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What Does It Mean to Have a 'Persistent Negative Outlook' With PTSD?

Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

Trauma can change everything about how we view the world. Once you may have been hopeful and optimistic without a second thought, but now you’re always expecting the worst. You may feel fear or shame often and you might blame yourself for the trauma.

All of these are painful, but know it’s not your fault — it’s part of how your system tries to protect you after a traumatic experience. But if this “negative outlook” continues to hang around, it may indicate you’re experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What Is a ‘Negative Outlook’?

Having a negative outlook — persistent difficult thoughts, emotions or beliefs — can show up in many ways. These might include:

  • Negative beliefs about yourself or the world; statements such as “I’m bad” or “No one can be trusted”
  • Believing traumatic experiences are “all your fault”
  • Often feeling difficult emotions like fear, guilt, shame or anger
  • No longer being able to feel emotions like joy, contentment, happiness or affection

It’s important to keep in mind when we’re talking about “negative” in the context of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) it’s more of a clinical term. Emotions aren’t “good” or “bad,” they just are. Grouping difficult emotions under the label “negative,” provides professionals (and for our purposes here) a common banner label to describe a particular set of experiences.

Negative beliefs, thoughts or emotions are common after trauma because they help you feel protected and in control — if you’re am always expecting the worst, you won’t be disappointed. If you blame yourself for the trauma, then you can feel like you had control in a situation even though you didn’t. Having a negative outlook isn’t just common, it’s a coping strategy that can get be shifted over time with support.

Are Negative Beliefs a Symptom of PTSD?

Negative beliefs, emotions and thoughts can be a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When a professional makes your PTSD diagnosis, they will look for at least two or more of seven different kinds of “negative” thinking patterns. These categories cover blaming yourself, difficult emotions like fear, guilt or anger, and a loss of feeling joy or contentment.

Other diagnoses that may include negative beliefs, thoughts or emotions as a symptom are:

  • Acute stress disorder (if PTSD symptoms have lasted less than six months)
  • Major depressive disorder

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What Is It Like to Have Negative Beliefs?

You’re not alone if your world view changed after experiencing trauma or having PTSD. Mighty community member Jessica A. explained how this outlook shows up for her as guilt:

I feel guilt way too easily, even if it’s something I know 100 percent is nothing to do with me. I live feeling like most things are my fault. So I tend to apologize a lot and mostly stay quiet and be the shy person only because I don’t want to be blamed for anything.

Mighty community member Harriet L. said she experiences these “negative” side effects of trauma as difficulty trusting others:

Every time I become aware that I’m starting to trust/feel close to someone, I start feeling weird and fearful that they’ll turn out to be dangerous/deceptive/abusive whatever, and really question my judgment.

Where to Learn More About Negative Beliefs

To learn more from others with PTSD who get what it’s like to live with a “negative outlook,” check out the stories below. And if you want to share your experience with others who get it, post a Thought on The Mighty. Here’s how.

Other Symptoms of PTSD

If you live with PTSD, you know the condition is more than just these negative thoughts, emotions or beliefs. Here are some other common symptoms of PTSD:

Header image via Francisco Moreno on Unsplash

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