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4 'Helpful' Comments That Aren't So Helpful for Someone With PTSD

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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.

• What is PTSD?

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.

Originally published: January 5, 2016
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