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21 Things People Don't Realize You're Doing Because of Your PTSD

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When people think of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), oftentimes they think of the “classic” symptoms like flashbacks and nightmares. What you may not know is that sometimes, symptoms from PTSD can manifest in surprising ways. The way PTSD manifests depends largely on the person and the traumatic experience(s) they’ve lived through — and it’s not always obvious to the people around them.

• What is PTSD?

To find out how PTSD manifests in ways people can’t always see, we asked our mental health community to share one thing people don’t realize they are doing because they have PTSD.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “[Being] irrationally untrustworthy even in relationships that have proven over and over again to be trustworthy. I tend to put people into impossible, no win situations to test them and prove to myself I’m not worthy and a burden… It’s very isolating and lonely and often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you push people away enough times, eventually they will comply.” — Monika S.

2. “[I] become super disconnected and submissive if I think someone is upset with me. Then if I get pushed too hard, I just completely shut down and will isolate myself either with a book, music, TV or lock myself in my room.” — Cait L.

3. “As odd as it sounds — laughing. When I am in a situation that is triggering and I try to say ‘no,’ I can’t stop laughing even while I say no. I do this because during past traumas, I’d be hurt even more severely if I cried or screamed. So for whatever reason I begin to laugh instead while trying to tell them to stop, or saying no. This does nothing to help and often leads people to think I’m joking.” — Victoria F.

4. “Some think it’s funny that I have such an exaggerated startle response. They giggle when I scream at loud noises or sudden unexpected movement in my peripheral vision. I try to laugh too, because I don’t want to have to explain.” — River B.

5. “Getting in the middle of fights to make them stop. I will literally tell whoever’s fighting to shut up. I cannot handle fighting and yelling. If I can’t make them stop, I shut down.” — Courtney H.

6. “With my PTSD from spiritual abuse, I’m really defensive. If I think someone I deem as important in some way is trying to tell me I’m making a mistake or am wrong about something, I jump into, ‘No I’ve thought this through and here’s why’ mode out of fear that they’re going to cause a lot of destruction in my life if I don’t defend myself.” — Rebekah W.

7. “When something sets off trauma-based ‘feelings.’ I won’t always get flashbacks, but I’ll suddenly feel very on edge, alert and afraid for my safety. Even if I’m around those I love, I’ll be terrified I’ve done something wrong and am about to receive punishment for it. I hate that it makes those [who] trigger it feel guilty for doing so. I don’t want to make them feel sad for it.” — Joy L.

8. “I flinch when touched, or when something (hand, object, foot, anything) comes towards me unexpectedly. I say ‘ouch’ when I trip or bump myself even though it didn’t hurt. I expect to be hurt. I scare far too easily when someone turns a corner too close to me, or something is in my way when I turn a corner. I was hurt too many times. I expect it. It’s been two years since what happened ended, and my brain can’t let it go.” — Caitlin S.

9. “People don’t realize that I rub my arms a lot and look around at my surroundings constantly because I have PTSD. I’m hyperaware of everything going on around me, and jump at the slightest noise or touch. They also don’t realize that when I pace back and forth, it’s usually because I’m having a flashback, and pacing helps keep me grounded in the here and now of reality.” — Nicole S.

10. “People don’t realize I’ve discovered the fastest exit, the best way through crowds, the quickest/safest route home and that the person/object/car they just saw, I’ve been watching for a while. People don’t realize that when I smile and nod, it takes every bit of effort to do that and I’ve just missed what they were saying as I force myself to look them in the eyes. People don’t realize that it’s not that I don’t care about their day, I care too much and it drains me to care so much.” — Jazmyne F.

11. “I put myself last because of my abuse. I’ve been ‘taught’ from a young age that I don’t matter and that I’m just an object. So I let people use me, and put myself last.” — Jazmin L.

12. “[I] always sit with my back to the wall so no one can sneak up behind me, [and] make sure windows and doors are locked when I go to bed. If I am not sure, I have to get up and check. [I find myself] flinching away from commonplace items because they remind me of the trauma I have been through.” — Christina C.

13. “Running away from my problems. People think I’m doing it willingly, but truth is I’m running away from my problems because I never learned how to properly handle my problems. I’m too scared to face my problems because I’m scared to go down the similar path.” — Devon B.

14. “Daydreaming! Well, what appears to be daydreaming. In reality, traumatic memories play over and over again in [my] head. Sometimes it’s like [I’m] reliving that experience again.” — Mandii R.

15. “Mumbling… Getting confused and disorientated when listening or when someone asks me something.” — Jessica S.

16. “Jumping when my phone goes off, because my first thought is sometimes thinking she’s texting me again.” — Eli M.

17. “[I] seek out confrontation. It’s what I’m used to… I hate conflict, but it’s also what I’m most familiar with.” — Codi W.

18. “Vacuums and toilets scare me. The sounds they make cover every other sound and it’s terrifying. People don’t understand how terrifying they are to me.” — Kai H.

19. “Holding myself in a very tense way through the whole day. It causes spasms through my back, shoulders and neck. The emotional pain and physical pain intensify each other and it’s hard to recognize that I’m doing it at times.” — Manda W.

20. “When I get triggered, I start yelling. I don’t always mean to, I just snap and then I feel guilty and isolate myself from others because I feel I don’t deserve to be around people.” — Rachel M.

21. “Needing decisions to be made for me. I can literally spiral into a panic attack if my boyfriend tries to interrogate me on where I want to eat for dinner. Decisions are terrifying because what if my decision makes him unhappy? Sounds silly but it’s stressful.” — Kaitlyn C.

What would you add?

Thinkstock photo via Ridofranz.

Originally published: June 7, 2017
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