Post Traumatic Stress Disorders

Effects of PTSD on Victims of Sexual/Child Abuse & Natural Disasters


Post Traumatic Stress Disorders are mostly associated with soldiers who are coming from war zones. Obviously, they were exposed to terrific scenes, while in the battle field, some of which included heinous killings and torture. The psychological effects of such scenes remain forever with such soldiers even after they are trained on how to cope with traumatic events before they go in the field. However, a section of the population that is also privy to PTSD is the children who undergo child or sexual abuse, or even suffer the effect of the natural disasters such as earthquakes, storms or floods. Similarly, adults who survive these traumatic events have been known to exhibit PTSD in the aftermath of the events. As such, there is need to evaluate the effects of PTSD on survivors of traumatic occurrences.

This paper will demonstrate that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is not just a disorder associated with soldiers returning from war zones as most people think, it is also a very common disorder associated with victims of sexual and child abuse, as well as natural disasters.

Development of PTSD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is associated with anxiety that occurs after a person experience of circumstances or events that cause severe physical harm to a large degree. People who get to experience events such as natural disasters or sexual abusive are at risk of developing PTSD, because of the stimulation of excess hormones for “fight or flight”, which later affect their functioning or perception of things. According to American Psychiatric Association (2000), people who have undergone a frightening experience can re-experience the event in a form of flashback and this affects their emotional behaviors to the extent of interfering with their normal activities.

According to Derner (2007), PTSD is any behavior that a person who has undergone a traumatic event expresses soon after the occurrence and may last for a lifetime. Some of the PTSDs can be treated through psychological counseling, while others remain permanent in the life of the victim. PTSD is easily identifiable among children in the region in which a natural disaster occurs. However, people who develop PTSD, because of localized events such as rape, cannot be easily identified if the victim does not report the incident. Consequently, it is vital that victims of sexual abuse, especially children, are encouraged to report the cases to the concerned authority so that they can avert the effects of PTSD through counseling or other therapies that are provided by the psychologists.

Effects of PTSD on Victims

Most people who experience an ordeal develop PTSD and the percentage is even higher if the victim is a child, due to their cognitive immaturity. According to Derner (2007), children lack an established mechanism in their emotional makeup to cope with the aftermath of an event such as sexual abuse or a natural disaster. Thus, their functioning is affected later in life as they develop serious emotional disturbances (SED). SED causes stress that is generated from the traumatizing event and affects the way people interact with their environment later.

Lilly & Graham-Bermann (2010) delineate two types of trauma that can affect the victim when they experience it. The first type is the sudden and unexpected disaster that may occur within a short time. Such events include; fire outbreaks, storms such as hurricanes, flash floods, and industrial accidents. Victims of this kind of trauma releases a large amount of hormone in their body system that affect their normal body functioning and change the psychological behavior of an individual in an irreversible way. The second type of trauma is the repeated and almost regular occurrences that a victim is exposed to within a long period and includes sexual abuse, such as rape from the foster parents, ritualistic abuse, and repetitive physical abuse of a child. Natural disasters, resulting in being homeless, physical illnesses and extended hospitalization, because of accident or a disaster also can cause PTSD to the victim.

As observed by Lilly & Graham-Bermann (2010), children who survive sexual abuse develop sexual disorders as a result of what they are undergoing. They also have problems with thinking abilities where their thinking is distorted in a manner that they view the environment in which they live as a potential threat to their security. Similarly, such children can develop extreme anxiety that makes them become impatient and sometimes lose control of themselves. This can lead them to engage in behaviors that are considered abnormal in the society in which they live. For instance, Lilly & Graham-Bermann (2010) observe that most children who were abused sexually are unable to a form a lasting sexual relationship because of the suspicion they associate with the activity of sex. They also become indifferent to sexual advances since their sexual urges are suppressed whenever they recall a previous sexual abuse like rape.

Additionally, victims of sexual and child abuse have problems of irregular mood swings that are characterized by extreme moods where they can even withdraw to themselves and refuse to associate with others. Consequently, such children experience this for a long period hence makes them unable to cope with their peers or even associate with the environment in which they live. Their performance in class is also affected because they view education as something that cannot help reverse the ordeal that they underwent. Invariably, they tend to blame everyone, including their teachers for having failed to protect them from the abuse.

