Belief systems

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Various belief systems have been associated with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These include basic assumptions about ones self and the world, the trauma experienced, as well as assumptions about the meaning or consequences of one's PTSD symptoms. Although the beliefs can be highly individualized, several themes have emerged in research literature that often shatter a belief system or worse, reinforce an existing belief system.

Belief Systems

There are diverse factors associated with belief systems that are aptly appropriate based on pretrauma and post-trauma experiences and self interpretations. It is not uncommon that a person can fit a traumatic event within their belief system, to justify or reinforce existing negative beliefs. It is also not uncommon that a person instead alters their own belief system to fit a traumatic event, as the new negative trumps existing believed positives, to put it easily.

Shattered Assumptions

Drawing on social psychology research, it is believed that people normally operate on the basis of unchallenged and unquestioned positive assumptions about themselves and the world (e.g. "My world is predictable, safe, meaningful and just" and "Bad things don't happen to good people like me"). When the person experiences trauma, their assumptions may be shattered, thereby leading to confusion, distress and attempts to make sense of what happened. The person may try to make the trauma fit into their belief system (assimilation) or alter their belief system, sometimes dramatically, in light of the experience (accommodation.)

In comparison to those who have positive assumptions about themselves and the world before they experienced trauma, those who have pre-trauma negative views of themselves (e.g. "I am not worthy of good things to happen to me") may have their beliefs "confirmed" rather than shattered. This can lead to psychopathology because the trauma strengthens dysfunctional beliefs.

Beliefs About The World

Those with PTSD often have various beliefs that the world and people are dangerous (e.g.. "The world is dangerous" and "People can't be trusted). It is not unusual for sufferers to believe they are alienated from other people. This belief can arise as a result of not having emotional support, as well as experiencing being blamed, criticized, mistreated or not believed after the trauma. It is theorized that these strongly held negative beliefs can actually be a predictor of a person's vulnerability to develop PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event. Whereas an optimistic belief system can actually be a buffer against the effects of trauma. The factors that lead to shattering versus the buffering of optimistic beliefs are unknown at this time.

Self Related Beliefs

People with PTSD, as compared to those exposed to trauma without having developed PTSD, frequently have negative beliefs about themselves, (e.g. "I am incompetent", "I can't trust myself", I can't trust my thoughts"). The intensity of these beliefs corresponds directly with the severity of PTSD symptoms.

Those with PTSD, especially if it arises as a result of interpersonal traumas, such as rape or torture, often experience a sense of "mental defeat". This involves both cognitive and motivational components in which the sufferer believes they no longer have autonomy. They no longer believe in their own individual identity as a human being nor in the ability to assert their own will. Trauma survivors who experience mental defeat may describe themselves as an object, of having been destroyed and not caring whether they live or die.

Irrational Beliefs

Society and cultural beliefs play a direct role on each individual. The following beliefs are mentioned here, because it is an individual who suffers trauma and is affected by PTSD. These cultural based beliefs, whilst not expansive, should also be taken into consideration when used to change negatives into positives. Some are:
  1. The idea or necessity for an adult to be loved and/or approved off by any significant other, including even communal,
  2. The idea that a person should be competent, adequate and achieving in all respects to feel worthwhile,
  3. The idea that specific people are bad, wicked or villainous and should be severely blamed and punished,
  4. The idea that it is awful and/or catastrophic when things are not the way you want them to be,
  5. The idea that happiness is caused by external influences and that we do not control our own sorrows and disturbances, and
  6. The idea that something is dangerous or fearsome, that you should dwell on its possibility of occurring.
The above are but a mere few irrational beliefs that are influenced by communal and cultural upbringing. The moral of the story is that you do actually have some influence over what you choose to believe and what you actually believe as an adult, regardless the trauma endured to skew the belief system in the first place.

Trauma Based Belief Systems

A belief system about life, death and destiny which may be part of a religious, philosophical or ideological value system, contributes to regulating the processing of traumas and associated activated terrors. A direct example would be a suicide bomber, being a normal every day person can turn towards such an act due to life, death or destiny beliefs that justify and reinforce this new belief system. The type of trauma dictates what sub-system/s is affected, ie. incest can disturb attachment and autonomy; where genocide may disturb collective identity, inter-dependence and survival beliefs.

Traumatic Anger

There are two types of beliefs that are associated with anger due to trauma:
  1. Wronged by another, and
  2. Dwelling on angry thoughts
Both are as destructive as each other, and also directly intertwined often for fuller effect, for example; feeling wronged by another will be reflected as a negative emotion. You now feel something in regard to this act. This emotion stimulates an emotional response, called anger. You may feel that trust has been broken, frustration and more, as the relationship will directly interact with the severity of emotion felt, ie. stranger vs. family member. This emotion perpetuates into anger and depending on how long you carry this emotion without dealing with it, depends on how much dwelling is intertwined with the first belief and the resulting anger.

Traumatic Guilt

It is not uncommon that a person experiencing a traumatic event, exaggerate or dismiss their role within the event, causing a feeling of shame, ie. I should have fought back so he couldn't rape me. There are often several faulty conclusions assumed in relation to trauma, thus enhancing guilt, being:
  1. The belief of foresight, ie. I knew that was going to happen, when you have no ability to see the future,
  2. The belief that your actions are not justified at the time of the traumatic occurrence,
  3. The belief of owning more responsibility for a traumatic event than actually owned, and
  4. The belief you have violated personal or moral convictions, even if those convictions are consistent with your intentions and actions.
There are a myriad of faulty conclusions that apply to these reasoning errors, for example; focusing only on the good things that might have happened if different action was taken; tendency to overlook benefits; ignorance to the actual cause of an event; failure to realize that strong emotional reactions are involuntary, and many more.

Traumatic Shame

Shame is often typically self associated to either internal or external validity, ie. I'm a freak due to this scar on my face, now I am disfigured, or, I'm weak and disguisting because I was raped. Some who have endured trauma also use both at the same time, such as, "I'm weak and disgusting for being mugged and raped, people think I am useless now, damaged goods."

The various factors often associated with guilt, go hand in hand with shame. Shame related beliefs can isolate a person from society due to the need for escape, or take an assertive individual and make them a submissive and/or passive personality. Shame can lead a person from looking a person in the eyes within conversation, to no longer being capable of such an act with any person due to felt shame.
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