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Dealing With PTSD Symptoms
Help For Veterans With Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Authored by William G. DeFoore, Ph.D.

Veterans, this is your PTSD web page. The goal here is for you to get some helpful information, then tell your stories and offer support to your fellow vets if you can. 


Here's how this works:

1.) I will offer some ideas about how to deal with the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and some insights into the problem.

2.) You can read the page and move on to something else that interests you, or you can get involved by telling your story here, reading the stories of others, or offering your support and help to other vets.

And that's it! It's simple and easy, and it's all for you. You are someone who has served in the military to protect what you believe in, and you are worthy of healing and having a good life. Thank you for your service!

Symptoms Of PTSD

Diagnostic symptoms include reexperience such as flashbacks and nightmares, avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, increased arousal such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, anger and hypervigilance. Per definition, the symptoms last more than six months and cause significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (e.g. problems with work and relationships.) This is from

Okay, you're still here, so that tells me you have some or all of those symptoms.

If you're in crisis right now, here's some immediate help from the Wounded Warrior Project. In case you're still not sure, let's put it in different language:

If you're not a vet and have PTSD, this page is for you.

You have PTSD if:

  • You have reoccurring flashbacks and/or nightmares
  • You avoid anything that reminds you of the trauma you experienced
  • You have a heightened state of arousal or anxiety that makes it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep
  • You have trouble controlling your anger--this may or may not include aggression or violence, you just feel a lot of anger
  • You are hypervigilant--meaning, you are almost always on the alert, looking around, watching other people, etc. as if you were expecting some kind of attack or crisis

Regardless of what you have heard or read, rest assured that you can deal with your PTSD symptoms. I have been helping people overcome trauma for over 40 years, and if you are willing to do the work involved, you can heal emotionally and mentally and live the life you choose.

Here's what I understand about how the brain works, and...

Why PTSD occurs:

  • The trauma occurs, not just once but over and over again.
  • Your mind has to do something with the fear, pain and shock of what happened.
war vet
  • Disassociation, or just "shutting it out" is one of the ways your mind can deal with trauma, and it is one of the things that causes PTSD. This is pretty much unavoidable. When you're in the middle of military action, you just don't have the chance to stop and process your feelings as they come up.
  • When you disassociate, it's like "tucking away" the memory into a part of your brain. The thing is that it doesn't go away. It stays there, develops a life of its own, and "wants out," meaning it wants to be expressed, processed and resolved.
  • This "wanting out" shows up in your symptoms. The flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety and anger are all evidence that this memory is not going to take "no" for an answer. It won't let up until it gets expressed (the word "express" by the way, simply means "to press out").
  • So, the key to healing ptsd symptoms is to learn to express the thoughts and emotions related to the trauma you have experienced in a safe, healthy, therapeutic manner. And that's what you can do on this site.

My Own Background With The Military And PTSD

If you want to know something about who I am, my dad is a World War II Army veteran, and I served in the National Guard and Army Reserves.

Most of my experience with PTSD (of the war trauma type) has been in connection with my father's 68 year journey of recovery. He's 98 years old now, healthy and strong and still working some (because he wants to). He's a great example of how someone with severe war trauma and PTSD can experience full recovery and live a happy, productive life.

Personally, I had nightmares about war for the first 30+ years of my life. While studying Psychology, I learned that my subconscious mind was trying to deal with Dad's war trauma for him.

That's when I realized I needed to hear his war stories. It took him a while to start telling them, but they've been flowing freely for the last thirty years. My nightmares stopped as soon as his stories started coming out, and his have finally stopped now, too.

I will tell you about an imagery process that was very helpful to him in recovering from his PTSD symptoms, but first I want to say some things to you about you.