According to Kesebir et al (2011), psychological effects from natural disasters such as tsunami or Hurricane Katrina affect the lives of many people even though indications shows that children are more affected than adults. As such, children are unable to process the events in which they are exposed to and therefore are unable to deal with such disasters. At the worse level, victims develop diseases and can be hospitalized for a long period and sometimes die while undergoing treatment from the physical injuries.

Moreover, Kesebir et al (2011) note that victims face the emotional and psychological burden from viewing the destruction that is caused by the natural disaster or the sexual abuse. For instance, the tsunami causes massive deaths and corpses are retrieved in the presence of survivors such as children. This has the effect of worsening symptoms of PTSD and increasing the percentage of serious emotional disorders among children and the youth. For instance, 2 years after the disaster Hurricane Katrina, a large percentage of children in the regions that were affected still showed high levels of serious emotional disorders directly associated with the devastation of the disaster.

Similarly, the victims of child and sexual abuse and natural disasters mostly become fearful, helpless and horrified, which is displayed through disorganization and repulsive behaviors. Weems et al (2010) found in their study that victims also undergo pseudo stages in which they internally re-experience the traumatic event whose pain can be more devastating than the real occurrence. This re-experiencing is recurrent and intrusive in a manner that the victim cannot do away with the mental pictures of the event.

Furthermore, Weems et al (2010) note that the recurrent may even occur in dreams that in effect destructs the sleep of the victim. Similarly, the victims tend to develop a precautionary sense in which they would want to avoid anything that may seem as threatening to them even though such may not be necessarily the case. For instance, children who have undergone sexual abuse will resist male doctors touching them in hospitals even though the doctors do not intend to cause any harm to them. Natural disaster victims also develop stress that affects their social, occupational, and other functional behaviors. For example, these people are unable to function normally in their working environment and this can cause their dismissal from jobs, which later affect their income.

Additionally, Blasco-Ros, Sanchez-Lorente & Martinez (2010) observe that victims of sexual abuse and natural disasters experience psychological stress in which they are unable to control their behaviors. The mental pictures in which the victims feel as though they were experiencing the ordeal in the actual can accompany such behaviors. Consequently, this follows increase physiological reactions such as increased heartbeat, respiration, high blood pressure especially if the victim is exposed to the events that are correlated with the disaster or the ordeal. As such, the victims initiate persistent mechanisms to the level of threatening their safety. For instance, a person who has been abused sexually when he or she was younger is likely to run away from a gathering in which he or she perceives a trigger of the memories of the rape event no matter the time or circumstance of that gathering.

Furthermore, Blasco-Ros, Sanchez-Lorente & Martinez (2010) argue that some victims develop a resistance approach in which they want to deliberately avoid any discussions, thoughts, feelings, or conversations that are associated with the ordeal or disaster. For instance, most children who undergo sexual abuse refuse to discuss the matter with the doctor or the police in fear of being victimized or even threatened by their abusers. Discussions on natural disasters such tsunamis and flash floods may be believed to attract the wrath again and therefore avoided at all cost. This deliberate effort to avoid discussion of the disaster or ordeal increases the pressure and may cause the victim to withdraw from people who are perceived to raise the topic or in extreme cases commit suicide for fear of victimization.

In addition, Blasco-Ros, Sanchez-Lorente & Martinez (2010) observe that psychic numbing or emotional anesthesia is an effect that victims of sexual abuse and natural disasters also experience in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This condition is characterized by victims diminishing their responsive capability in manner that they stop caring for whatever that goes on around them. Consequently, they develop a lack of interest in participation of activities that might be beneficial to themselves economically or socially. In other words, they lose interest in life and stop being productive. Consequently, some may develop into dependants where they require assistance from the public or the government.

According to American Psychiatric Association (2000), most victims of sexual abuse develop an inhibition of emotions especially those related to intimacy, tenderness, and sexuality. As such, they lose their sense of attachment to any relationship that might remind them of the incident that they went through. Even if they get to marry, they either fail to build a lasting relationship or they develop problems in their marriages with their spouses.

Similarly, some may be affected by sexual disorders such as vaginismus , sexual sadism, sexual masochism, or female sexual arousal disorder, where they do not respond to sexual advances from their partners or may take long times to respond. Additionally, such people may be affected by a sense of foreshortened future where they do not expect to have life’s important things like career, marriage, or even children. In other words, they are likely to lose confidence and hope in future and just sit and wait for death. They stop being productive to the society.

