PTSD is a major problem, not just from returning veterans but also rape victims, victims of physical and emotional abuse, car accidents and other life experiences. It can also be the result of more ordinary and often repeated “domestic” trauma. The response to the trauma is more influential than the trauma itself. Studies have found an increased rate of marital breakup, addiction and suicide in those with PTSD.
PTSD sufferers typically report hyper-vigilance (always on the lookout for potential danger), insomnia, intrusive flashbacks, emotionally reliving traumatic events, over-reacting to sudden sounds and other abrupt stimuli, chronic anxiety, panic attacks and more. The nervous system is in a near constant state of over-arousal, with the environment experienced as a continual threat. It is as if the nervous system has forgotten how to return to a relaxed state, which is what a healthy nervous system automatically does after an actual or potential danger has receded.
One of the fundamental ways that Neurofeedback works is by reducing the “fight or flight” response of the sympathetic peripheral nervous system while simultaneously enhancing the homeostatic or calming “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system. This can be visibly seen in clients—posture and muscles relax, vision often seems brighter (from the pupils dilating), voices sound huskier (from muscles around the vocal cords relaxing) and speech slows down. Clients appear visibly more relaxed.
The majority of traumatized individuals do not meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD, and PTSD cannot capture the multiplicity of exposures over critical developmental periods. "Because children's brains are still developing, trauma has a much more pervasive and long-range influence on their self-concept, on their sense of the world and on their ability to regulate themselves" (DeAngelis, 2007).
The PTSD diagnosis does not capture the developmental effects of childhood trauma: the complex disruptions of affect regulation; the disturbed attachment patterns; the rapid behavioral regressions and shifts in emotional states; the loss of autonomous striving; the aggressive behavior against self and others; the failure to achieve developmental competencies; the loss of bodily regulation in areas of sleep, food, and self-care; the altered schemas of the world; the anticipatory behavior and traumatic expectations; the multiple somatic problems, from gastrointestinal distress to headaches; the apparent lack of awareness of danger resulting self-endangering behaviors; the self-hatred and self-blame; and the chronic feelings of ineffectiveness (Van der Kolk, 2005).
When early childhood relationships are sources of overwhelming fear, or when absent, insecure or disorganized attachment leaves a person feeling helpless and alone, the mind needs some way to cope. Many times, trauma survivors re-live childhood experiences with an unresponsive or abusive partner. "Partners of trauma survivors may want desperately to help, but partners need to be clear that it is not your problem to fix and you don’t have the power to change another human being. Rather, know that both of you deserve to connect with resources to help you find comfort and healing" (Brickel, 2015). Trauma-informed therapy helps partners give each other the ability of learning to understand each individual’s story, how it impacts their relationship, and how to process thoughts and emotions in healthier ways.