Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of the many different conditions that are generally categorized under the wider umbrella of anxiety disorders. The key defining element which differentiates PTSD from other anxiety disorders, however, is the psychological re-living of a traumatic experience by the individual.

This article will explore the close relationship and similarity between the symptoms exhibited by victims of emotional abuse and those typically associated with post traumatic stress disorder.

Causes of PTSD

Post traumatic stress disorder results from an event that has caused – or is perceived as potentially causing – a threat to one’s life and/or a serious injury. The event itself is defined as a “stressor,” and it can be experienced by a single individual or by a group.

Some examples of stressors that can lead to the development of PTSD in an individual are rape and mugging, while large groups may experience PTSD after assisting a traumatic event such as a natural disaster or a terrorist attack.

Symptoms of PTSD

The most common symptom associated with people who suffer from PTSD is the vivid psychological re-living of the event that triggered the disorder. Generally, however, the symptoms can develop in three directions:

  1. Re-Experiencing the event: In this case, the individual is anguished by recurring memories, nightmares and flashbacks of the traumatic event. The psychological and emotional responses to the memories are of similar intensity to the ones experienced with the original stressor.
  2. Avoidance and Emotional Numbing: In avoidance, the individual will actively avoid any and all scenarios which resemble the one in which the traumatic experience took place. This will include avoiding thoughts, feelings, situations and people that trigger the memories. The emotional numbing takes place when the individual suffering from PTSD withdraws from emotional closeness to family, friends, and activities previously enjoyed.
  3. Changes in Sleeping Patterns and Hypervigilance: People suffering from PTSD may experience insomnia, difficulty in concentrating and increased anger and aggression.

Emotional Abuse and PTSD

According to a report published by the Department of Health and Human Services of the San Diego State University, the symptoms exhibited by victims of domestic abuse are consistent with the major indicators of post traumatic stress disorder.

Much like victims of a trauma and individuals who suffer from PTSD following traumatic events, victims of emotional / psychological abuse experience fear, anxiety, hypervigilance, irritability, avoidance and emotional numbing.

Living with an abusive partner is often described as living in a war-like environment , where the victim feels the constant and persistent need to protect herself. The hypervigilance and fear associated with “setting off” the abuser – commonly described by victims as “walking on eggshells” – generate a series of emotional and psychological responses that can exacerbate the long-term effects of the abuse. The victims often carry with them feelings of helplessness, mistrust, vulnerability and anxiety even after the relationship with the abuser has ended.

According to Hughes and Jones, consistent findings indicate that substantial proportions of victimized women (31% to 84%) exhibit PTSD symptoms. The intensity of the trauma will determine the intensity of the symptoms, but women need not experience severe violence to experience PTSD.

PTSD is a normal physiological and psychological reaction to abnormal or extreme events that cause actual or threatened death or injury. A woman who is consistently victimized and made believe she should fear for her life, develops the same, long-lasting symptoms as other individuals suffering from PTSD.