PTSD: Why Women Are More At Risk


By Cathy Neville, LPC

Just being female puts a woman at risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder.
According to the National Center for PTSD, 5 out of 10 women often relive the circumstances of their individual traumas and struggle to move forward.
They attempt to manage the hyperarousal, nervousness, and shame; quell the sense that their trauma will always be with them; and do their best to cope amid the responsibilities of their daily lives.
Is it that women experience more trauma than men?
Actually, men face more distressing incidences. Men suffering from PTSD usually show some outward indicator of the disorder. They may become outwardly defensive, operating primarily out anger rather than sadness, and often turn to substance abuse to cope.
It seems that female PTSD is linked to the way women experience trauma.
A woman dealing with PTSD usually wrestles with depression, worry, and nervous energy more than anger. The after-effects of trauma are evident in the way she is easily startled, emotionally numbs herself, and is prone to avoid places, topics, and people that remind her of the most disturbing events she ever faced.
What happens in the life and mind of women to make them so vulnerable to PTSD?
Consider these three commonalities often shared by women with PTSD:
o A female’s first exposure to trauma is usually some sort of sexual assault.
Research indicates the effects of sexual trauma are similar to those faced by war veterans. Experiencing sexual violation wreaks a devastating toll, negatively impacting a woman’s worldview and sense of herself. The experience is all too common, transcending culture and location. It is always life altering and always traumatic, and especially damaging if a woman receives no therapy or treatment.
It may be that because this type of abuse is so pervasively tied to the sufferer’s own body, infringing on every intimate relationship, that it lays a foundation for a trauma response in some women’s lives. Sexual trauma seems to solicit a more emotional response than other types trauma, as well, setting the stage for more easily recognizable PTSD symptoms and an earlier diagnosis.
o Cumulative trauma may result from untreated emotional problems or a combination of traumatic incidents causing intense suffering.
PTSD is much more likely to affect a woman with other unresolved mental health issues or who is exposed to another traumatic experience following the original event. For example, a woman who hasn’t acknowledged or dealt with sexual trauma in her past may experience significant PTSD after a car accident or natural disaster. The symptoms may seem overblown, but are essentially an outgrowth of both traumas.
o The emotion–based way most women respond to trauma makes them more likely to receive a PTSD diagnosis.
Women generally express trauma in ways that coincide with the criteria used to make a PTSD diagnosis. Women are more prone to show their emotions, divulge their depression, or act out their anxiety. The mental and emotional expressions of PTSD among females are typically more readily available for examination and identification.
Conversely, men simply don’t tend to report their struggles with depression or anxiety, though they may experience them too. They will instead point out problems of self-control and anger, substance abuse and addiction. Therefore, a PTSD diagnosis may not be made until much later.
Fortunately, being female puts many women in a good place for treatment.
The same willingness to express feelings that make them susceptible to PTSD, makes recovery likely with the appropriate help.
If you think you may be suffering from PTSD, seek help and put your traumatic past behind you.

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