Dealing with Trauma

Violence causes the average person to become traumatized by the experience. As with soldiers leaving a combat zone, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is common among victims of violent crime. Regardless of the violent act committed, coping mechanisms, that is the healing process is the same.

This page is intended as a basic guideline in dealing with the trauma associated with violence. If you are the victim of violence, we encourage you to use the references at the bottom to help you in locating additional information and strongly advise seeking professional help in dealing with the trauma.

Lubbock Victim Assistance Services, Inc, will be glad to put you in touch with those who can help guide you through this difficult time.

What Is Trauma/PTSD?

Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress.
Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Trauma is defined as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience,” but for a person suffering from a traumatic experience such as personal violence, this definition fails to account for all that entails. A person going through a divorce could be said to be experiencing “a deeply distressing…experience,” yet not be impacted in the same way as a victim of violent crime. So, for sake of this discussion, we need to better define ‘trauma,’ especially as it relates to the suffering of a violent attack.

As Joseph (2012) points out, trauma, as it relates to victims of violence, is very different. Those who are victimized experience PTSD but the current definition is very different from that which appeared originally in the Journal of the American Psychological Association. What is the difference between the current 1994 definition and the definition introduced in 1980 and why does it matter?

What is PTSD as it Relates to Personal Violence?

The change in the current definition from the original 1994 definition of PTSD (PostTraumatic Stress Disorder) is important because the current definition may be used too loosely. Joseph (2012) argues that the current definition is too loose to provide effective treatment for victims. He describes the 1994 (current) definition of PTSD as having,

“experienced or witnessed an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others, and which involved fear, helplessness, or horror.” (Joseph, 2012)

He then compares the newer definition with the original showing,

“that an event had to be outside the range of usual human experience. Then, only the most horrific events would qualifiy.”

For instance, a child afraid of learning to swim could be rightly said to experience PTSD in the modern sense, but only someone experiencing shocking and horrific violence such that anyone would be traumatized would qualify under the older. Why does this matter?

Does Violence Cause Trauma?

Age-standardised disability-adjusted life year...
Age-standardised disability-adjusted life year (DALY) rates from Post-traumatic stress disorder by country (per 100,000 inhabitants). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Violence does not always produce trauma, or PTSD. This is why Joseph (2012) argues against the newer definition, which assumes some degree of personal vulnerability to terrible events. This personal vulnerability allows for over-diagnosing PTSD and results in a dulling to the trauma by some in the public. This results in fewer resources being applied to victims and exacerbates the problem for those most in need of assistance.

For instance, violence is often experienced by persons living in inner cities. Many such people live with the daily reality that shots are fired nearby and they could die at any moment. Yet, many people living in such situations do not become traumatized by these situations.

In the original definition, anyone would become traumatized by the event. This would reduce the number of people who qualify as having PTSD. Is this reasonable?

Definition of PTSD Updated in 2013 DSM-V

English: signs and symptoms ptsd
English: signs and symptoms ptsd (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whether the older definition is better for victims or the newer is better remains a subject for debate. For those who have been victimized by violence, it is a moot point. Anyone who has suffered violence at the hands of another will experience some degree of psychological distress. Whether that distress interferes with their life or not depends on a variety of factors.

The updated 2013 DSM-V took a middle ground between the original definition and the 1994 definition. It removed such natural events such as the death of a close family member or friend. It also added that sufferers of PTSD would be those who experienced symptoms for more than a month (VA, 2013). What are the sysmptoms of PTSD?

Although this is not intended to diagnose anyone as having PTSD, we provide the following from the DSM-V 2013 for general guidance purposes.

The DSM-V 2013 Criterion for PTSD generally consists of at least one of the following related to the violent event…

  • “Intrusive thoughts
  • “Nightmares
  • “Flashbacks
  • “Emotional distress after exposure to traumatic reminders
  • “Physical reactivity after exposure to traumatic reminders.”

And in combination with at least two from this list…

  • “Inability to recall key features of the trauma
  • “Overly negative thoughts and assumptions about oneself or the world
  • “Exaggerated blame of self or others for causing the trauma
  • “Negative affect
  • “Decreased interest in activities
  • “Feeling isolated
  • “Difficulty experiencing positive affect”

And two from this list…

  • “Irritability or aggression
  • “Risky or destructive behavior
  • “Hypervigilance
  • “Heightened startle reaction
  • “Difficulty concentrating
  • “Difficulty sleeping

If you believe you or someone you love is suffering from PTSD, read the entire description from the 2013 DSM-V here and get in touch with a licensed Psychologist for a professional opinion. If you need help locating someone, let Lubbock Victim Assistance Services, Inc. know and we can help put you in touch with someone.

