, this is one of my more popular posts and as this has been a personal struggle for me especially over the last few months, I wanted to go back and add some details and nuance that hopefully youll find helpful.**

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Benefits For People With Ptsd

In recent years, research has shown that journaling may help people with PTSD in several different ways. Psychologically, expressive writing appears to help people better cope with the symptoms of PTSD, such as anxiety and anger. Physically, journaling can make a difference as well, reducing body tension and restoring focus.

In addition, we are learning that traumatic events may lead not just to post-traumatic stress, but to post-traumatic growth. In other words, there can be silver linings and experiencing trauma may help you change in positive ways as well. Expressive writing has been found not only to improve the symptoms of PTSD and coping with them, but it also appears to help foster post-traumatic growth, or the ability to find meaning in and have positive life changes following a traumatic event.

Unwanted And Intrusive Memories

When memories seem to turn against us, they can be traumatic in their own right, especially when they are memories were trying to forget. These unwanted and intrusive memories may look like the following symptoms:

  • Reliving traumatic events over and over or having flashbacks of the event
  • Recurring memories of the event while waking or sleeping
  • Upsetting nightmares
  • Physical and/or emotional distress triggered by sights, sounds, and even smells that remind you of the traumatic event

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Describe How You Have Changed

Next, describe what your life was like before you began military service, what your relationship with friends and families was like, how you did in school, whether you played sports or had a job. Then describe what happened after you returned home from the service. Give examples of problems you had with work, school, or relationships. Describe your difficulty adjusting to civilian life. If you were no longer interested in activities you once enjoyed, talk about that.

Give specific examples of your PTSD symptoms. For example I had a panic attack when I heard a car backfire, I thought it was gunfire or I heard someone scream on TV and I ran for cover. This will be much more effective than providing clinical descriptions of symptoms that you may have learned while undergoing mental health treatment.

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Gather Your Documents And Your Support Letters First

PTSD Essay Example

For both the VA form and your own personal stressor statement, you will need to prepare by gathering supporting documentation such as your military and civilian medical records, your military service record, your DD Form 214 or Guard/Reserve equivalent, etc.

When you write your PTSD Stressor Statement, you will need to have accurate information about the dates and locations of your military service, campaigns or missions you participated in, length and nature of your military service, etc.

You will need statements by friends, family, doctors, and other professionals who can provide further evidence for your claim even if that information is a buddy letter describing how you may have appeared to others following the diagnosis of PTSD.

There are some things you definitely should do when writing the stressor statement, and there are things you should definitely NOT do. What follows is advice on how to write the stressor letter for a more effective outcome with your claim.

Keep in mind that the following advice is not legal in nature, but more of a guideline for how you should present your case. Also keep in mind that some of these principles will also serve you well when filling out the VA forms mentioned above in association with your claim.

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Quick Recap: What Is Deep Point Of View

Deep point of view is a stylistic choice to remove the perceived distance between the reader and the point of view character. This technique puts the reader IN the story as its happening. The reader knows everything the point of view character knows/sees/hears/etc. but thats all they know.

If youre not sure if youre writing in deep point of view or not, check out this guest post I did at Writers In The Storm and then come back here and learn more about writing flashbacks in deep pov.

How To Write Characters With Ptsd

So excited to have Lisa Hall-Wilson here today to share some insight on how to write PTSD realistically

Hey hey! *mittened fist-bump* Thanks so much for having me!

Writers are always looking for ways to add authenticity to their stories and characters, so I thought Id share some down and dirty deets about living with PTSD.

Why Write About PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has been called shell shock and historically was lumped in with hysteria for women. You can research this mental illness, the causes, and the symptoms, , but Im more interested in helping you write it with accuracy.

Giving characters a traumatic past and an ongoing condition that hinders their ability to move on is essential to a great character arc. The character struggling with PTSD is facing overwhelming odds, and any character who stands up to a bully of any kind is someone readers will cheer for.

To that end, Id like to share five tips for writing a character with PTSD.

#5 Avoid Recalling Traumatic Events

Dont let your characters spend time navel-gazing about the events that traumatized them. Yes, Ive seen this. Who wants to dwell on that or talk about it at all? Instead, show the coping mechanisms used to control the symptoms or turn their mind off. Show symptoms of anxiety and then send them for another lap around the block even though theyve already done 5 more than usual.

#4 Show The War Going On Inside Your Character

#3 PTSD Is About Minimizing Triggers

#2 Give Them A Tell

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Next Steps For Ptsd Research

In the last decade, progress in research on the mental and biological foundations of PTSD has lead scientists to focus on better understanding the underlying causes of why people experience a range of reactions to trauma.

  • NIMH-funded researchers are exploring trauma patients in acute care settings to better understand the changes that occur in individuals whose symptoms improve naturally.
  • Other research is looking at how fear memories are affected by learning, changes in the body, or even sleep.
  • Research on preventing the development of PTSD soon after trauma exposure is also under way.
  • Other research is attempting to identify what factors determine whether someone with PTSD will respond well to one type of intervention or another, aiming to develop more personalized, effective, and efficient treatments.
  • As gene research and brain imaging technologies continue to improve, scientists are more likely to be able to pinpoint when and where in the brain PTSD begins. This understanding may then lead to better targeted treatments to suit each persons own needs or even prevent the disorder before it causes harm.

First Draft: The Facts

Writing Characters with PTSD (Fiction Writing Advice)

It was a Sunday morning and I was planning on visiting my family. Before that I ate breakfast and went to the gym, like I always do on Sunday mornings. I talked to my mom on the phone, then left the house at about 10:30 AM to drive across town to my parents house.

Around 11 AM I was driving down Roosevelt Boulevard when a gold car turned right in front of me. I slammed on my brakes, but couldnt stop in time. I hit their passenger side door. My car flipped, and I think the other persons car was all smashed up. I was stuck in the car for a long time. I could hardly move, and I remember glass was everywhere. My body was numb. When help arrived they ripped open the car and pulled me out. Everything is a blur, but there were flashing lights and people watching.

After I got out of the car they took me to the hospital in an ambulance. I could hear loud sirens the whole way, but I cant remember much else about the ambulance ride. The doctors told me I blacked out. I ended up staying in the hospital for a long time, a few weeks. I had a bunch of broken bones, and I had lost a lot of blood.

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Examples Of Ptsd In Popular Culture

This isnt an exhaustive list, nor am I commenting on whether these representations are good or bad. Ive listened them here so that you can watch/read for yourself and form your own judgement.

There may be minor spoilers ahead. Ive only included the shows name in the subtitle so that if you want to gloss over a particular example to avoid spoilers, you can.

Though Its Often Associated With The Horrors Of War Post

May 9, 2022

All of us will encounter stress throughout our daily lives. When a strong emotional response to an extremely stressful or disturbing event impairs a persons ability to cope, its often considered to be traumatic.

While trauma doesnt always directly lead to post-traumatic stress disorder , it is beneficial for those who have witnessed or experienced traumaas well as their loved onesto know the signs and symptoms of PTSD, ways to treat it, and how to seek help.

Trauma can vary in severity and impactin fact, approximately one in three people who experience severe trauma also experience PTSD.

Despite its more common association with soldiers returning from combat situations and the horrors of war, PTSD is a condition that can apply to anyone who has witnessed or experienced traumatic, life-threatening, or life-changing events.

According to the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD is a common condition affecting 10% of women and 4% of men at some point in their lives.

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