Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Content warning

This article references potential trauma triggers, including suicidality, medical trauma, war, abuse, and other forms of violence. If you are in distress and need immediate help, trained counselors are available to take your call. Please find a crisis hotline in your area here.

Author’s note

I have a sense of a foreshortened future. The symptoms of PTSD, CPTSD, and other mental health conditions have dominated my life. It’s an isolating existence, and you can feel like no one gets it. I do. I know what it’s like to feel worthless and distrust everyone, including yourself. I know how it feels to explain random panic attacks to people around you, but they simply don’t understand.

Expecting to die early was normal to me. I didn’t realize that being unable to visualize your future was unusual. I carried this burden alone for two decades, heavily in denial about how bad it was. It felt easier that way, but it wasn’t. I ignored my pain by engrossing myself in helping others with their problems.

Do you always want to be the strong one, too? You also need support. Initially, opening up is terrifying, but it’s worth it. We feel like being strong is admirable, but asking for help is brave, and it’s the first step towards something better. If you feel like you’re a burden, you’re not. You’re traumatized.  And you matter. Talk to your loved ones, a support group, or a licensed mental health professional. People want to help you, but only you can start the healing process.

Asking for help was the best thing I ever did. I’m almost 30 now, and things are finally different. Life feels worth living, even when it’s hard. I can trust you again. I won’t let the trauma or the abusers win, and neither should you. Your future is in your hands, no one else’s.

What is a foreshortened sense of the future?

Have you always felt like you're not going to have a future, that your life will be cut short, or that you won't reach significant milestones in your life? 

Perhaps you've seen your friends planning their lives around their careers, weddings, and having children in the future and you can't relate. Maybe the future isn't a priority or even a concept you can imagine for yourself. It's possible you haven’t realized these thoughts and feelings are unusual. 

If you've survived traumatic events like childhood neglect or abuse, or you were raised by a narcissistic parent, you may experience something which is clinically described as a foreshortened sense of the future. This phenomenon is also a common symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which can have many different causes.

It can be immensely comforting to put a name to what you’re experiencing and know that others have experienced it too. Understanding more about this psychological stress response may make it easier to reach out and seek help from a counselor or a support group.

What is PTSD?

Being unable to imagine your future can be a characteristic symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is a mental illness that can develop after a traumatic experience.

In the US, an estimated 1 in 9 women and 1 in 20 men will meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis at some point in their lifetime.¹

During World War I (WWI), before we had the term PTSD, soldiers named the affliction “shell shock.”²

(Historians refer to WWI as the world’s first “modern” war — the start of using automatic guns, tanks, and aircraft, also known as shelling weapons).³

Medically trained psychologist Charles S. Myers was one of the first mental health professionals to study shell shock

It was only in 1990 that the World Health Organization (WHO) International Classification of Diseases formally recognized PTSD as a diagnosis.⁴

Today, some of Myers’ approaches still guide PTSD treatment, which may contribute to a mistaken belief that you can only have PTSD if you’ve been in combat.

Similarly, not all veterans or individuals with trauma develop PTSD.⁵

So, some people might experience a traumatic life event and develop several symptoms of emotional trauma. In contrast, others might live through the same type of experience and exhibit no PTSD symptoms.

PTSD can develop from any traumatic event that causes you to feel helpless or terrified.⁶ ⁷

Post-traumatic stress becomes a disorder when it’s debilitating and impairs multiple aspects of your life. For example, sleeping, working, spending time in public settings, and enjoying relationships with others.

PTSD risk factors

A large 2019 study found compelling evidence that it’s possible to inherit a predisposition to developing PTSD.⁸

In addition to a possible genetic factor, you are at risk of developing PTSD if you directly experience or witness a distressing event.⁹ For example:

  • Physical or sexual assault

  • Childhood abuse

  • Domestic abuse

  • Terrorist acts, war, or torture

  • A car crash or other serious accident

  • Traumatic birth or pregnancy complications

  • Surgery or ICU stay

  • Forced prostitution

  • Natural disasters

  • Death of a loved one 

A traumatic experience could happen abruptly, or be a lengthy, ongoing event, like being in an abusive relationship.

How is PTSD diagnosed?

PTSD needs to be diagnosed by a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or a psychologist. The diagnostic criteria for PTSD in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) are extensive.¹⁰ However, there are a couple of high-level requirements to note. Under current guidelines, diagnosable PTSD symptoms must: 

  • Last for over a month.

