top of page
Untitled design.png

What is PTSD

"It's not you, it's what happened to you"
Christine A. Courtois, title of book on complex trauma

PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder 


Traumatic Stress=Experiencing a terrifying event that includes violence, threat of death, or sexual violation 

Disorder=Long-term effects on your ability to live a normal life

SARSAS Easy Read Self-Help Guide: guide on the basics of sexual abuse and trauma


Who gets PTSD?

Most people know it can happen to soldiers returning from combat.  But sexual trauma is actually one of the most likely events to cause PTSD. Even people who are indirectly affected, such as parents who find out that their child was sexually violated, can get PTSD. The added psychological trauma of disclosure and legal involvement can cause or worsen PTSD. If you think you might have PTSD, you are not alone. It is estimated that 1 in 20 adults in the US are experiencing PTSD at any given time.  


What causes PTSD?

PTSD starts with a traumatic stress--a terrifying, unexpected, life-threatening or life-changing experience. Some people are able to process the stress and get back to dealing with life in a mostly normal way within a few months. But others are affected in ways that last longer or affect them more deeply. Getting PTSD is not a sign of weakness. 


There are many factors that influence whether a person who experiences trauma gets PTSD, including:

  • Gender (it is more common in women)

  • Support available

  • Whether it is a shared trauma, or experienced alone

  • Trauma that is repeated or continues

  • Past trauma

  • Age (more common in children)

  • Being helpless or injured by the event


Experiences common in sibling sexual trauma that raise the risk of PTSD include:

  • stigma and silence around sibling sexual trauma

  • isolation and helplessness of any sexual trauma

  • happens most often to children and females

  • ongoing, repeated violation of the survivor’s body, privacy, and trust 

  • living in the same home, even if the abuse has ended

  • unpredictable reactions of family and possibly authorities after disclosure


What does PTSD feel like?

Most of the time, sibling sexual trauma is not revealed until months or years after it happened.  Often PTSD has already set in for the survivor.  But PTSD can be treated.  It may or may not totally go away, but treatment and support can help you feel much better and live a more normal life. 


It is important to seek help for PTSD if you are experiencing symptoms such as these:  

  • Inescapable memories that come when you don’t want or expect them--flashbacks, nightmares, scenes or snapshots popping into your mind

  • Remembering the trauma in bits and pieces, or unable to remember the event at all

  • Feeling jumpy or irritable, easily startled 

  • Feeling that you are always on alert

  • Feeling a sense of urgency to do things

  • Feeling of losing your emotional “elasticity,” unable to deal with the normal ups and downs of life

  • Numbness--having little or no feelings or emotional reactions

  • Feeling disconnected from other people, from your former life or the person you used to be

  • Difficulty sleeping, insomnia, nightmares

  • Otherwise unexplained chronic pain 

  • Extreme anxiety, or panic attacks

  • Quick to anger or always angry--this is especially common in adolescent and adult men

  • Guilt, depression, fear that won’t go away

  • Experiencing or avoiding “triggers”--reminders of the trauma that cause extreme distress such as sounds, smells, types of touch (note: your body might respond to triggers even if you don’t remember what happened or how the trigger is related)


Complex PTSD

Ongoing trauma, especially in childhood, causes a more wide-ranging form that is now recognized by the WHO as Complex PTSD.  Sibling sexual trauma is usually an ongoing trauma, often for years, that begins in childhood, putting survivors at high risk for Complex PTSD or Developmental Trauma Disorder.

Preventing PTSD 

If you recently experienced sexual trauma, discovered your child’s recent sexual trauma, or just learned of your children’s past trauma, you can take steps to prevent short-term Acute Stress Disorder from turning into severe, long-term PTSD.  


For those who have experienced sexual trauma

  • Tell someone what happened. is always a good place to start; it is 24/7, anonymous, confidential, and responders are trained specifically to deal with sexual trauma

  • Take care of yourself 

  • Let your body physically process the trauma (e.g., shake, cry, scream in a safe place—like at home into your pillow or with a therapist)


For those supporting a survivor of sexual trauma

  • Show the survivor that you believe them

  • Allow the survivor to talk about it if they would like to. If you do not feel able to listen in a supportive way, help them find someone who can listen.

  • Do what it takes to keep the child and/or yourself actually safe and feeling safe

  • Help the survivor find trauma-informed therapeutic help

  • Seek help for yourself as well; prioritize your own needs so you can stay mentally healthy for your own sake as well as to be able to support the survivor


For anyone experiencing severe stress or emotional trauma

Wisdom from Judith L Herman, MD:

Trauma is fundamentally about Disempowerment and Isolation. Healing comes through

  • Empowerment--ability to make their own choices and control their own life

  • Reconnection--become reconnected to other people, whether reconciliation or a new community 

For more on Complex Trauma

Complex Trauma:| Resources

bottom of page