That “bitchy” woman might actually be healing from serious trauma.
I was always a little high strung. I jumped at loud noises, and I cried at romantic comedies.
Some dates made fun of me. They liked to scare me.
Other men wanted me to calm down. My father called my crying jags my "tizzy fits."
So I tried to minimize and hide my emotional sensitivity from others, then from myself.
I got pretty good at it. I became a journalist, then a Red Cross worker. I could look at gruesome photos of murdered children without wincing. I could go to the edges of war zones without a racing heart. I mean, I didn't see any ACTION, right? I didn't get shot AT, or see a buddy blown up. I never thought PTSD could be a possibility, even when I started having physical symptoms.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was something I believed only veterans got. It was all about flashbacks from the front lines in Vietnam and Iraq.
As time went on, I got jumpier, though.
I came back Stateside. I had my kids. I stopped watching scary movies. I settled into housework and carpools. I missed the exhilaration of humanitarian work, but I thought it best if I stayed out of the fray.
Still, my symptoms got worse. I started to wake up screaming. I started having low-level anxiety almost all the time. I grew more and more irritable, even though most people outside my family complimented me on how calm I was.
That's when I sought help.
And that's when I learned ANY traumatic event, or any event a person VIEWS as traumatic, can be the spark that sets off PTSD.
The American Psychological Association estimates that about half of us will experience trauma over the course of our lives.
So, what makes some of us react this way when others don't? The scientific data doesn't have a clear answer yet, but I theorize the repetition of traumas in women's lives accumulate and make us more susceptible, especially when we're witness to or victim of trauma we don't allow ourselves to feel — when we sweep our emotions under the rug.
Because people certainly don't need to have a leg blown off or be in a fire-fight, they don't even have to be beaten to a pulp by a mentally ill parent or a narcissistic lover, to have PTSD.
Women are more susceptible to PTSD, and not just female vets. Recent research indicates that women are at least twice as likely to develop PTSD, experience a longer duration of posttraumatic symptoms, and display more sensitivity to the things that remind them of the trauma. And unfortunately, there's plenty of trauma that ripples through far too many women's lives everyday, including physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and rape.
Women's brains have chemicals that differ from men's, of course, but calling out those differences can just lead us back down the "blame" rabbit hole.
I believe there's a tipping point which keeps us in a perpetual loop of fight-or-flight, with our hearts racing and our cortisol pumping. Women often suffer in silence because they don't want to leave a bad relationship, see themselves as "victims," or cause problems for those around them.
Yet women who experience or witness repeated violence, abuse, and other trauma reach a point at which they need to leave a physically or emotionally dangerous situation, practice self-care, and find a way to feel peace again by replacing the negative memories with neutral or happy ones.
People suffering from PTSD may have bad dreams, flashbacks, scary thoughts they can't control, worry, guilt, sadness, and/or thoughts of hurting themselves or others. They may stay away from places and things that trigger a painful memory. They may start sleeping too much, or they may just say they feel on edge all the time with frequent irritable outbursts.
If you're experiencing three or more of these symptoms, you might be experiencing more than anxiety, depression, or a "bad day." You might have PTSD. Seek out help.
That "bitch" over there?
She might have simply given up trying to name what she's feeling. It might not be that easy for her to get other people to hear her.
Even vets who have bullets flying over their heads daily but have office jobs aren't given the federal assistance afforded those veterans who have visible disabilities. PTSD is under-diagnosed and under-treated in a land where people carry most mental illnesses around in their pockets like secrets.
Instead of calling your close friend or colleague a "bitch" the next time she lashes out, ask her what's wrong.
I'm not sure exactly what the final straw was for me, but I believe it was in the delivery room where I hemorrhaged and my son and I almost died. That's what my coach Charlie Pacello and I came to realize, after we went through every single trauma I could recall, sometimes multiple times.
Funny thing is, I didn't really feel much fear at the time during childbirth. I kept my eyes on the prize, and that was my now 21-year-old son.
The trauma in the wee hours of the morning in a delivery room followed childhood spankings, emotionally abusive relationships with narcissistic partners, a melanoma diagnosis, my time as a Red Cross worker in the "field" — where conflict was the norm, and a couple of near misses in a car. It does accumulate.
Not allowing myself to feel the fear in the moment because I had to either act or retreat actually may have been a big part of the problem. I know feeling like I wasn't brave enough was part of it as well.
If you think you might have PTSD, don't minimize your feelings, and don't blame yourself.
When we minimize, we push the traumatic stories away, and what we resist persists. We have to go over the stories a few times for them to lose their power — through journaling, group therapy, hypnotherapy, EMDR or cognitive behavioral therapy. As a coach, I work alongside therapists with a process called InVision (r) to help PTSD sufferers gain perspective, find neutrality, reclaim power, and heal.
Research for ways to heal PTSD advances because, sadly, so does war, and our veterans still return home injured in spirit.
I do a visualization with my clients where I take them up a mountain and they leave their "baggage" along the way. When they get to top, they feel a lot better. First we get perspective on what happened. Then I witness for them what happened. We shine the light into the corners of their lives, into the shadows. Then they release it as we hike up the beautiful mountain.
The kind of therapy or modality doesn't matter as much as seeking help, leaving a bad situation if needed, and practicing self-love.
I did, and now I help people who've experienced multiple traumas to heal and get unstuck from those pesky places they may talk about as mere irritations, hiding the true seriousness of their nature — because we women have been taught to downplay our hurts.
After all, isn't anything that is making you or someone you love unhappy worth healing?
You can call it bitchiness or PTSD ... but you CAN find a way to feel better.
Kathy Ramsperger is a coach who gets people unstuck. If you'd like to explore how she can help you thrive, you can contact her for a free chat.