Your Loved One Has PTSD . . . Now What?PTSD affects family and friends; feelings of hurt, anger, and fear are a normal part of the experience.
Someone with PTSD is hard to live with, and watching his or her personality change through the PTSD experience can be alarming. PTSD sufferers can grow moody, anxious, and detached from the family, and that hurts everyone.
Supporting Your Loved One with PTSD
When suffering from PTSD, it is normal for that person to distance themselves from their loved ones. They feel disconnected from others and lose interest in activities they used to enjoy. They feel dead emotionally. It is important for you to be part of a strong social support for your friend or family member with PTSD. They can’t recover without you! Respect boundaries, but don’t let them disappear.
As you can see, living with and loving someone with PTSD is very difficult. You must remain strong and calm in the face of your loved one’s fear and anger. They desperately need you to get better, but what about you? It is absolutely vital that you learn how to take care of yourself through this process so that you stay healthy and strong.
Here are some tips for self-care:
- Create a social support system for yourself so you have people you can talk to about how you feel.
- Create boundaries and make time to live your own life.
- Ask others for help shouldering the extra responsibilities.
- Remember, when you are emotionally overwhelmed and depleted, you are also at risk for developing secondary PTSD symptoms as you relive the trauma your loved one describes to you. Take care of yourself so you can take care of you friend or family member with PTSD.
Create a Safe Place
You also need to provide a safe place, both physically and emotionally, for your friend or loved one. Remember, they feel the way they do because of a life-threatening traumatic event, so they feel a profound sense of fear and will suffer from flashbacks or nightmares that will seem very real to them.
Here are some ways you can help your loved one feel safe:
- Establish dependable and predictable daily routines.
- Anticipate triggering circumstances such as large crowds, loud noises, or new places.
- Let them have space for relaxing and resting in a stress-free environment.
- Be trustworthy and keep your commitments to them. Let your loved one knows they can count on you.
- Help them through panic attacks, flashbacks, or nightmares by reassuring them of what is real, helping them take deep breaths, and reminding them of where they are actually at, even though the mental images seem so real.
It can be a tricky situation to help your friend or family member seek professional treatment for PTSD.
Here are some tips for helping them start treatment:
- Talk about the benefits of therapy if they are feeling hesitant about seeking help.
- Don’t suggest they need help when you are in the middle of a heated conversation or argument, but instead wait for a calm moment when you both feel relaxed.
- Avoid any language that might make them feel like you think they are crazy.
Learn to listen well when they feel like they can talk to you.
Here are some tips:
- Don’t offer trite answers like “You will be OK” or “Can’t you just get over it?”
- Don’t offer unasked for advice, rather ask how you can help them.
- Remain calm even when faced with their unexplained anger.
- Validate and affirm their experiences. Let them talk about their fears and feelings.
- Don’t talk to them about your own feelings or experiences. Save that for conversations with others.
Why is Dealing With PTSD so Difficult?
It’s hard to understand why your family member or friend with PTSD is so volatile and hard to get along with. It’s also common to feel anger towards your loved one, and frustrated about how their PTSD is changing and affecting the entire family. Perhaps your loved one is going through one of the consequences of PTSD such as drug or alcohol abuse or job loss. There’s no doubt about it: PTSD takes a heavy toll on relationships.
So what can you do when your family member or friend has PTSD?
- Realize that your feelings are completely normal.
- Try not to take their behavior personally.
- Let them know you are here to listen to them, but don’t force them to talk.
- Learn as much as you can about PTSD.
- Practice self-care for your own mental and emotional health.