Helping Someone with PTSD
When someone you care about suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, it can be overwhelming. But with these steps, you can help your loved one move on with their life.
Living with someone who has PTSD
When a partner, friend, or family member has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) it affects you, too. PTSD isn’t easy to live with and it can take a heavy toll on relationships and family life. You may be hurt by your loved one’s distance and moodiness or struggling to understand their behavior—why they are less affectionate and more volatile.
It’s hard not to take the symptoms of PTSD personally, but it’s important to remember that a person with PTSD may not always have control over their behavior. Your loved one’s nervous system is “stuck” in a state of constant alert, making them continually feel vulnerable and unsafe, or having to relive the traumatic experience over and over. This can lead to anger, irritability, depression, mistrust, and other PTSD symptoms that your loved one can’t simply choose to turn off.
With the right support from you and other family and friends, though, your loved one’s nervous system can become “unstuck.” With these tips, you can help them to finally move on from the traumatic event and enable your life together to return to normal.
Helping someone with PTSD
Provide social support
It’s common for people with PTSD to withdraw from family and friends. They may feel ashamed, not want to burden others, or believe that other people won’t understand what they’re going through. While it’s important to respect your loved one’s boundaries, your comfort and support can help them overcome feelings of helplessness, grief, and despair. In fact, trauma experts believe that face-to-face support from others is the most important factor in PTSD recovery.
Knowing how to best demonstrate your love and support for someone with PTSD isn’t always easy. You can’t force your loved one to get better, but you can play a major role in the healing process by simply spending time together.
Don’t pressure your loved one into talking. It can be very difficult for people with PTSD to talk about their traumatic experiences. For some, it can even make them feel worse. Instead, let them know you’re willing to listen when they want to talk, or just hang out when they don’t. Comfort for someone with PTSD comes from feeling engaged and accepted by you, not necessarily from talking.
Do “normal” things with your loved one, things that have nothing to do with PTSD or the traumatic experience. Encourage your loved one to seek out friends, pursue hobbies that bring them pleasure, and participate in rhythmic exercise such as walking, running, swimming, or rock climbing. Take a fitness class together, go dancing, or set a regular lunch date with friends and family.
Let your loved one take the lead, rather than telling them what to do. Everyone with PTSD is different but most people instinctively know what makes them feel calm and safe. Take cues from your loved one as to how you can best provide support and companionship.
Manage your own stress. The more calm, relaxed, and focused you are, the better you’ll be able to help your loved one.
Be patient. Recovery is a process that takes time and often involves setbacks. The important thing is to stay positive and maintain support for your loved one.
Educate yourself about PTSD. The more you know about the symptoms, effects, and treatment options, the better equipped you’ll be to help your loved one, understand what they are going through, and keep things in perspective.
Accept (and expect) mixed feelings. As you go through the emotional wringer, be prepared for a complicated mix of feelings—some of which you’ll never want to admit. Just remember, having negative feelings toward your family member doesn’t mean you don’t love them.
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