What Can be Done to Cope with Trauma?

English: Cases of PTSD and Severe Depression A...
English: Cases of PTSD and Severe Depression Among U.S. Veterans Deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan Between Oct 2001 and Oct 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Trauma resulting from personal violence, whether called PTSD or not, presents difficulties for most. The mind tends to replay the terrible event as if on automatic and people often find it difficult to turn such thoughts off. These repeated memories can cause both distress in daily living and difficuties concentrating on other, more important matters. When this happens, the person often feels guilty for being unable to perform even the most mundane and common tasks. This leads to further guilt and a cycle which is difficult to break away from.

For this reason, many who suffer from violence need help.

Fortunately, there is plenty of help to be had. Click here for a list of hotlines and other resources which may be useful to you or contact Lubbock Victim Assistance Services here for personal assistance.

Strategies for Coping with Trauma

Coping with a traumatic event such as violence can be difficult, but it is not impossible. Following are some strategies which can be used by anyone to deal with the effects of violence.

  • Locate or arrange a support group: often, those who have experienced violent situations meet others in the same situation. There is no need to suffer alone. Just meeting regularly with people who have experienced the same or something similar can have a healing effect for all. This is because those who have been through it can best empathize and this empathy helps heal.
  • Do not hold back from crying. Crying is a normal emotional response to terrible experiences and provides the catharsis needed for healing. Cry. Let it out.
  • Use meditation, prayer, deep muscle relaxation techniques, or any similar to ease the mental stress that compounds the trauma.
  • In addition to crying (emotional exercise) and meditation (mental exercise), physical exercise both strenuous and mild adds to the healing effects you need. Take a brisk walk or jog, ride a bike, go swimming, engage in aerobic activities, do yoga, stretching exercises, rock climbing, or simply get a good massage. All these can help ease the physical tension which prevents healing.
  • Once you have exercised hard (or not), few things help ease stress and tension like a hot bath. And there is nothing wrong with adding bubbles and/or aromas to the water, perhaps candles, and some soft music. Just don’t fall asleep.
  • Do not forget to eat right too. Not only does the body need a balanced diet when engaging in exercise, such things as leafy green vegetables, berries, nuts, and fruits are all good for mental functions. If your mind is foggy, lay off the fatty meats and increase veggie intake, especially raw vegetables.
  • Also, do your best to stay away from alcohol, caffiene, nicotine, or too much processed sugar. These all tend to cloud thinking and make recovery more difficult.
  • Reader’s Digest used to carry a feature called “Laughter is the Best Medicine.” Maybe they still do. Fact is, they are right. Find humor in your life. Do not be afraid to let yourself laugh. It will help.
  • If you have a hobby, keep it going. If not, start one. Music, whether listening or playing, art, whether doing it or visiting a museum, can all help.
  • Every day, write down a committment to yourself.
  • Every day, write down three things to be thankful for.
  • Hug those you care about, even if it is a pet, every day.
  • Become socially active, perhaps joining a charity drive or teaching a class at a community center. Especially helpful are groups which emphasize personal or community safety such as karate or neighborhood watch programs.
  • Keep a journal which you may retain personally or share.

These strategies were paraphrased from an excellent page by Levin (2011). View the entire page here. The most imporant thing to take from this is that keeping busy will help mitigate the harmful effects of the violence you experienced. Anyone can become a victim, but whether we remain a victim or not is up to us.

How Can I Help Someone Dealing with the Trauma of Violence?

If you want to help someone dealing with the trauma of violence, the best first step is to educate yourself. We recommend starting with the SAMSHA which provides numberous useful publications and resources in conjunction with

The National Institute of Mental Health likewise offers a wide array of resources including free brochures such as…

We also recommend a visit to the National Center for Victims of Crime website which contains scores of resources for helping someone you love.

Finally, if you live in Lubbock or the South Plains, give Lubbock Victim Assistance Services a call or stop by our office. We can provide a personal touch to helping you help someone else.