  • Create social or occupational impairment.

  • Not be caused by medication, another illness, or substance use.

With the right support, it is possible to make a full recovery from PTSD. However, PTSD can also be a chronic condition. How long it takes to heal PTSD varies considerably, from months to years.¹¹

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

PTSD symptoms can have a marked effect on your day-to-day life, and you may find it extremely difficult to carry out your daily activities. According to The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), symptoms of PTSD usually arise within three months of a traumatic experience.⁶

It may be years before some people acknowledge or recognize their PTSD symptoms, but this is a less common scenario. Symptoms may ebb and flow or be in a constant, acute state.  Examples of PTSD symptoms often include

  • Foreshortened sense of the future As mentioned, traumatic experiences can negatively alter what you expect of your future.⁹

  • Re-experiencing the traumatic event You could experience flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts or feelings.¹⁰

  • Avoidance and emotional numbing You might avoid things that remind you of the traumatic event(s) and try to ignore your feelings.¹⁰

  • Substance use and dependence You may try to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol or have a history of disordered use of substances.¹²

  • Dissociation and depersonalization You might feel disconnected from your body, in a dream-like state, or as though you’re watching the traumatic event as a bystander. You might feel detached or think, “This isn’t really happening to me.”¹⁰

  • Being in a state of hypervigilance You may feel alert, on edge, irritable, or vigilant in checking for potential threats.¹⁰

  • Emotional outbursts You may feel a sudden burst of emotion, such as being quick to anger.¹³

  • Somatic symptoms PTSD can be felt as chest pain, dizziness, stomach aches, or headaches (the word “somatic” refers to bodily experience).¹⁴

  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating Your focus and sleep could be significantly affected.¹⁵ ¹³ Some psychiatrists describe disrupted sleep as a primary symptom of PTSD.¹⁶

  • Never feeling safe or being startled easily You may feel unsafe or as though nobody understands what you’re going through. A 2012 study of PTSD found changes in the brain and heightened nervous system sensitivity.¹⁷ The brain undergoes changes with PTSD that affect how the person processes threats, emotions, memories, and fear.

  • Having a difficult time in relationships Relationship difficulties are associated with PTSD.¹⁸ For example, PTSD might negatively affect your ability to parent. It can interfere with romantic partnerships, relationships with family and friends, and getting on with coworkers.

  • Suicidal ideation and other mental health issues There is a greater risk of experiencing depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts if you have PTSD.¹⁵ In a 2021 study, individuals diagnosed with PTSD were twice as likely to die by suicide than those without PTSD.¹⁹ That number was higher among women and young adults aged 20–24 years old. If you're struggling, know that you're not alone. Help is available. If you are feeling distressed right now, reach out to a helpline chat or hotline with trained listeners who can support you and direct you to additional help. Find a hotline in your area here.

What is complex PTSD (CPTSD)?

Complex PTSD can arise from especially threatening, prolonged traumatic events that are inescapable. Genocide, abusive relationships, and torture are examples.²⁰ Such experiences can cause deep-seated trust issues and symptoms that affect all areas of your life. 

There are reports of CPTSD being misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder (BPD), as these conditions can have similar symptoms.²¹ In 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced CPTSD as a new stress disorder diagnostic category.⁴

For educational purposes, it may be helpful to think of CPTSD as a heightened form of PTSD.

How is CPTSD diagnosed?

CPTSD has many symptoms that parallel PTSD. For example, reliving the traumatic event, avoidance behaviors, and being alert to threats. 

However, individuals with CPTSD often have a strong negative perception of themselves and experience more significant impairment in their ability to regulate emotions and function in relationships.²²

A formal CPTSD diagnosis requires the input of a mental health professional. 

What are the symptoms of CPTSD?

Symptoms of CPTSD can vary in severity and intensity. You may have a lingering feeling that your life won't be very long, or you may be adamant about the exact circumstances around which your life will end. It can all feel exhausting and cause other mental health issues, such as depression.²³ Other symptoms of CPTSD may include (but are not necessarily limited to):²⁴

  • Negative views about the future or inability to imagine or plan for your future.

  • Feeling different and disconnected from others.

  • Loss of trust in people.

