PTSD Emotion Overload

by Suzanne Grosser

There are three steps to coping with the emotions caused by PTSD. First you have to accept your feelings, without judging yourself for feeling that way. That’s what this page is about.

Later you will need to take an honest look at what happened to you. Honesty is tough for people with PTSD. Sometimes your strongest reactions occur because you are trying to hide something from yourself. Once you have looked the truth square in the eye, your feelings may change. They will probably be more intense, because they are honest.

Finally, you need to find positive ways to deal with those feelings.


The emotions of PTSD usually work like this:

You were screwed over – big time. What happened to you should not happen to anyone, ever. But it did happen – and it happened to you! You did not deserve that and you feel angry.

You were hurt, and no one helped you, and you feel sad.

It might happen again and that makes you fearful.

Now you are worried and anxious that it will happen again.

You try to warn people. But no one understands how awful it was. They don’t understand why you aren’t better yet, and trying to explain it is so frustrating!

You resent how easy life is for other people – they haven’t been hurt like you have.

And you’re jealous of those people who take so much for granted.

You’ve been taught that resentment and jealousy are bad, so you feel guilty for feeling that way. And that brings you smack up in the face of that other guilt – the one with a capital G that you are trying desperately to hide from. Your trauma isn’t just about what was done to you. It is about what you have done.

If it went on long enough, you probably did something you are ashamed of. You would never have done such a thing under normal circumstances. But the circumstances weren’t normal. You did not have good choices, so you made lousy choices. Now you are ashamed, embarrassed, and feeling Guilt.

Then, along come the judges: people who weren’t there and couldn’t possibly know what it was like, but they are judging you, looking down on you. They don’t have a clue what it is like to be where you were, but they are happy to tell you what a failure you are – and that makes you angry, again.

Accept your emotions.

Your feelings are not wrong. Your feelings are not bad. Right now, those feelings are the most honest part of you. At least they aren’t pretending everything is fine.You have powerful emotions. Stop denying them, and use them! Anger is your new best friend. It is a tough emotion to deal with, but your anger gives you the energy to act. Without it, you will sit on the couch and just accept the lousy hand you’ve been dealt. You won’t do a damn thing to get better, to make your life better. And your life will just keep getting worse. So open your arms and hug your new best friend. When you are angry, the energy builds inside you. It keeps building until you have to do something. Choosing that something carefully is the key. You can release your pent-up emotions without destroying your life.

First, let’s run through your other feelings:

Sadness.In its most dramatic form, sadness shows up as self-pity. You might not want to admit it, but yes, you do feel sorry for yourself. That is okay. Somebody should feel bad for you! Self pity says: “I am important. I do matter.” And it’s about time somebody said it. You do deserve a pity party – actually this is called grief – you lost things that were important. And you need to allow yourself to feel bad about the things you lost.

Fear Fear is also your friend. No one likes to be afraid, but without fear, we wouldn’t survive long. Without fear tugging on your sleeve, you would walk right out into the street in front of the speeding truck. But fear makes you stop and look both ways. That’s why fear is your friend – until fear becomes your master.

Mastering your fear is not pretending you have no fear. Mastering your fear means trusting yourself to judge the safety of a situation or a person. Fear will tell you when to pay attention. But you must make the decision. Will you be able to cross the street before the truck gets to the corner? Fear only has one answer and it is always no. What does the rest of you say? If you are ever going to leave the curb, you have got to trust yourself to make the right decision.

Worry and anxietyThese two pretend to be fear, but they aren’t. They are annoying little mosquitoes, whining in your ear. They nag you. They replay and revise every little thing that went wrong, might go wrong, has ever gone wrong in the history of the world. They aren’t about anything that is happening now. They are not the fear you should listen to. That’s how you tell the difference.Fear is about what is going on right now. Worry and anxiety are not. They are not a warning. They are a waste of time and energy. Find something else to do. Deal with your anxiety. Distract yourself from worry. Stay in the present. These two can’t live in the here and now.

But other emotions can, like resentment and jealousy.

Resentment and jealousy thrive in the present. You see someone with the life you want, the house you want, the car you want. You see people who aren’t worried all the time. People who haven’t been hurt like you have been, at least as far as you know. You resent their carefree attitude – even if they are your friends. You are jealous that you can’t feel or act the way they do. You are frustrated because you don’t have what they have. It’s okay. Your jealousy shows you what you really want. When you are jealous of someone’s good fortune, congratulations! Now you have a goal. You can’t change the past, but you will create your future. It’s good to know what you want – how else will you get it?

Resentment and jealousy are often followed by frustration. You want something. You don’t have it. You can’t figure out how to get it. So you feel frustrated. Frustration can go two ways – it can grow into anger, or collapse into depression. You want your family to understand how you feel. But no matter how hard you try, they don’t. So you get angry and scream at them, “You just don’t get it!” or you withdraw, “Oh never mind, it’s not important.” Go with your anger – at least it has energy. Withdrawing leads to depression.

Depression is a one-way ticket to a life on the couch watching the weather channel. It is possible to express your feelings constructively, so that you don’t hurt the people who love you, and push them away just when you need them the most. Then you’ll be ashamed of yourself.

Shame is everyone’s least favorite emotion. Ugh. No one wants to feel that way – or to have to admit feeling ashamed. Shame’s best friend is guilt. They hang out together and make you pass judgment on yourself. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Guilt can be good for you, if it is the right kind of guilt. It’s good to look at the things you’ve done and decide if you should do them again. You rode the Dipsy Ditsy rollercoaster and then you threw up. Maybe you won’t do that again. The problem with PTSD is that instead of judging your actions, you judge yourself. You did something, it turned out badly. You must be a bad person! Gobbleing curly cheesy fries before a rollercoaster ride is not bad, it is a mistake. At least it is for you. It is, for you, the wrong thing to do. You are not a bad person because amusement park rides make you barf! But that’s what shame and guilt do to us.

Being honest has a price – when face your pain, and your loss, you may realize that it didn’t have to happen. It should not have happened. But it did. And that makes you angry all over again.

So you’re back where you started with your anger again. When you are angry you have power. You have energy. You can scream at the people you love. You can break things, tear the house apart. But you don’t want to do that. This is what you’re really afraid of: that your emotions will spiral out of control, and you’ll destroy what’s left of your life. You know you’ll feel even worse about yourself. Then you’ll feel sad, guilty, and ashamed, and depressed, all over again. It’s time to get off this not-so-merry-go-round.

So let’s figure out what you are going to do before your emotions fly out of control.. .

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