PTSD can be experienced in a variety of ways, and there is no one “right” way to heal from it. However, most people who have experienced trauma go through five common stages of PTSD: denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, and depression.
In the first stage of PTSD, denial, individuals may try to avoid anything that reminds them of the trauma. They may also deny that the event occurred or that it had any impact on them. This is a defense mechanism that allows people to cope with the overwhelming emotions they are feeling.
The second stage of PTSD is isolation. Individuals may withdraw from friends and family members as they try to cope with their trauma on their own. They may feel disconnected from others and feel like no one can understand what they are going through.
The third stage of PTSD is anger. Individuals may become irritable and lash out at those around them or at themselves. They may feel like they are stuck in a cycle of rage and despair with no way out.
The fourth stage of PTSD is bargaining. In this stage, individuals often try to make deals with themselves or with God in order to avoid facing the reality of their trauma head-on. They may promise themselves that they will.
Impact or Emergency Stage
The impact or emergency stage of PTSD is characterized by a sense of feeling overwhelmed and threatened. This may be accompanied by physical symptoms such as trembling, sweating, heart palpitations, and difficulty breathing. There may also be mental symptoms such as confusion, disorientation, and difficulty concentrating. During this stage, it is common to feel detached from oneself and the world around them.
Denial Numbing Stage
The first stage of PTSD is denial and numbing. This is when people try to pretend that the traumatic event didn’t happen or that it wasn’t as bad as it was. People in this stage may also have a hard time feeling any emotions, good or bad. They may feel numb and disconnected from the world around them. This can be a defense mechanism to help them cope with the pain and trauma they are feeling.
This stage can last for weeks, months, or even years. Some people may never move out of this stage and into the next one. For others, this is just a temporary way to deal with the shock of what has happened.
Rescue Stage (including Intrusive or Repetitive stage)
Once the event or situation has ended and the individual is safe, they may begin to experience a range of intense and confusing emotions. These can include shock, fear, anger, guilt, and shame. It is common for individuals to feel numb or disconnected from their surroundings during this stage. Many people will try to avoid anything that reminder them of the event as they try to make sense of what happened.
During this stage, individuals may also start to experience intrusive thoughts or flashbacks of the event. These can be triggered by things that remind them of the trauma such as sounds, smells, or certain sights. For some people, these flashbacks can be so vivid and realistic that it feels like they are reliving the experience all over again. This can be extremely distressing and make it difficult to go about everyday activities.
It is also common for individuals to have difficulty sleeping during this stage as they may be plagued by nightmares or night terrors. They may also startle easily and become hyper vigilant as their body remains in a state of high alertness. Due to all of these changes, many people will start to withdraw from friends and family as well as activities that they used to enjoy.
Short-term Recovery or Intermediate Stage
This is the stage where people are starting to feel better. The immediate crisis has passed and they are no longer in danger. They may still be feeling some fear, sadness, and anger but they are beginning to feel more like themselves again. This is also a time when people start to think about what happened to them and why it happened. They may have a lot of questions and may not be able to make sense of what happened.
Long-term reconstruction or recovery stage
Many people who experience a traumatic event will have symptoms of stress for some time afterwards. For most people, these symptoms will lessen and go away on their own. But for some people, the symptoms can get worse and last for months or even years. This is called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).