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8 'Harmless' Comments That Actually Hurt People With PTSD

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Sharing your experiences with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can bring with it a mixed bag of emotions. Embarrassment, relief,  joy, grief and fear may overwhelm you when you discuss trauma or its effects with a friend, family or medical practitioner. Probably most difficult of all is the fear of being misunderstood. This misunderstanding can take the form of unintentionally harmful comments, suggestions and actions. Comments like:

• What is PTSD?

Don’t be like that.”

“Have you tried going outside?”

“Why are you acting like this?”

While those around you may have the best intentions, these comments can be hurtful to those actually living with PTSD. To better explain this, we asked our Mighty community to share “harmless” statements they have heard about their PTSD and how it affected them. Read what they said below.

• What is PTSD?

If you are looking for helpful things to say to support your loved one with PTSD, check out the following stories.

Here’s what our community shared with us: 

1. “You need to let go and move on.”

“‘You can’t let what he did define you, because that will make your life miserable; just let go and move on.’ My choice was to forgive. But just because I don’t hold a grudge doesn’t mean I don’t have memories, emotional wounds or trust issues. While I define myself by what I do, not what was done to me, it can’t just make my mental and emotional issues disappear.” —Jacinta M.

“‘How long are you going to keep dwelling on the past?’ That hurts so much. All I want is to be able to function properly and yet people seem to think I enjoy this crap.” —Mindy W.

2. “We all have issues. You’re overreacting.”

“‘Yeah that happens to everyone. We all have issues, You’re overreacting and overthinking it.’ Cool. If it was that easy, I would love to be able to just get over it and stop having the consistent unwanted thoughts and uncontrollable responses I have to deal with on a daily basis.” —Mary E.

3. “But that was years ago.”

“‘Time can heal it.’ Like yes, I am technically a believer of that statement. Time can heal most things, but it doesn’t erase very powerful, painful experiences that have altered my brain chemistry. Sometimes that ‘time’ is years and years, and in the meantime I just ask for love and understanding if things get difficult or when I am triggered.” —Kierstyn P.

“I hate when people assume time can make you forget about a traumatic event. That it should fade away because therapy is supposed to be magical. Six years have gone by and my PTSD is still just as bad. Some things don’t completely heal. And time doesn’t always make things better.” —Alyssa H.

Need a non-judgmental place to talk about PTSD? Download our free app to connect with others who have been there 24/7.

4. “You’ve never been to war though.”

“‘But you have never been to war!’ is something my father said to me when I was first diagnosed. It completely invalidated the childhood trauma I had experienced which caused me to have PTSD and made me feel like I was wrong for having been diagnosed.” —Sammie P.

“‘Well, you never went to war and had bullets flying over your head, so the people that went to war have it much worse.’ ‘Consider yourself lucky you were never in the war.’ Don’t get me wrong. I have sympathy for anyone that’s been through any traumatic experience. It’s awful, but what he said to me just made me feel that my experiences were nothing.” —Dawn C.

5. “Other people have it worse than you do.”

“’Yes, someone may have had it worse than me does that make my trauma any less impactful on my life? No. It hurts when I get told this because it makes me overthink and think I am just overreacting, which sets me back.” —Maddie C.

6. “I guess I have PTSD too.”

“‘I guess I have PTSD too then’ is the most hurtful thing I’ve had said to me. Just because we’ve all had trauma of some kind doesn’t mean it’s all the same.” —Sarah H.

7. “It’s your own fault.”

“‘You can’t have trauma from your own bad decisions.’ This has been said to me, in one way or another, by multiple people over the years. What people are really saying is that my trauma isn’t that bad because I made whatever decision they feel makes me responsible for what happened to me. We don’t tell people who got into a car accident that they are to blame because they got behind the wheel. We don’t tell soldiers blown apart by bombs that they knew the risk by enlisting. But when it comes to women and sexual violence, simply being alive is apparently assumption of the risk.” —Ashley-Michelle P.

8. “Just don’t think about it.”

“’Just don’t think about it.’ Geeeeee. Thanks. I sure never thought about that… It’s like they don’t get the idea of ‘intrusive thoughts and memories.’ They are unwanted and you’re unable to control them. That’s kind of the whole point of PTSD.” —Miranda R.

“’It’s in the past, think about the future.’ I’ve found that my body actually reacts in the same ways or worse, when anniversaries of events arrive, meaning I often don’t have control over whether I think about the future.” —Abby A.

While it can be difficult to find the words to show validation and support for those living with PTSD, there are several ways to reassure someone with the disorder. If you’re struggling with PTSD and don’t know where to turn, we encourage you to post a Thought or question on The Mighty to connect with people who have been there.

What “harmless” comments have you heard? Let us know in the comments.

Getty Images photo via Victor_Tongdee

Originally published: January 16, 2019
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