PTSD patients can no longer recognize positive emotions, disturbing study concludes

It’s great that more people are becoming aware of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and how it affects those who were diagnosed with it. Recently, an addition to the list of PTSD effects has been added by researchers – one that is a bit more alarming than the others.

A study has shown that people who suffer from the disorder also develop a problem in recognizing positive emotions. And since perceiving emotions is an essential skill for humans, this finding is alarming.

The authors of the study wanted to learn more about PTSD patients following various trauma types. In addition, they aimed to discover both the correlation and dissociation between the ability to recognize emotions and childhood trauma, and number of experienced traumatic events.

Thirty-nine people diagnosed with PTSD, 44 traumatized healthy controls, and 35 non-traumatized healthy controls, aged between 18-65 years old, were the subjects in the said study. Researchers made use of short videos featuring actors showing different emotions at different levels of intensity. Each portrayal was done in reflection of a normal everyday life of people to see how the participants would perceive such expressions.

According to the results, the traumatic events experienced by a PTSD patient have more impact to his/her ability to recognize positive emotions. Furthermore, mechanisms like fewer positive interactions with primary caregivers or ambiguity of positive expressions can be linked specifically to childhood trauma.

Meanwhile, mechanisms such as avoidance and social withdrawal can be linked to both childhood trauma and the number of experienced traumatic events in a person’s life. But regardless of the means, all provided mechanisms were said to be factors that contribute to an impaired ability to recognize positive emotions.

Understanding PTSD

In essence, PTSD is “a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it.” What’s more disturbing about this condition is how anyone is susceptible to developing it since any overwhelming event can trigger the disorder. This can happen when:

  • An overwhelming event happens unexpectedly
  • The damage of the event is irreversible
  • Stressful things happen repeatedly
  • Traumatic experience happened during childhood

Following a traumatic event, symptoms of PTSD can occur within a month. But there are cases wherein people don’t start developing it until years later. Some of the common signs that a person has or is developing this particular disorder are:

  • Eating and sleeping problems
  • Low energy
  • High level of emotional stress
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Social withdrawal
  • Memory lapses
  • Emotional numbness
  • Reliving of traumatic event
  • Consciously avoiding reminders of trauma

It has been suggested that people who are experiencing any of these symptoms seek professional assistance. The need to consult a doctor is even more urgent if a person is having disturbing thoughts such as suicide or is having trouble trying to get back on track with his/her life. (Related: PTSD successfully treated with integrative treatments: Healing touch and guided imagery.)

Get more details about mental conditions and how they affect quality of life at now.

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