Self-Compassion: A Key to Reducing Symptoms of PTSD
Living with PTSD is hard enough, but the fact that this mental illness is often accompanied by shame and discompassionate care toward yourself makes it even worse. When you experience trauma, you can end up suffering painful symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which often lead to negative feelings about yourself.
It seems unfair, doesn’t it?
Well, we’re not saying it is fair at all. In fact, feeling negative about yourself after going through or witnessing a trauma is, unfortunately, a normal cognitive reaction. But that doesn’t mean you can’t work on changing how you feel about yourself to reduce the symptoms of PTSD.
Causes of PTSD
Post-traumatic stress disorder can affect anyone at any age. The most common causes of PTSD include experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event such as:
- Sexual abuse
- War and combat
- An accident
- Loss of a child
- A disaster
But PTSD doesn’t always develop from events like this. Perhaps you don’t think you have PTSD because you can’t recall experiencing or witnessing what you would typically deem as “trauma.” Instead, you may dismiss PTSD-triggering events in your life as “unfortunate” or “bad but not traumatic” while your brain and body deem otherwise.
Some possible life events that could trigger PTSD include:
- Infidelity of a loved one
- Parental divorce
- Family history of mental illness or substance abuse
- Feeling intense fear in a given situation
- Discovering someone you love has experienced trauma
- Any event that causes the inability to cope
Symptoms of PTSD
Symptoms of PTSD typically develop within three months of a traumatic event but can sometimes manifest years later. Living with PTSD doesn’t simply mean you recall a traumatic or painful life event. It’s your body responding to your memories as if the event is happening to you all over again.
There are four types of symptoms of PTSD that disrupt and negatively impact your everyday life:
- Avoidance symptoms
- steering clear from events, places, or objects that serve as reminders of a traumatic event
- avoiding any thoughts or feelings related to an event
- Re-experiencing symptoms
- flashbacks causing you to relive a traumatic event and leading to physical symptoms like sweating or a rapid heartbeat
- physical signs of stress
- recurring dreams or memories of the traumatic event
- Arousal and reactivity symptoms
- easily startled
- difficulty falling or staying asleep
- difficulty concentrating
- feeling on edge or tense
- engaging in reckless behavior
- Cognition and mood symptoms
- Difficulty remembering key features of an event
- Social isolation
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Continuous negative emotions like anger, guilt, shame, and fear
- Negative thoughts about yourself
- Trouble feeling happy or satisfied
- Distorted thoughts of a traumatic event causing you to feel to blame
How Self-Compassion Can Help Reduce the Symptoms of PTSD
When you are living with PTSD, self-compassion can be challenging to come by, but researchers have discovered it to be an antidote to symptoms of PTSD. When you think about it, self-compassion, self-love, and self-acceptance – these things are the opposite of self-hatred and discompassionate self-care.
According to the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine, patients with PTSD decreased their symptoms by practicing self-compassion, self-kindness, and mindfulness. In the same study, researchers found self-compassion to reduce the feelings of shame caused by PTSD.
Tips for Increasing Self-Compassion
While loving yourself and reducing your feelings of shame and, ultimately, your symptoms of PTSD won’t happen overnight, there are ways to increase your self-compassion over time.
- Validate your emotions
If you are living with PTSD, you’ve likely been hard on yourself about experiencing certain emotions. Understand you have emotions for a reason. They don’t just come out of nowhere. If you’re not compassionate with yourself regarding emotions, you only cause yourself more distress. When you feel emotions rise in you, recognize them, tell yourself it’s okay to experience them and do your best to understand why they are happening.
- Exercise self-care
When you aren’t consciously exercising self-compassion, you tend to neglect yourself and participate in self-destructive behaviors or isolation. Try doing the opposite when you feel like you may want to hide away or do something damaging to yourself. Do something nice for yourself, even if it’s something small. Go for a walk, take a bath, buy yourself a latte, watch a funny show – the list is endless. When you are kind to yourself and your body, it’ll help instill more feelings of self-compassion.
- Stay mindful of negative thoughts of yourself
Just because you think something negative about yourself doesn’t make it a fact. Your negative thoughts about yourself often arise from a lack of self-compassion and habit. And when you scold yourself for not liking your negative thoughts, you often feel more shame. Recognize when negative views of yourself arise and do your best to tell yourself you need to practice self-compassion and ignore them.
- Give yourself a break
Don’t set lofty expectations for yourself and your PTSD therapy and recovery. Everyone progresses through PTSD therapy at a different rate. You may notice an improvement in your PTSD symptoms right away, or it may take you a while. And your recovery may also not be linear.
Understand there will be times when you struggle. You aren’t perfect, and that’s okay. Give yourself a break.
- Practice acts of kindness
Helping others has been proven to help people recover from a traumatic event. While you are trying to elevate your self-compassion, try mindfully practicing compassion for others. It may help improve compassion toward yourself. You could volunteer, donate money or time, or simply just hold the door for someone.
- Reduce negative behaviors
When you aren’t compassionate toward yourself, you are at significant risk for developing self-destructive behaviors as a way to “punish” yourself. You may develop disordered eating habits, cut yourself, or abuse substances. Long-term, these actions only elevate your feeling of shame and worthlessness. You must take steps toward reducing these behaviors for the sake of your mental health.
Get Help from a Trusted PTSD Treatment Provider
If you struggle with having self-compassion and are currently living with PTSD, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. PTSD is a painful and potentially dangerous mental disorder. But a trained, compassionate professional can help.
Our team of experts is one of the best sources for PTSD treatment in San Diego. We’ve helped plenty of people just like you overcome the symptoms of PTSD through successful PTSD therapy and proven treatment methods. As one of the leading centers for PTSD treatment in San Diego, we’ll help you increase self-compassion and help you lead a life of joy and fulfillment after experiencing trauma.