Fact 26: PTSD’s Onset

Just as PTSD strong-arms its way into people’s lives, it also controls the timeline of its development in traumatized people.
For some individuals, the traumatization begins with the tragic event and never stops. After a month, if a person is still experiencing PTSD symptoms, they can receive a diagnosis of PTSD. If PTSD is going to develop in a person, it usually does so within six months of the trauma.

For other people, PTSD doesn’t set in until after six months or even after many years. This is called “Delayed-Onset PTSD.” Some instances in which this may occur include:

Traumas sustained during infancy or childhood.
To survive sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, children often “put part of themselves away.” When this occurs, and when the children grow into adulthood, the hidden memories may surface. The children-turned-adults must then face the trauma. They experience the full force of PTSD symptoms just like individuals who developed PTSD immediately after a trauma.

Extreme present-day stress and old, hidden traumas.
When people walk around with hidden memories in their lives, their minds and bodies work very hard to keep those memories repressed. They are already suffering from stress, although they may not know it. Adult life comes with its own stressors. Increased stress can demand energy and stamina once allotted to keeping past traumas hidden. When the individual finally succumbs to present-day stressors, the body and mind also relax their hold on the hidden traumas. The individual suffers trauma all over again.

Multiple traumas. 
Sometimes, the initial trauma that people experience is devastating, but not so devastating as to cause PTSD. In later years, especially among the elderly, new and additional traumas can overwhelm the system’s ability to carry the load of multiple traumas, and PTSD begins.

Personally, I had deeply hidden traumas from very early childhood that were brought to awareness by trauma later in my adult life. The load was too heavy, and PTSD took over.

What is your experience with PTSD’s onset timeline?