When a loved one, whether a parent, child, friend, spouse, or family member, experiences PTSD, it can be hard to truly understand what is happening to them. PTSD can result in drastic personality and behavior changes, and can affect your relationship with that person. At Peer Support Central, we offer training and peer support counseling for those with PTSD and their families to help cope with symptoms. Today, we wanted to share some tips for those who are trying to better understand a loved one with PTSD.
How To Support A Loved One With PTSD
- Educate yourself: One of the most powerful things you can do to understand someone with PTSD is to educate yourself about what exactly post-traumatic stress disorder is, and how it affects people. This blog, and other blogs posted on Peer Support Central, is a great place to start. Learning what happens in a person’s mind when their PTSD is triggered, the warning signs of PTSD, and proven treatment options are all important in helping support a loved one with PTSD.
- Your presence is important: Even if your loved one is ignoring you, lashing out, or doesn’t seem to be quite themselves, your presence is important to their healing. Knowing that somebody is standing by and supporting them will help them to cope with their PTSD. Understanding this will make a difference in their lives.
- PTSD can override logic: For a person with PTSD, behaviors are often based on instinct, rather than logic. When a person is having a flashback or experiencing symptoms of PTSD, they are often acting on autopilot and could possibly be in a survival mode, even if there is no present danger. Accepting this, rather than saying, “You’re fine, quit worrying, no one’s going to hurt you,” will help to strengthen your bond with that person and will help support them.
- Trauma changes things – sometimes permanently: If you break your arm, you may be temporarily debilitated and in a cast, but with time that bone will heal and you can go back to your day-to-day life as if nothing ever happened. PTSD does not work like that. Some people may eventually be able to ignore the traumatic events that caused their PTSD, but others cannot, and returning to “normal” life may be impossible. Instead, accepting that the person has changed, and accepting a “new normal” is essential to understanding a person with PTSD.
- There are different types of flashbacks: Flashbacks are something we often talk about with PTSD, and refer to when a person is triggered by some element which causes memories of the traumatic event to surface. These can be incredibly vivid where a person believes they are actually re-experiencing the trauma, while others may not experience flashbacks at all. Some people will have a flashback without even realizing it. They may suddenly feel anxious, scared, or overwhelmed without actually picturing the event itself. These can be difficult because a person may not realize they are experiencing symptoms of PTSD and be unsure why they are feeling anxious.
- A person can’t “get over” PTSD: Whether a traumatic event happened ten days ago or ten years ago doesn’t make a difference. Understanding that a mental health issue is different than a physical health issue is key to supporting a person with PTSD. Managing symptoms is not the same thing as “curing” the disease.
Peer Support Central Can Help Families
When your loved one has experienced a traumatic event and you have not, they may feel as if you are an “outsider,” or like you wouldn’t truly understand what they went through. This is common, and shouldn’t be construed as them not trusting you. Peer support offers a way for people with PTSD to talk with peers and support specialists who have experienced the same traumas that they have, making it a good outlet compared to traditional therapy. If your loved one is experiencing symptoms of PTSD, consider joining one of our Peer Support groups. Find out more about our PTSD support program for military and first responders.