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Mia: Physical Assault

Two men attempted to steal Mia’s purse when she was in the process of walking home from work one night. When she put up a fight one of the men stabbed her several times, before running off. A passer-by called emergency services.

Victim’s response and symptoms

Mia felt an acute sense of helplessness during the attack, which all happened very fast. Just after the event while she was waiting for an ambulance, Mia pressed her hands against her wounds in an effort to stem the flow of blood. She seemed vacant, as if lost in thought.

Even now that the injuries have fully healed, Mia regularly suffers pain where she was stabbed, which serve as a reminder of the attack.

Whenever she manages to get sleep, Mia has nightmares about the traumatic scene. In order to avoid the nightmares she tries to sleep as little as possible.

Mia was horrified by seeing her own blood and she now finds it difficult to see red clothes or red furniture. She washes her hands compulsively, up to 30 times a day, feeling as if there is still blood on them and that it will not come off.

Mia has been unable to resume her normal life and is terrified whenever she is out on the street. This fear has gripped her so much that she takes a detour to get to work, so as to avoid the neighbourhood where the attack took place. She cannot even watch television, for fear of seeing violent scenes.

If she is walking outside and hears a driver sounding his horn, Mia gets startled and raises her arms in protection as if she were about to be attacked again. She is constantly on her guard and watches those around her to assess who could potentially threaten or protect her. She turns around frequently in case anyone is approaching her from behind.

Mia feels angry with her attackers. Since the incident, she feels vulnerable and despite being strongly opposed to violence is considering getting a dog to defend herself.

The psychologist’s observations

Mia was physically attacked. This is the most frequently experienced type of event amongst those who seek help from victim’s aid services.

Traumatic event and peritraumatic response

Mia has had a traumatic experience, in that she felt helpless during her attack.

She exhibited dissociative symptoms, evidenced by her very dazed manner immediately after the attack.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Since her attack, Mia has exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress:

  • Intrusive thoughts and nightmares: Mia constantly relives the event via intrusive thoughts in the daytime and nightmares at night.
  • Avoidance: Mia can no longer walk in the neighbourhood where the attack took place; the very idea of doing so triggers intense anxiety. Equally, she can no longer watch television when there might be on-screen violence.
  • Anxiety caused by reminders of the event: Mia is distressed just walking outside in the street.
  • Startle reactions: Mia can experience exaggerated startle reactions when she is out on the street. For example, this might be triggered by a car sounding its horn or by someone approaching her to ask for directions. These are accompanied by physical movements to protect herself as if she was about to be attacked again.
  • Hyperarousal: as soon as she is outside Mia feels as if she might be attacked again. She therefore remains on her guard and closely watches the behaviour of those around her.

Other problems

  • Obsessive compulsive behaviours: Mia was shocked by the sight of so much blood on her hands. Since the incident, she washes her hands up to 30 times a day as if the blood will not wash off.

Last updated: 1/1/2010 | © info-trauma 2009