Similarly, a good number of victims of sexual abuse and natural disasters develop a condition called learned helplessness where they lose the sense of self-responsibility. In this case, the next occurrence is likely to befall them without any resistance. This kind of disorder is mostly seen in children who are sexually abused. That is, they reach a point where they cannot resist the next abuse because they have come to be used to the abuse and sometimes they come to accept the incident as normal.

American Psychiatric Association (2000) further observe that sexual abuse and natural disasters are likely to affect the victims socially and politically where they can start blaming other people or the state for the calamity that befell them rather than nature. As a result, victims may be filled with anger, resentment, demoralization, and complete lack of trust and faith in the authority. This may be a result of perceived inability and inadequacy of the rescue efforts and associated relief factors. 

Similarly, the victims will be affected if the people who are concerned do not compensate them for losses they incurred or even become dissatisfied with the general handling of the situation. Cognitive changes, caused by the trauma and related negative emotions, may not only unfavorably affect efficiency in the place of work but may also lead to instability in societal order. Politically, voting behaviors may be influenced by the victims’ resentment, fury, temper, and similar negative emotions that are usually directed at authorities.

Other effects of PTSD to victims of sexual abuse and natural disaster, according to Derner (2007), are persistent anxiety and increased arousal, which were not present before the incident. This may lead to a difficulty in getting enough sleep or even staying asleep sometimes, caused by the recurring mental pictures or nightmares of the occurrence together with hypersensitive and exaggerated response to stimuli.

 Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in known to affect the victim into adulthood. Derner (2007) further argues that adults who were traumatized through sex during their childhood commonly experience depression. In addition, they may engage in self-destructive behaviors such as alcoholism, negligence, and drug abuse. Similarly, they may often experience anxiety attacks and become wary of situations that are similar to the ordeal they underwent as children.

Another effect is development of insomnia, problems with relationship and marriage. Furthermore, PTSD is associated with stigmatization where victims of sexual abuse are physically abused by their spouse because of their sexual malfunctioning. Some people become withdrawn and fail to express their anguish that result from childhood sexual abuse and label this behavior as a coping mechanism.

Coping with PTSD

American Psychiatric Association (2000) records that victims of sexual abuse and natural disasters need to develop mechanisms of coping with the aftermath of traumatic events in order to lead a normal life. As such, they can be affected by the coping schedules that they are supposed to undertake in order to avert the effects of PTSD. Because of the effects of coping, the minds of a victim may decline in functioning capacity as they continue the prescribed prognosis like therapies. Consequently, these exercises are likely to take up the time of the victim to the extent that they do not engage in any productive activity.

Choosing the type of coping mechanism is important in addressing the effects of PTSD. Weems et al (2010) suggest that this must be done with care because the coping mechanism can exacerbate the effects of PTSD to the victim instead of reducing them. For instance, in a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina or tsunami, victims who chose to use avoidance coping strategies including denial and anger express more pronounced symptoms of PTSD while those who opt for active coping strategies including cognitive restricting indicate a significant improvement in their stress levels (Weems et al (2010).

Nevertheless, the most advisable way of dealing with PTSD is seeking medical help aid from the professional counselors in order to reduce the mental and behavioral problems that victims of natural disasters and sexual abuse develop. In addition, the kind of coping mechanism that the victim of sexual abuse and natural disasters get exposed to can exacerbate the effects of PTSD in a way by taking a greater toll on the economic needs of the victim. For instance, Weems et al (2010) note that if the victim of natural disaster such as floods is using much of his savings in the bank to construct a new house, they may develop stress or depression, and anxiety because they are using their life savings to buy something that they already had. As a result, they will have to start saving again and the knowledge of working to save can be a source of depression to the victim.


It is evident that PTSD in one way or the other affects millions of people around the world. However, the effects of PTSD on victims of sexual abuse and other natural disasters are not well understood, because of the initial association of the disorder with soldiers from war zones. Understanding the effects of PTSD on the victims of sexual abuse and natural disasters will provide a better channel of helping the victims whenever they are involved in a traumatic occurrence. It is, therefore, important that the effects of PTSD to the victims of sexual/child abuse and natural disasters become an issue of concern to the authorities. Equally psychologists should develop strategies that can minimize the effects and help the victims live a normal life even after a disaster or abuse of any kind.

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