  • Feelings of anger, emptiness, worthlessness, guilt, or shame.

  • Frequent emotional flashbacks and panic attacks.

  • Self-harm and risk-taking behaviors like substance misuse or unprotected sex.

  • Struggling to stay motivated to complete projects and stick to your commitments.

  • Feeling like your life is over.

  • Suicidal thoughts. If you are in crisis or someone you care about is in danger of harming themselves, call 911 or visit the emergency room of your nearest hospital. If you are distressed and want to reach out to someone who can listen and connect you to resources, please find a crisis hotline in your area here.

When to see a doctor

Having a foreshortened sense of the future can indicate emotional trauma or PTSD, so it is crucial to have a conversation with your doctor or mental health professional about how they can support your well-being and help you.

Broadly speaking, PTSD usually does not resolve independently, which is one of many reasons why getting help is so important. Usually, visiting a family doctor is the first step to being referred to a psychologist or trauma therapist. They will develop a treatment plan to relieve your symptoms and facilitate your recovery. Redeveloping trust in people is vital to recovering from PTSD and how you think about your future. Treatment may include medication, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).²⁵ ²⁶

 EMDR is a trauma-focused, newer therapeutic approach with encouraging clinical results.

A 2014 literature review found that 7 out of 10 studies evaluated reported that EMDR therapy was faster and more effective than trauma-focused CBT.²⁶

Coping with a sense of a foreshortened future

Until you read this article, you might not have given much attention to having a foreshortened sense of the future. Still, not being able to imagine your future can interfere with enjoying life. Plus, if you're not planning for your future, it can lead to various issues. For instance, not having career goals or a retirement plan can cause financial stress.

In addition to seeking help from a qualified mental health professional, prioritizing self-care is vital to improving your mental health. It can help you manage stress, increase energy, and reduce your risk of illness.

Taking measures toward self-care can help you regain a sense of control in your life.

Self-care looks different for everyone. What works for someone else might not work for you. Exploring many different self-care strategies and seeing what resonates with you is usually helpful.

Ways to practice self-care

There are so many ways to practice self-care, but here are a few evidence-based methods:

Practicing gratitude

Researchers have observed that grateful thinking improves emotional well-being.²⁷ Another way to think of gratitude is to be mindful of your blessings — even if they are small positive aspects of your life. For example, you might notice that something worked out better than you expected, that you had a good meal, or that you had a pleasant conversation with a stranger. Some people practice daily journaling or noting something they are grateful for daily.


It is well-established that exercise can boost your mood and reduce stress.²⁸ Explore what types of activities you enjoy and incorporate them into your daily or weekly routine.

Music or art therapy

Listening to your favorite music or making art has demonstrated therapeutic effects.²⁹ In a 2016 randomized control trial²⁵ in which all participants had combat-related PTSD, participants received art therapy. Each stated that they either “recovered blocked memories or gained insights and realizations crucial to their healing processes through art therapy.”³⁰

Animal companionship

Cuddle an animal. Whether you volunteer with animals or get a pet, they are a scientifically noted positive influence on wellbeing.³¹


Feeling connected improves mental health. It can be tough to trust again after a traumatic event, and distrusting others is a core symptom of CPTSD. While it may be a challenge to put yourself out there and make or reconnect with friends, having people you can talk to and enjoy life with can improve your quality of life.³² If you’re unsure where to start, consider looking for a peer support group. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America provides a list of support groups for various mental health conditions, including PTSD.

Eat as nutritiously as you can

Dietary habits can have a more significant impact on mental health than many people realize. Consider trying out new, nutritious recipes that support brain health.³³

Explore grounding, mindfulness, and affirmation techniques

Consider trying different forms of meditation or breathing exercises. Saying positive affirmations or trying to imagine positive events taking place in the future can improve your sense of well-being.³⁴

How to challenge negative beliefs about yourself

If you persistently think something negative about yourself, find evidence to the contrary. If you can add evidence to your list and look at it regularly, it will help you dispel the negative or limiting beliefs. You can also try to find the root of the belief, as these mindsets often come from what others have said to you.

Talk to yourself like a friend

Would you call your best friend nasty names? No, it’s likely that you wouldn’t. Speak to yourself with kindness, and you will significantly improve your self-esteem. We often criticize ourselves in the same way cruel, abusive people in our lives have. If you went through an abusive relationship, you don't want to keep echoing what your partner said to you: You've been through enough. 

