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You May Have Accidentally Belittled Others’ PTSD. Here’s How, and Why It’s Dangerous.

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I’ve noticed a disturbing trend on social media lately. Sure, it’s harmless in intention as these things often are, but it is nonetheless damaging to people living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). And, since it’s relevant, I feel the need to clarify: I’m talking about the reality of PTSD here, a debilitating disorder caused by traumatic events, diagnosable by certain criteria. I’m not talking about vague discomfort at a memory or situation.

• What is PTSD?

I’ve seen it too often on social media and in real life — people saying things are giving them PTSD just because they don’t like them. After a quick scroll on Twitter, I could find people referencing “glitter PTSD,” “eyebrows giving me PTSD,” and “long denim skirts give PTSD” because they didn’t like the fashion trend.

Let me make this abundantly clear: I am in no way calling individuals out to be harassed or contacted in any way, as I know they are likely speaking without a full understanding of the nuance of their words. However, their examples offer a prime opportunity for growth.

PTSD is not feeling a little uncomfortable. PTSD isn’t caused by a memory or reminder of a vaguely unhappy time, a bad episode of a TV show, a fashion trend we’d rather forget, or any other example I’ve come across that has made me roll my eyes in exasperation.

We’ve shared before what PTSD really looks like, but I’ll rehash it here. PTSD is debilitating and life-impacting. It’s often caused by a traumatic moment (or multiple compounded traumatic moments) and can cause physical changes to the biological structure of the brain. It’s flashbacks that feel like re-experiencing the traumatic event over and over again. Imagine, if you will, something truly horrible happening to you; something completely life-altering, harrowing, terrifying. Now, imagine the simplest moment that forces your mind to recall that event in vivid, excruciating detail. It might not even be visual or carry with it the smell and the sound of the event, as somatic flashbacks cause physical reactions in the body without the presence of actual memories.

This is what we mean by being “triggered,” yet another term that is often used without a full understanding of its meaning, and which is often damaging to those living with PTSD. Because if a person you know is living with PTSD and does not realize it, misuse of the word leads them down an altogether different path. It tells them, “PTSD isn’t real,” or, “It’s not a big deal, you’re just overreacting,” and may lead to that person not seeking the help that they deserve.

Every time we describe something vaguely uncomfortable as “giving you PTSD,” we actually harm someone struggling in silence, whose voice we are actively silencing with our facetiousness. By using these words without the seriousness they deserve, we strip people of the safe space these words provide. These words need to be taken seriously so that, if a person does open up about their experiences, they can feel safe in the knowledge that they will be understood and cared for.

That’s why we cannot allow these words to lose their power. They cannot continue to become a part of our common vernacular in a way that minimizes the damage they represent. We have already allowed depression to become synonymous with sadness in a way that means people, like me, do not understand what they are going through until it’s already hollowed us out. And then there’s obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a debilitating disorder that has, instead, become synonymous with cleanliness, perfection, or vague discomfort at patterns that are slightly “incorrect” or displeasing to the eye. These misconceptions fail to grasp the real horror felt by those actually living with OCD.

As we try to move into an age of enlightenment free from stigma and misunderstanding, let’s make sure we educate others on the truth behind their words. Even if they aren’t meant with malice, they still cause harm, still threaten to cause people to hide their truth, and even one person struggling in silence because PTSD is treated as a joke is one person too many.

Photo by Catalin Pop on Unsplash

Originally published: July 7, 2022
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