5 Things to Know About Loving Someone Through Trauma Therapy
“I can’t do this anymore,” I say tearfully as I bury my head in the safety of our bed. “You are doing it. It will have an ending and you’re so close to it,” my husband gently whispers to me as he pushes my hair out of the tears streaming down my face.
This is a scene that plays out over and over in our home. Loving someone with PTSD adds a layer of challenge to the relationship and every day is a reminder of that. The process of going through trauma/EMDR therapy alongside your loved one can feel like uncharted territory. Supporting your loved one through the messiness and raw emotion born out of the healing taking place in front of you will be unnerving.
Wanting to help and show support may feel bewildering without any guidance. Bridging the gap between having a desire to be of support to that loved one and actually helping might seem scary in the beginning.
From going through this process with my loved one, here’s what I’ve found I needed most:
1. You need to have transparency.
Being able to discuss how you’d like to be supported and having your loved one offer feedback as to what is helpful and what just isn’t is critical. This process takes a lot of trial and error. Communication is the best facilitator for that.
2. Be aware of the symptoms and that during therapy they will intensify.
The jumpiness, the flashbacks, the hyper-vigilance and the panic — just to name a few — will all heighten. To have to watch your loved one gasp in shock just by the volume of your voice or jump when you reach from behind to lay a hand on their shoulder will be uncomfortable. Feeling like now even you are scary to us won’t be easy. Don’t take it personal as it is not a reflection of your actions but an intense memory of those before you. Remember that extra attention might be required to handle each of these symptoms. Medication, mindfulness techniques and quiet time alone are all ways to help regain calm in these moments.
3. Intimacy can feel like re-traumatization.
In healing from trauma, specifically sexual trauma, the physical space is a necessary requirement. Guilt will accompany it and become a barrier to speak up about it. Please understand it is temporary and not at all comfortable to experience. The pause in the now will allow the time to make appropriate connections between love and sex, and pave the way for a healthy intimate relationship in the future.
The emotions that accompany reliving our past are intense and draining. Our brain refiling memories during EMDR along with the neurological and physical by-products that are born out of that process require immense energy. We’re tired. Everything about what’s happening will weigh us down with fatigue. Allow time for rest and encourage us to take it as often as needed.
5. Dissociation is scary.
Having intense feelings and the mind trying to protect us by drifting off into disassociation will happen. We don’t always know it’s coming or how long it’s happened when we come out of it. A strong feeling of fear will wash over us after coming back from an episode because we don’t always know how long we’ve been away or why it happened in the first place. It’s easy to feel embarrassed. If your loved one experiences periods of dissociation, react with gentleness and reassurance in these moments that we are safe now.
When you love someone with a past history of trauma everything can feel more complicated. It is, but it won’t always be with your care and encouragement through treatment. Your decision to support us while we wade into the thick waters of our past to heal our present is an unconditional notion of your love. Education, communication and your compassion will cloak us in the armor we need and give us the endurance required to survive this difficult process.
Getty Images photo via Aramyan