From Sandy Hook, to Boston, to The Jody Arias Trial

Secondary trauma exposure and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Posted Apr 29, 2013

Are we all suffering now from PTSD? Dr. Karyl McBride
Post traumatic stress disorder is best understood as a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. It can be caused by life threatening events as well as emotionally destructive events that seem to cause extreme symptoms. Although PTSD is listed in the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, we are all susceptible to symptoms when experiencing trauma in our lives that moves out of the realm of normal or expected experience. 

In my book, Will I Ever Be Good Enough?, I refer to PTSD as a collapse. If something happens today that reminds you of a past traumatic event, you can have an emotional collapse if that trauma has not been resolved. In the therapy office, we see this collapse related to violence, abuse, dysfunctional family issues, victims of crime, war and other tragedies. Even exposure to similar events on television and movies can be disturbing. I have seen children in therapy for example who were inappropriately exposed to violent movies who had severe PTSD reactions with nightmares and flashbacks. Many adults who grew up in violent homes or homes filled with emotional or psychological abuse come to therapy with PTSD reactions and unresolved trauma.

While it may seem that PTSD is only diagnosed if the exposure is war or extreme violence, we see it every day caused from other factors in our lives. Turn on the television for example and watch the news. How many were effected by the Boston marathon tragedy? Certainly those involved from the athletes to the first responders, but also those who watched the events unfold on television as well as those close to any of the victims. The fear ensues for all in thinking where will this happen next. How do I protect my family? Myself? How could my loved ones endure such things? We could make a list from Boston, to Aurora, to Columbine, to Sandy Hook, 9-11, and more. Then add suicides, accidents, hospitalizations and terminal illness to name only a few. While it doesn’t feel right to compare the actual victim’s experience in any one of these events to the person who watched it on television, it is important for us to realize that we are all effected and can experience related secondary trauma. Even therapists and those who help resolve these issues can have secondary trauma related to what they are hearing and seeing. 

Another current media blitz involving severe trauma is the televised Jody Arias trial on HLN. Imagine the PTSD of the jury or the people watching the trial in the courtroom and those who choose to watch on television. Not to mention the judge, the professionals involved and most affected: the family of the victim. It is puzzling however as the prosecutor and defense argue PTSD versus borderline personality disorder in the accused defendant, Jody Arias. While neither PTSD nor borderline personality disorder would necessarily cause someone to kill, why is someone not explaining that one could have both? Most people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder also have PTSD due to past trauma in their lives. While this appears to cancel out the effectiveness of the television experts it can also be confusing to those watching this trial.     

Why write about this and point out the significance? Why is it important? Our mental health is key to our physical health. For each, taking care of our emotional well-being is paramount to living healthy and happy lives. Sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to take the time needed to resolve trauma that may be stuck or sitting in our bodies as we proceed in this busy, whirlwind culture of today. It is also important to attempt to protect our children from exposure to trauma as much as we can. Children are not equipped to emotionally deal with much of what is shown on television, movies and news channels.

If you wonder about PTSD for you or your loved ones, it is important to learn more about it. Make sure trauma is being resolved as it unfolds. It has a way of catching up to us and creating havoc when we least expect it. While there are many Internet sites you can search for further information, you can start with this link to begin:

Many mental health organizations that treat PTSD understand the ramifications of the related symptoms. Pain is relative and we cannot really compare one person’s exposure to another. We all have our own personal reactions that are important.

In treating adult children of narcissistic parents, we see PTSD on a regular basis caused from every kind of childhood abuse. It is interesting, however, that PTSD is not necessarily recognized or considered by those diagnosed. The debilitating effects cannot be understated. Without recognition and awareness it is difficult to embrace, heal and work recovery. 

Additional Resources for Recovery:

Resource Website:

Book: Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers

Audio Book:

Workshop: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers Virtual Workshop. Work recovery in the privacy of your own home, complete with video presentations and homework assignments:



Daughter Intensives: One on one sessions with Dr. Karyl McBride

“Is this your Mom?” Take the survey: