Stress, Genetics and PTSD

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Today there are a number of articles on the web about the genetic predisposition to PTSD. Researchers have discovered that if your ancestors were exposed to severe traumas, such as the holocaust, severe disasters, famine or others, you are likely to have some genetic markers that make you more susceptible to PTSD. We have known for some time that some people respond more dramatically to stress than to others. Now we are beginning to understand why. 

It would be easy to misconstrue this information to say that those with the trauma genes are ‘weaker’. This would be a mischaracterization. Researchers have made studies about how certain rabbits with more inherited hypervigilance are better at survival in certain terrains. The same people who are prone to PTSD may also have quicker reflexes, be more alert in their surroundings and/or more sensitive to situations. Sensitivity is not a liability but an asset. The world, after all, is not suffering from an overabundance of sensitivity but a lack of it. I would love to see researchers focus on the assets of these genetic changes.

Lastly, I want to point out that although some people are more prone to PTSD, there are some traumas that will cause PTSD in anyone, just as people with stronger or less strong immune systems may catch a particularly virulent disease. So let us engage our curiosity and our compassion for those who suffer in this way, and let us also take note of their resilience and their gifts.



photo courtesy of Maya Banitt

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