In our everyday lives, any of us can have an experience that is overwhelming, frightening, and beyond our control. We could find ourselves in a car crash, be the victim of an assault, or see an accident. Police, fire brigade or ambulance workers are more likely to have such experiences – they often have to deal with horrifying scenes. Soldiers may be shot or blown up, and see friends killed or injured. Many people, in time, get over experiences like this without needing help. In some people, though, traumatic experiences set off a reaction that can last for many months or years. This is called Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD for short. People who are victims of a stressful or life-threatening event or accident typically experience the event as an emotional shock. There are common reactions to this type of trauma or shock, but at the same time, each person responds in his/her own unique way.

Typical Responses

You may find, if you have been a victim, that you have experienced, or are currently experiencing, some or all of the common reactions below. You are likely to find that you have experienced, or are experiencing, different levels of intensity of some of these reactions.

Typical responses to a traumatic event are one or more of the following:
• Fear responses to reminders of the event
• Feeling like you are losing control of your life or your mind
• Re-experiencing the event over and over again through flashbacks
• Problems concentrating and staying focused on the task at hand
• Guilty feelings
• Developing a negative self-image
• Depression
• Disruptions in close relationships

Fear and anxiety cause physical, mental, and behavioural reactions, all of which may lead the victim to feel as though he or she has no control over his or her life. Most importantly, all of these reactions are normal responses to the traumatic event you have experienced!

Some of these reactions are connected with each other. For some people, having flashbacks, for example, may increase their concern about losing control of their lives and may even intensify their fear responses. In other words, the responses to trauma often interact with one another and may cause the overall response to become more intense. Of these eight categories of reactions, fear is probably the most common and appears to be the most debilitating. For this reason, this is very normal and predictable response to trauma. We want to emphasize that; in fact, all eight of the reactions listed here are normal responses to a traumatic event and may contribute to PTSD.


This information was developed and written by: National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Centre, Medical University of South Carolina