What is conscious and unconscious avoidance related to PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common medical condition that many veterans deal with after time spent in combat. PTSD occurs when someone witnesses or experiences a life-altering, traumatic event and is unable to recover from the incident. 

Because many veterans serve in dangerous environments that are emotionally and physically challenging, they're at a higher risk of developing PTSD than those who never served in the military. Those who suffer from PTSD may try to avoid the emotions associated with the traumatic event. Two types of avoidance are conscious and unconscious avoidance.

Understanding Emotional Avoidance

Conscious and unconscious avoidance for PTSDEmotional avoidance is a way for people to escape the painful remembrance of a tragic event. Because memories linked with the trauma are often too powerful and crushing, avoidance offers a way for people who suffer with PTSD to cope.

If you’re struggling with PTSD, it’s helpful to understand two types of avoidance: conscious and unconscious.

Conscious Avoidance

In general, someone with PTSD purposefully avoids any stimulus that reminds him or her of the traumatic incident. This person learns what triggers these intense emotions and will intentionally avoid them. For example, a veteran who has trouble sleeping, feels irritable, or engages in self-destructive behavior might try to avoid any situation or person that activates the negative emotions connected with the trauma. Thus, the veteran consciously avoids whatever is necessary to stay far away from feelings that might cause him or her to re-experience the event.

Unconscious Avoidance

The symptoms of unconscious avoidance are sometimes hard to recognize, because the brain is tricking you and working overtime to prevent you from acknowledging and dealing with the event. Ultimately, the symptoms of unconscious avoidance become “truth” for the veteran, and these inaccurate truths prevent him or her from seeking treatment.

A veteran reacting through unconscious avoidance may:

  • Be unable to recall key characteristics of the trauma, which might be due to “dissociative amnesia” rather than drugs, alcohol, or a head injury.
  • Have ongoing negative thoughts about themselves and the world.
  • Have ongoing thoughts blaming themselves or others for what happened.
  • Have decreased interest in activities they once loved.
  • Have feelings of alienation or detachment from people they love.
  • Be unable to experience any positive emotions about their lives.  

Cuddigan Law Can Help

If you’re a veteran who suffers from PTSD,you may qualify for financial support from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. If you need help service-connecting your mental health condition and want to file for disability benefits, contact Cuddigan Law. Our attorneys have been supporting veterans for years, and we’ll carefully examine your case and advise you on the best approach for receiving the maximum in disability benefits. Call us today, and you’ll speak to an intake specialist for free.

Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska