How trauma affects a survivor depends on a multitude of factors, one of which being the type of traumatic event(s).
Although people with PTSD generally experience similar symptoms – flashbacks, avoidant behavior, difficulty sleeping and more – the traumatic event(s) that they have experienced can create significant differences in which symptoms affect them the most.
Psychologists examine how different symptoms interact with one another by analyzing system networks, a statistical and visual framework for examining co-variance among symptoms in a given population. A series of symptoms are placed on a circular graph depending how “central” the symptom is – on average, the symptoms at the center of the network have a greater influence compared to symptoms at the edge.
Recognizing which symptoms impact survivors the most allows for a better understanding of PTSD in both yourself and others.
Trauma Affects Everyone Differently
Psychologists have studied network analysis on general PTSD populations, and used their findings to guide treatment. Recently, psychologists have performed more granular network analyses by grouping the PTSD population by different trauma types.
For example, on average, the most central symptoms for people involved in a motor vehicle accident are strong negative feelings and blame. The least central symptoms, which have the smallest impact on other symptoms, are nightmares, irritability and risky behaviors.
In contrast, nightmares and irritability are most central for survivors of sexual assault, and blame is among the least central. This is not to say that feelings of blame are not serious or prevalent among survivors of sexual assault, but rather, feelings of blame are often byproducts of other (more central) symptoms. Once treatment addresses the more central symptoms, the less central symptoms may improve as a result.
Finally, individuals who have PTSD as a result of the sudden accidental or violent death of a loved one generally experience negative beliefs and risky behavior as central symptoms, with nightmares as less central symptoms.
Despite the difference among each trauma group, there are several similarities – avoidance symptoms have the highest mean, while engaging in risky behavior have the lowest. This is further evidence for the effectiveness of Exposure Therapy for most trauma survivors.
How Understanding Your Central Symptoms Can Help You Heal
By identifying the most central symptoms for each trauma type, psychologists can properly tailor treatment to address the different needs of different survivors.
For trauma survivors, understanding your own trauma symptoms will provide the clarity and confidence to empower you through recovery. PTSD is a complex condition, and it often feels overwhelming to experience multiple symptoms at once. Focusing on the symptoms that impact you the most creates a downstream effect – as you heal your center, you also make progress with the rest of your symptoms.
With the right self-care tools, like the Mira app, you can find relief from your symptoms. Mira has several grounding exercises, symptom and trigger tracking, a journal and more to help you through your recovery. Learn more about trauma and PTSD by reading our blog!