Understanding how to help someone with PTSD is challenging. Life is unpredictable and full of experiences that shape and define us. Whether positive or negative, most of what we go through in life will build us up and make us stronger. However, in the most unexpected moments, traumatic fatalities and tragedies may fall at our feet through no fault of our own, leaving us with lasting emotional scars and, sometimes, psychological damage.
Trauma is a difficult concept for many of us to talk about, but it’s time that we bring this ubiquitous topic to the light; around 70% of American adults will have a traumatic experience at least once in their lives. One in five of that group will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the experience and suffer from life-altering emotional damage.
What’s worse is that PTSD doesn’t just affect the individual — it impacts friends and family members who desperately want to help but may feel helpless to do so. If you’ve ever wondered how to help a loved one with PTSD, you’re not alone. Continue reading to learn how to best provide support to your loved one striving to recover from this mentally debilitating disorder.
Make an Effort to Understand the Condition
In order to understand what your loved one is thinking and feeling and to know how best to help them, it’s important to learn everything you can about PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder is recognized as a mental health disorder that affects the victims of sudden loss, abuse, assault, the near-death experiences of war, terrorist attacks, major accidents, and so much more.
The illness is characterized by extreme anxiety and worry, social exclusion, emotional disengagement, nightmares, and anger, which are usually triggered by situations that remind the affected person of their past trauma. These symptoms can lead to an eventual inability to work, a full change in personality, substance abuse, and weakening of familial relationships.
While it can be easy to worry that you’ve done something wrong and take your loved one’s changed behavior personally, you should understand that the victim, when reminded of their trauma, cannot usually control his or her behavior. Their central nervous system goes on high alert, causing an onset of their symptoms when they begin to feel defenseless or endangered.
In times of fight or flight, do your best not to take anything personally. PTSD is, admittedly, very taxing on relationships, and you may find your loved one’s behavior distressing, but remember that the person struggling needs you to be your best self as they work through their issues. Rather than feeling like a burden, they need to see you as trustworthy and be able to place hope in your understanding of them.
Show Your Support in Ways Conducive to Healing
At first, it might be difficult to discover that your loved one withdraws from you and others even despite your best intentions. Recognize that this is normal in PTSD victims and give them their space while continuing to make them feel cared about. Help them feel safe coming to you to talk and allow them to approach you on their own terms. They will open up only when they are ready, so in the meantime — be patient.
Continue your Daily Routine
Avoid letting your loved one hole up for too long. Try to help him or her stick to a routine similar to the one they followed before the trauma. Without being pushy or overbearing, encourage them to spend time with friends and family and socialize in settings that have no connection to the traumatic experience. Make sure they also pursue physical activity so their body can release those happiness-boosting endorphins.
Listen to Their Needs
When your loved one is ready to open up, be sure to express interest and concern, but do not offer unsolicited advice, as this may push them away. It might be very difficult to hear what they have to say, but remember that, in order to heal, PTSD victims need to talk through the experience with someone. Avoid showing judgment or disapproval; this might cause them to close up again.
As you listen, continue to reaffirm your loved one of your commitment to helping them heal. Make sure that you never say anything to discredit their fears, and avoid downplaying their experience in an attempt to help them feel better. This is not constructive and rarely has the intended effect. Do everything you can to build up the victim and help them feel empowered to get better.
If you aren’t finding anything you do to be helpful, be bold and ask them directly what they need from you. As long as their answer is constructive, it will provide you with a clear direction in your approach.
Care for Yourself in the Process
Being the main support figure of a person experiencing PTSD is a heavy weight to bear. If you want to be helpful, make sure you don’t let your loved one’s PTSD overshadow your own life. It’s easy to be completely encapsulated by the trauma as you listen to their experiences and see their symptoms firsthand, but doing so can drain you emotionally and physically.
Make sure that, as you help the victim recover, you’re meeting your own physical needs and have a support system of your own in place. Continue doing things that make you happy each day so that are positive and cheerful when you are needed. You should also distribute your responsibility among several people so that no one person is carrying the majority of the weight.
Know What to Do During a PTSD-Related Episode
As you help your loved one work through their issues, traumatic episodes will inevitably occur. Learning how to recognize triggers and symptoms of an episode will ensure that you know how to handle the episode and assist you in avoiding the initial onset. Triggers usually consist of people, smells, sounds, sites, anniversary dates, and physical distresses associated with the incident.
One of the most common types of PTSD episodes these triggers will instigate is a flashback. During a flashback, a person will feel detached from the present and find themselves reliving the traumatic experience. The best thing you can do in this situation is to find a way to bring your loved one gently back to reality without startling them.
This can mean helping them slow their breathing, asking them to identify objects in the room to ground them, and reminding them that although their flashback feels real, they are in a safe place and the event is not repeating itself. Never touch the person before asking them first, as doing so may be perceived as aggression and further remove them from reality.
Discuss Treatment Options for PTSD
As a close friend or family member of someone with PTSD, you have the responsibility of making sure your loved one gets the treatment they need in order to cope with their disorder and have a chance at moving forward with life. PTSD can be treated through psychotherapy, medication, or a mix of both.
Talk to your loved one about the treatments that are available. They might resist at first, but they’ll come around as you help them understand the benefits of taking advantage of professional care. Everyone responds differently to therapy, and a mental health professional can determine which of the treatments below will be most effective for a victim.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a form of intervention that invokes mental imagery to help people face their trauma in a safe and controlled environment. This repeated exposure will lessen a patient’s sensitivity to triggering stimuli over time.
- SSRIs: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a form of medication that can be used alone or in conjunction with CBT. They improve a person’s mood and relieve anxiety and depression by making serotonin more readily available to the body.
Encourage Your Loved One to Receive Treatment
It’s heartbreaking to see your spouse, child, parent, sibling, or friend experiencing the crippling effects of PTSD, and you should never shoulder the full responsibility of helping them heal. You are not in this alone. Seek the help of our qualified professionals at Beachway Therapy Center to ease your burden and help your loved one find new ways to cope and discover a renewed hope.
Contact Beachway Therapy Center today at (877) 284-0353 to speak with rehabilitation experts and mental health professionals who can give your loved one the best chance of a PTSD-free life.