I’ve debated writing about this topic for awhile. This is one of those aspects of trauma that no one wants to talk about, that most untrained doctors and psychologists don’t understand or don’t want to understand, and that makes those suffering from them feel absolutely crazy. People who are suffering from these symptoms in response to trauma, often tend to attempt to hide these symptoms while discussing the more “accepted” symptoms like hypervigilance and anger, because they’ve either experienced ignorant responses from people or they are anticipating being labeled or institutionalized because of this disclosure. Delusions and hallucinations are the most common symptoms in Schizophrenia, so most people, friends, family, and clinicians, assume that if someone is presenting with those symptoms, regardless of everything else going on, they “must” be suffering from schizophrenia. If this has been the case with you, it is very frustrating because there is a part of you that knows that diagnosis is not true, but you’re so desperate for answers and relief that you believe that the “professional” must be right in their diagnosis. That was the case with me. I was one of the people who, when in the beginning of my PTSD suffering, dealt with paranoid delusions and hallucinations, specifically, the two identified perpetrators of my major trauma coming for me everywhere I went. I knew this wasn’t good, and when I sought help was misdiagnosed and overmedicated, while nothing was changing. This began my journey of finding my own answers because the “professionals” had no idea what they were doing.
Fortunately, the newest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the “bible of psychology” has included sensory disturbances, such as delusions and hallucinations, in the diagnostic criteria for PTSD. This means that finally, this rare and obscure aspect of PTSD has been formally recognized as a possibility in those suffering from PTSD and traumatic responses. The presentation of these symptoms exemplifies the widespread damage and chaos in your mind following the experience of trauma. What studies have found is that trauma changes the way the brain functions, and that includes changing the function in the areas of the brain responsible for sensation and perceptions. This is part of what allows for the experience of delusions and hallucinations following the trauma. When the brain is only functioning at an instinctual level and the executive functioning is not working, then it is understandable that symptoms that would never present themselves in an ordinary situation, are coming out following the experience of trauma.
The experience of delusions and hallucinations can be one of the most devastating symptoms of PTSD and traumatic responses. Not only does the person experiencing these symptoms feel out of control and “crazy” but a lot of people don’t want to understand and treat these symptoms. When your support network doesn’t understand what you are experiencing or respond in fear rather than acceptance, the resulting isolation and suffering can result in an exacerbation of all symptoms. Additionally, the delusions and hallucinations can cause the person suffering to do and say things that they would never have done if they were not suffering in this way. Oftentimes these “command hallucinations” or delusions will cause the person to engage in harming and sometimes fatal or homicidal behavior. This is part of the reason why it is so important for support systems and clinicians to recognize and treat these symptoms rather than dismissing them or misdiagnosing them. The consequences for not treating them can be devastating. This is where most people give up, when no one that they rely on to support them and help them through the hell they are experiencing, can’t or won’t step up and help, and instead of helping make everything exponentially worse. When you are suffering beyond your ability to cope and seek help, that is when people chose to engage in destructive and fatal behaviors rather than keep fighting.
There is, however, hope when dealing with these severe, disturbing, and potentially harmful symptoms. Unlike dealing with schizophrenia where the medications and treatments only quiet these symptoms, the treatments for PTSD can result in the complete resolution of symptoms. Finding and continuing to pursue treatment when you are suffering is extremely hard, however, if you fight through the chaos in your mind and participate in treatment, you will find relief. You will begin to feel somewhat normal and will begin to find yourself again. Although the symptoms of delusions and hallucinations are not well understood and some practitioners still dismiss the fact that these are part of the symptom presentation of PTSD, there are plenty of people who are educated and trained in PTSD and trauma responses who know that you are not crazy beyond help. I write this post with the intention of normalizing these types of symptoms and to tell you that you are not hopelessly ‘crazy’ or ‘broken’ and that there is true relief in effective treatment.