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I am working on this short espionage story, and I have one character, an agent, who is unable to bring himself to do harm let alone kill another person. He's never done the deed himself. In my storyboard he'll encounter a situation where his partner does kill somebody because of necessity (If he doesn't, they'll die--type of situation). And this causes a little problem where he keeps replaying the scene in his head and it causes him stress.

I want to be very careful writing this scene. To my knowledge, people suffering from PTSD can have hallucinations of a traumatic event, and I don't want my character being seen as having PTSD when he doesn't have one. I know this is a sensitive matter to handle so I truly want to approach this with caution. And avoid accidentally writing a bad handling of PTSD at all costs. Which leads me to this stump.

Does anyone have tips for this? Thank you!

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I am sorry but you have defined the character as having PTSD already: "And this causes a little problem where he keeps replaying the scene in his head and it causes him stress." PTSD is not some objective "thing" that you can get, like a virus or genetic condition. It is a checklist of symptoms. If you check the boxes for the symptoms, then you have the condition.

  • Did the person suffer a psychological trauma? Yes.
  • Does the person have a seriously reduced ability to function in the world? Yes.
  • Does the person re-experience the traumatic event through "triggers?" Yes.
  • Does the person's inability to function normally come from triggered memories of the traumatic event? Yes.

Your character has PTSD. The way to handle this delicately is to consult with a professional in PTSD, or do your own research.

If you choose to give this character all the symptoms of PTSD, but just say, "They don't have PTSD," then you will offend more people who have an understanding of what PTSD is.

If you choose to write about a person in situation X, then you have a responsibility to know how people respond in situation X.

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A quick search provides this source: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd

For the question at hand, I'd direct your attention to this quote from this link. "Not everyone who lives through a dangerous event develops PTSD-many factors play a part"

While trauma can give a person PTSD, it is not a given. There are many contributing factors involved. Everyone has a different reaction to trauma. It's a domino effect. Sometimes a person gets depression, anxiety, PTSD, all of the above, or none. It depends on countless different risk factors.

As the above source mentions, childhood trauma can be a risk factor for PTSD. However, having a healthy support group and healthy coping strategies reduces the risk.

Perhaps your character has a great support group, many healthy coping habits, and a great therapist. That would be a reasonable explanation for why they have not developed PTSD. (Though it is not the only explanation, nor does it mean a person with a healthy support group cannot get it. They are just less likely to.)

I feel like you've already answered your own question, though. If your character does not have PTSD, that's the end of the story. You don't need to prove they don't have it, or if you do just show they have none of the traits, symptoms, or risk factors associated with it.

If a character does not have X, you don't need to explain that they have X.

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...an agent, who is unable to bring himself to do harm let alone kill another person. He's never done the deed himself...

It sounds like this agent does espionage because he believes that it will better the world and has an own set of principles, principles that will contradict with his profession. The murder of another human being, a being of the same species as you, is something that we as a collective have unfortunately grown desensitized to, but nevertheless doesn't take away the fact that murder is the most cruel thing you can do to someone and the people around them.

The act of putting an end to a being with the same intellect as you can very well leave you with PTSD.

From a quick Google search on PTSD, you can be diagnosed with PTSD by experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event ( https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967#:~:text=Post%2Dtraumatic%20stress%20disorder%20(PTSD)%20is%20a%20mental%20health,uncontrollable%20thoughts%20about%20the%20event. )

And as you pointed out:

...I know this is a sensitive matter to handle so I truly want to approach this with caution. And avoid accidentally writing a bad handling of PTSD at all costs...

This is true. The most important thing for a writer to remember when dealing with something sensitive like this is that, at the end of the day, as long as you feel like you wrote it to your best efforts and were as cautions as you could be then you're good because there's always going to be people that disagree with how you portrayed PTSD, no matter how sensible you were.

An example of selling the PTSD is to imagine it as the agent being a "prisoner of his own mind", as if the reoccuring nightmares, the stress, the anxiety that is ahead of him is beyond his control and the only way to alleviate this is to surrond himself with people that are understandative of his situation. That's how I would do it, at least.

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