Unfortunately, there are many rumors about PTSD that are NOT true, and here is one we hear often: "People who have a history of trauma cannot be high-functioning members of society." Let's talk about why this is a load of bull:
When we define trauma and what someone with a trauma history looks like, we often miss out on seeing the truth of their personal history. We expect to see someone showing some form of self-destructive behavior in an attempt to self-sooth. But that is not always the case.
Trauma is often thought of as an isolated event: a car crash, sexual assault, or maybe something happening during military service. While singular events can be traumatic, we’re ignoring a whole host of ongoing situations and relational traumas a person can experience. Many of which are outlined in Acknowledge and Heal: A Women-Focused Guide To Understanding PTSD
When a person is exposed to ongoing trauma, their mind tries to adapt. It’s the brain’s job to keep us alive, so in situations where we cannot escape our trauma, the brain switches from fight or flight, or to a more adaptive "tend and befriend" mode, allowing us to remain as safe as possible in the ongoing traumatic situation.
In short, we develop coping mechanisms to keep everything peaceful. And, as long as things are relatively calm in our lives, we appear “normal.”
In some cases, our focus is shifted outward, toward the things we can control: grades, promotions, seeking independence, and financial security. Many trauma survivors become fiercely independent because of the betrayal of the trauma they experienced left them knowing the only person they could rely on was themselves (e.g. a former child of abusive or neglectful parents). To a spectator, these individuals seem like they have it all together. They couldn’t possibly be struggling with PTSD, right?
If they have had to lean on self-sufficiency for survival, it is likely that by the time they desperately need help, they have perfected their mask of indifference and fortified their emotional barriers to the point that they have become reflexes. No longer aware of the walls they throw up, these people can be very difficult to diagnose.
Either way the pendulum swings, self-destructive or super high-functioning, the person who has experienced trauma (singular or ongoing) is attempting to compensate for it. And that may work for them for many years, until it doesn’t.
The bottom line is that being outwardly high-functioning and needing trauma recovery work are not mutually exclusive. Just because someone appears to be high functioning, it doesn’t mean they don’t suffer.
What is your experience with high-functioning PTSD? We value your feedback and ideas! Reach out on our Community Facebook Page!
“If you believe change is possible, you want to change, and you are willing to do the work, you absolutely CAN get your life back.”