One of the classic traits of PTSD is isolation. PTSD sufferers often feel unable to relate to other people. Sometimes this results from a feeling that others can’t possibly understand them, and sometimes it’s not a conscious thing at all, just an uncomfortable or even aversive feeling around other humans.
I say “other humans” because people with PTSD often feel comforted by animals. Animals will love you unconditionally, and often will protect you during an episode of symptoms. The mere presence of an animal can sometimes be comforting enough to head off a full-blown episode.
One problem with isolation is that it is self-perpetuating. Who the hell wants to be around a touchy individual who tends to disappear off the map for reasons most people cannot fathom? And if concerned individuals ask why, they are not likely to get a straight answer, because who wants to go through the whole “I have PTSD” explanation to somebody who is not on the “need to know” list?
As for people who are on the “need to know” list, their job is so difficult that many of them bail out. Here you are with this lovely person, going along just like usual, and something you do sets them off, and all hell breaks loose.
Granted, the triggering behavior often resembles the original wounding behavior itself: aggression, threats, or actual acts of violence. And there are, unfortunately, individuals who thrive on the power trip of controlling a person with PTSD, as is seen in domestic violence, and in the pimp-prostitute relationship.
Among returning veterans with PTSD, the rates of divorce outstrip the rates of marriage success, among preexisting marriages. Likewise, the rates of homelessness among vets with PTSD are astronomical. Much of this is due to simply being unable to reintegrate, unable to relate to civilian society.
Other groups that show similar social isolation patterns are domestic abuse survivors, rape survivors, and survivors of prostitution and human trafficking. Much like combat veterans, these people find it hard to integrate into a society that not only has never had to deal with the traumas they have been through, but also may look at them as pitiful, dirty, or damaged people. In addition, survivors of domestic abuse and sexual trauma have difficulty knowing who to trust. Repeated experience of betrayal of trust erodes the foundation of the ability to trust, making isolation preferable to being abused once again.
Suicide is the ultimate act of social isolation. I don’t have the numbers handy at this moment, but the relative risk of suicide is much higher in people with PTSD than in the general population. This is greatly multiplied if the person with PTSD also has an additional psychiatric diagnosis such as Major Depressive Disorder or Bipolar Disorder.
I’m breaking my head trying to come up with a good closing sentence, but I’ve depressed myself writing this post such that I can’t think of one. So that’s the way it odds, today.
Copyright 2012 Laura P. Schulman all rights reserved