Some Good Things To Consider About Yourself

  • You are a good person. The reason you were shocked, horrified and traumatized by the violence you were exposed to is that it doesn't match up with who you are, deep inside. Your true nature is kind and compassionate.
anger among angels
  • And, ironically, you also have a killer inside. So do I, and so does every human being on the planet. I wrote a lot about this in my book, Anger Among Angels: Shedding Light On the Darkness Of The Human Soul. I am fascinated by the place in the human soul where anger and the angels meet, where the kind and compassionate soul meets up with the survival-based fight-or-flight reptilian instinct to kill or be killed.
  • Your recovery depends on your being able to reconcile these seemingly contradictory parts of yourself, recognizing that you are a good person who is capable of doing great harm. While that also describes every other human being on the planet, what sets you apart is that you have been in military conflict. You have known battle. Your reptilian survival brain has been cultivated, activated and exercised, which creates a lot of internal confusion and conflict...and PTSD.
  • Your body/mind is a brilliantly designed organism of self-correction and self-healing. Your PTSD symptoms are a direct result of your inner self trying to push out (to ex-press) the toxic pain, fear and anger that have built up in your system throughout your life and military experience.
  • You are not crazy, although you might feel like it sometimes. Your problems are a part of your system's effort to correct what went wrong. While some wars might be justified and necessary, the individual experience of being at war is disturbing to the human heart, mind and spirit.
  • The human brain is designed to heal trauma by reviewing it. That's the reason for the flashbacks and nightmares. The thing is, if the "review" is re-traumatizing, there is little or no healing that occurs. So, reviewing the memories consciously, by choice, and while feeling safe and comfortable, is essential for healing to occur. That's where healing imagery comes in, which I will describe below.

Even if you don't agree with everything I've said, just consider that all or some of this might be true for you. The more you believe in yourself, the easier your healing process will be.

How To Heal Your PTSD Symptoms

  • First, you need to be aware that writing about your experience can really help you. There's an excellent book that provides scientific research on this called, "Opening Up: The Healing Power Of Expressing Emotions" by Dr. James Pennebaker. When you write (or talk) about your trauma, you are connecting language (left brain) with emotional memory (right brain), and that's a very good thing. When the memory stays locked away and you don't connect it with the language part of your brain, it can stay big, overwhelming and just "too much to handle."
  • You also need to know that you can write your stories right here on this site, and get responses from me and other vets.
  • Now for the imagery process I mentioned. Keep in mind that you may not be ready to do this. Believe me, you'll know. If your heart starts racing just reading my words, you're probably not ready. But if you read all the way through my instructions and can still breathe and see straight, then you are probably ready to give it a try. Here we go:
    1. Take a few deep breaths and try to relax the muscles of your body as much as you can. Good. Now, think of a memory that you feel ready to work on.
    2. Imagine yourself as the person you are today, traveling back in time to the scene of that memory. This is the creative workshop of your imagination, so you're completely safe. You can enter the battle zone, or whatever the situation is, and do what needs to be done. You can stop the scene at any time, just by opening your eyes.
    3. Focus on the image of yourself, in that memory. So, you are the present-day you looking at the image of yourself as you were when the trauma occurred. Now, if you feel that you can, go up to that soldier and say, "It's okay, you can come home now. It's over. I'm here for you."
    4. If the "soldier you" is unwilling to come with you, confused, afraid or angry, that's okay. Just tell him/her, "Whatever you feel is okay with me. I'm just going to hang out here with you. I won't leave you, no matter what."
    5. If the "soldier you" is willing to come with you, put your hand on her/his shoulder and walk away from the danger zone together. Go to the safest place you can think of, in reality or in your imagination. It needs to be a safe, healing place.
    6. Once you're in the safe place, look back together, you and the "soldier you," and notice that you're not stuck in the traumatic scene any more.
    7. Picture that younger you, the traumatized you, on a daily basis after that until you see him/her start to calm down and relax into the new life that you've created for yourself in the present time.
  • You may be experiencing what is known as "complex ptsd," which means that you had long-term exposure to trauma, usually involving captivity. This would certainly apply to POW's.
  • If you do try the above process, please tell us about it so that others can offer support and learn from your experience.

Thanks for hanging in there to this point! If you don't feel ready to try any of these exercises, you've already shown that you are willing to read about PTSD. So continue reading, and when you're ready, tell your story. We want to hear from you. You are not alone.

You will find a great resource for military families at Army OneSource.

Tell Your Story
Or Ask Your Question About PTSD

You need to tell your story, and we need to hear it. This is your chance to help and be helped by your fellow veterans. You can also talk about your experience trying the imagery techniques described on this site. You can do this!

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