4 ‘Helpful’ Comments That Aren’t So Helpful for Someone With PTSD

When you have a friend or family member with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it can be a hard, tricky road. In my personal experiences, I appreciate the concern, but sometimes (many times), I’ve heard more hurtful things than helpful.

Here are some examples of comments I find to be unhelpful, and what you can say or do instead:

1. “Give it to God.” “You can pray it away.” “Go to church more.” “God always answers prayers, just wait.”

I have “given it to God.” I pray and attend church when I’m able. However, the constant barrage of these sentiments have actually pushed me away from religion at times. It makes me feel like I’m not good enough for God to help me.

Instead: If the person is religious, pray for them and let them know. Prayers are always appreciated, but it’s not as simple as that.

2. “You should really try (insert vitamins, cleanses, the latest fad on the Internet guaranteed to cure everything).”

Sigh. I’ve tried many things. But I’ve found things like essential oils, while beneficial to some for relaxation and meditation, cannot fix a broken brain.

Instead: Help the person see his/her doctor and therapist who is trained to deal with PTSD. Offer them a ride. Or, making a meal for the family after “therapy day” is more helpful than any advice you heard on TV.

3. “I understand exactly how you feel.”

I’m sorry, but no two traumas are exactly the same. What triggers me may not trigger someone else. Sometimes it’s a scent, a place, a scene in a movie. The possibilities are endless. You cannot feel exactly the way I feel. You do not experience my exact flashbacks, night terrors or panic attacks. When you say this, it makes me feel like you’re downplaying what I’m going through.

Instead: Say, “I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how you are feeling right now — but I’m here for you if you want to talk.”

4. “Stop living in the past. It’s so unhealthy!”

I don’t in any way want to re-live my past. I wish I could just get over it. The brain is a tricky animal. I physically cannot stop myself from panic attacks, re-experiencing my traumas and the many other symptoms I have. I would give up just about anything for it to stop.

Instead: Don’t say statements that imply I’m not trying my best.

I once read PTSD is like getting a horrible tattoo all over your body you didn’t ask for, don’t want and spend the rest of your life trying to get removed. That’s a pretty great analogy. PTSD is unpredictable. Sometimes we have good, even great days. Sometimes we struggle. The number one thing you can do is to be kind, always.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

When the Echo of Your Child's Cancer Is Stuck in Your Head

When cancer lands in your life, it hits like an nuclear explosion. It incinerates what used to be there. It shatters the atmosphere then it shatters the world. It leaves a crater that over time fills up with water, waste, fear, dust, old memories, laughter, dreams and oxygen. The Earth that’s left behind is cracked. [...]

When You Experience PTSD After a Traumatic Birth

It’s 6 a.m. The sun hasn’t even come up and the panic has already started. To those who don’t suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or anxiety, these thoughts are impossible to understand. I’m awakened by the sound of my 2-year-old daughter, Estella, dry-heaving and gagging. I jump up without even breathing first and sprint into [...]

Why I’m Asking You Not to Give Too Many Presents to My Kids

Dear friends, family and well-wishers from our community, I know, I know. You want to shower my kids with gifts every chance you get, and the holidays provide the perfect chance to spoil the heck out of them. I know you want to send them mountains of presents, but I’m asking you to limit yourself [...]

Why I’m Telling You What This Photo Doesn’t Say About My Son

When you look at this picture what do you see? The obvious answer is a little boy at a wrestling match. But things aren’t always as they seem, and sometimes you have to look beyond what’s in front of your face. You see, my son has invisible disabilities. I have two children. My daughter rides [...]