PTSD: Definition According To Psychology

Reviewed by Melinda (Santa) Gladden, LCSW

Published 06/24/2022

Many people normally develop memories that tend to upset them after a traumatic event. Some others may experience some level of difficulty in falling asleep. Asides from these, after a traumatic experience, it is likely that a person may not find it easy to carry out their normal day to day activities. However, within a few weeks to a few months, most people tend to feel better.

If these feelings persist longer than a few months, then you might have developed PTSD.

What Is PTSD?

According to psychology, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD for short, can be defined as a condition that sometimes develops following a person is witnessing of a traumatic occurrence. These occurrences may cause some trauma level because they involved a threatened death or grave bodily harm to a person or their loved one. The trauma may also arise from the actual death of a loved one.

Examples of events that could cause trauma and possibly lead to PTSD include natural disasters, a serious accident, rape, other sexual violence, and military combat.

People who have PTSD tend to have a slightly heightened sense of danger than it normally would have been. As a result, even though they are safe, they may feel fearful or stressed. People with PTSD may also relive their traumatic experience through nightmares or flashbacks in their minds long after the event may have ended.

The condition PTSD has been referred to using several names in the past. During the period of the First World War, it was referred to as “shell shock,” and after the Second World War happened, some referred to it as the “battle or combat fatigue.” This was all because PTSD commonly affected military veterans. However, research has shown that it is not only military veterans that can have PTSD.

Who Develops PTSD?

It is possible for anybody at any age to develop PTSD. Other factors may influence whether or not a person develops PTSD after a traumatic experience.

Examples of these factors may include age, prior traumatic experiences, and gender of the person. High levels of stress may also increase the likelihood of a person developing PTSD, while developing PTSD may be reduced by social support.

PTSD may occur as a form of response to the neuronal and chemical changes that have taken place in the brain after experiencing traumatic events. Having PTSD does not in any way mean that you are weak or that you are flawed.

What Are The Symptoms Of PTSD?

PTSD tends to disrupt the way you carry out your regular activities, and it could also affect your ability to normally function. This happens because sounds, words, and situations that cause you to remember your traumatic experience can trigger your PTSD symptoms.

The symptoms of PTSD may develop as early as 3 months after the traumatic event. In some other cases, it may develop as late as a few years after the traumatic event may have occurred.

PTSD symptoms can be classified into four major groups.


Intrusion symptoms refer to signs that the traumatic event may be interfering with your daily routine or normal activities or possibly your thoughts.

These symptoms include:

  • Flashbacks of the event or of similar events where it seems like you are reliving the traumatic experience
  • Nightmares about the traumatic experience
  • Vivid memories of the traumatic experience
  • Intense distress, either mentally or physically, when you are thinking of the experience.


Avoidance symptoms entail you avoiding things that make you remember your traumatic experience.

These symptoms include:

  • Avoiding events, places, or objects that trigger memories of your traumatic experience
  • Avoiding feelings or thoughts that may be related to your traumatic event

Arousal And Reactivity

Arousal and reactivity symptoms tend to be more constant rather than being triggered. These symptoms may also pose some difficulty in carrying out daily activities.

These symptoms include:

  • Difficulty with concentrating
  • Getting startled easily along with your response being exaggerated when you get startled
  • Consistently feeling tensed or feeling “on edge.”
  • Increased level of irritability
  • Having anger outbursts

Cognition And Mood

These symptoms may begin to surface after the traumatic event. However, they do not occur because of injuries sustained or substance use. These symptoms may cause you to feel detached from your family members or friends.

These cognition and mood symptoms include:

  • Having negative thoughts concerning yourself
  • Having feelings of blame, guilt, or worry that are distorted
  • Difficulty in remembering key parts of the event that may be causing you the trauma
  • Reduced interest or a total loss of interest in activities that you may have previously enjoyed

For you to be diagnosed with PTSD as an adult, the following may have shown for more than a month:

  • At least 1 of the symptoms in the intrusion group
  • At least 1 of the symptoms in the avoidance group
  • At least 2 of the symptoms in the arousal and reactivity group
  • At least 2 of the symptoms in the cognition and mood group

In addition to these symptoms, people with PTSD are likely to experience panic attacks and signs of depression and other related conditions.

Differences Between PTSD Symptoms Of Men And Women

According to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health, it has been shown that women are more likely to develop PTSD than men. As a result, the symptoms in women may manifest in a slightly different manner.

Women tend to feel;

  • Higher levels of depression and anxiety
  • More numb and lack of emotions
  • More easily startled
  • Increased sensitivity to triggers of the traumatic experience

In addition, the symptoms of PTSD tend to last longer than when they manifest in men. It has also been noted by the Office of Women’s Health, the US Department of Health and Human Services, that men reach out for help within the first year that their symptoms manifest. At the same time, women tend to wait longer than that, usually about 4 years on average.

Men tend to have just the typical symptoms of PTSD highlighted above.

The symptoms of PTSD in everyone usually manifests differently. Each person may display a different combination of symptoms based on preexisting biological factors and the nature of the traumatic experience they have.

What Are The Causes Of PTSD?

PTSD usually develops in people that have experienced a traumatic event either firsthand or indirectly. While a percentage of these people who experience some of these trauma-causing events may not face any problems later on, a smaller percentage tends to develop PTSD afterward.

The trauma they experienced may result in real changes in the brain.

A study conducted in 2018 suggests that people who have developed PTSD have a reduced volume of the hippocampus –the part of the brain involved in emotion and memory.

What is not certain is whether these persons had this reduction in the volume of their hippocampus before they experienced the trauma or if it was the case that it was the trauma that resulted in the reduction of the volume of their hippocampus.

More research is still ongoing in this regard. Another thing that has been noticed is that people who have developed PTSD may also have abnormally increased stress hormone levels. This tends to affect how they react to events, with them tending to overreact more than usual.

Risk Factors Of PTSD

Certain traumatic experiences are more likely to cause a person to develop PTSD. These risk factors include:

  • Natural and other disasters
  • Military combat
  • Serious accidents
  • Assault
  • Sexual or domestic violence
  • Childhood abuse

It is true that not everyone that experiences a traumatic event may eventually develop PTSD. Still, if the trauma lasted for a long duration or severe, there is a higher tendency to develop PTSD.

Some other factors that may increase the risk of developing PTSD include:

  • Substance use, misuse, and abuse
  • Absence of a support system
  • Depression and other related mental health challenges
  • The nature of your job includes being a member of the military, a police officer, or a first responder.
  • Female gender
  • Having close relatives and family members who have developed PTSD

How Can PTSD Be Prevented?

Unfortunately, so far, there is no way to prevent the events that cause the trauma that leads to PTSD. However, there are a few things you can do to reduce the tendency of developing PTSD.

Have a strong support system is one good way to reduce the tendency of having PTSD. Rely on people you trust the most –your friends, family members, partner, or even a therapist that is trained. When things seem to be overwhelming, reach out to those in your support network.

If you are wondering if you have PTSD, take this test to find out.

NOTES: No changes needed.
 Does not go against what is clinically accepted.
 Does not encourage mindsets or practices that may be harmful to the reader.
 Is factual and up-to-date.

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