Set boundaries

Practicing saying “no,” being assertive, and avoiding people-pleasing can be great for your self-esteem. You demonstrate to yourself that you have agency and value. Turning down an invite to an event you don't want to attend means that you don't have to suffer through the event, and you can feel proud of yourself for saying no. You can start small. Maybe someone asks you to lend them $20. You can respond, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you.”


When you have PTSD, it's normal to try and ignore your emotions to lessen the feeling of distress. However, this also bleeds into your positive emotions and can prevent you from enjoying your life and being yourself. In addition, this disorder may encourage you to avoid others and isolate yourself. If you were a friendly, fun-loving person before your traumatic events(s), tap into who you were and who you want to be. 

If an abusive ex called you pretentious or childish for having a particular hobby, remember that they tried to cut you down to destroy your self-esteem. It's the only way they could control you and keep you around because they knew you were too good for them. Their opinion doesn't matter. Who you want to be is what matters.

Embracing the things you love

If you were in an abusive relationship with a narcissistic partner, they might have stripped away everything you loved about yourself, including your personality or hobbies. They may have made you feel like you have no agency over your life and you're merely a passenger. But this is not true. You can choose who you want to be, what you want to do, and who you include in your life.

Perhaps you used to love cooking, but someone made you feel terrible about your skills, so you stopped. Remind yourself that abusive people tear others down to make themselves feel better. They often project their insecurities onto you. They were probably the awful cook. Step back into the kitchen, even if it's to spite them. Do what you love, not what others expect of you.

A sense of a foreshortened future can increase your risk of depression, but positive activities can give you something to live for, aim for, and enjoy.

The lowdown

A sense of a foreshortened future can be a symptom of PTSD, and you may feel like your life will be cut short or you're unable to plan for your future. You may have been through a traumatic event that made you fear for your life or feel like it wasn't worth living.

Fortunately, you can improve how you see your future with self-care, therapy, positive relationships, boosting your self-esteem, and being authentically you (as opposed to who someone else may have wanted you to be).

Seeking professional help from a therapist is essential if you're dealing with trauma symptoms like frequent flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance, or hypervigilance.

You don't have to suffer in silence. It's not your fault that you feel this way, and things can get better. If you are in distress, help is available. Please find a crisis hotline in your area here.

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  2. Shell shocked (2012)

  3. Weapons of world war I | Alpha History

  4. Development of the new CPTSD diagnosis for ICD-11 (2021)

  5. Myth: All veterans have PTSD | Supporting Veterans in the Workplace

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  8. Largest GWAS of PTSD (N=20 070) yields genetic overlap with schizophrenia and sex differences in heritability (2017)

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  14. Symptoms - Post-traumatic stress disorder | NHS

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  17. Biological studies of posttraumatic stress disorder (2012)

  18. Posttraumatic stress disorder and relationship functioning: A comprehensive review and organizational framework (2018)

  19. Suicide risk in people with post-traumatic stress disorder: A cohort study of 3.1 million people in Sweden (2021)

  20. Complex posttraumatic stress disorder: The need to consolidate a distinct clinical syndrome or to reevaluate features of psychiatric disorders following interpersonal trauma? (2018)

  21. Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD) | Mind

  22. Is complex PTSD a valid diagnosis? | Psychology Today

  23. Complex posttraumatic stress disorder: The need to consolidate a distinct clinical syndrome or to reevaluate features of psychiatric disorders following interpersonal trauma? (2018)

  24. Complex PTSD and borderline personality disorder (2021)

  25. Why cognitive behavioral therapy is the current gold standard of psychotherapy (2018)

  26. The role of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy in medicine: Addressing the psychological and physical symptoms stemming from adverse life experiences (2014)

  27. Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life (2003)

  28. Move your mental health - John. W. Brick (2021)

  29. Mental health implications of music: insight from neuroscientific and clinical studies (2011)

  30. Art therapy and cognitive processing therapy for combat-related PTSD: A randomized controlled trial (2016)

  31. Animal-assisted interventions as innovative tools for mental health (2011)

  32. Connectedness & health: The science of social connection | Stanford Medicine

  33. Evidence of the importance of dietary habits regarding depressive symptoms and depression (2020)

  34. Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation (2016)

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

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