Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome

I’m deep within Sean Mactire’s book, Malicious Intent: A Writer’s Guide to How Murderers, Robbers, Rapists, and Other Criminal Think, in the chapter regarding victims of violent crime. I’m using the information to create believable characters for my stories. Today’s topic is Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, or PTSS. Many people think PTSS only applies to combat vets, but anyone who has experienced a traumatic crisis can exhibit the symptoms of PTSS. Mactire lists the symptoms that may show up in a person with PTSS (note: not ALL of them show up in a single person – that’d be overkill and quite unbelievable).

1. Prolonged shock and emotional numbness
2. Insomnia
3. Nightmares
4. Abuse of prescription drugs and/or alcohol
5. Trembling
6. Sudden, unexplainable bouts of crying
7. Disorientation
8. Fear and hyper-vigilance
9. Acute anxiety with occasional panic attacks – likely to occur when the victim is somehow reminded of the trauma or around the time of the anniversary of the trauma
10. Depression
11. Helplessness
12. Loss of control or inability to manage control
13. Gradual change into dependent state
14. Violent bursts of temper
15. Aggression
16. Fatigue
17. Physical ailments: chest pain, heart attack, ulcers, seizures, partial paralysis, arthritic-type muscle pain
18. Delusions and other neurotic behavior
19. Suicidal tendencies related to loss of hope after prolonged experience of above symptoms

Mix and match symptoms for your characters to create a believable response to crisis. Pair trembling with violent bursts of temper and delusions, and you’ll get a dangerous character. Put alcohol abuse with depression and you may have a suicidal character. Mix drug abuse with chest pain, and your character may end up dead. There’s quite a few possibilities, and if you match these symptoms up to individual personality traits, you’ll end up with a much richer character. 

For instance, your ENTJ (“field marshal”) character’s driving force is to achieve The Goal, whatever that might be. The reader would expect this personality type to react with violent bursts of temper and aggression, especially if he’s a high-ranking military officer (many of whom are ENTJs). However, what would happen to this character if they, instead, reacted with an inability to manage control and a gradual change into a dependent state? What would happen to the ESFJ personality (“the Provider” or the person who’s mission in life is to make sure everyone is cared for) if she gradually changed into a dependent state? Or worse, what if she were overcome with fear, delusions,  and panic attacks? How could she fulfill her life’s mission if she’s paranoid that people are out to get her? By mixing and matching symptoms that are opposite the characters personality traits, you can create memorable and believable victims for your novels.

That’s the last post on victims. Next time we’ll move into a new chapter of Mactire’s book.

-Sonja
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