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10 Ways to Support Someone You Love Living With PTSD

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When people think of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they often think only military veterans can have the condition, which is simply not true. Anyone can get PTSD; it’s a mental health disorder that can be triggered by any kind of traumatic experience. This could be physical assault, domestic abuse, a robbery or even the sudden death of a loved one.

• What is PTSD?

Symptoms of PTSD often include vivid nightmares, flashbacks and avoidance of anything related the trauma. People also have issues sleeping, become irritable and can feel numb.

One of the most important things for someone with PTSD is to have a strong support system. Going through counseling for PTSD can be traumatic in itself, having to experience and then process the trauma in a different way. It can make your loved one feel vulnerable and afraid. So if you’re supporting someone with PTSD, here are a few things you can do to help them, as well as some things for you to remember.

1. We don’t want you to fix us; we want you to listen and accept us as we are.

When friends find out a loved one has PTSD, a lot of them may want to try to fix them. It’s not what we want or what we need from you. We have therapists and support from professionals to deal with and help us live with the condition. From friends we want some understanding and for you to listen when we need to talk.

2. Don’t tell us to “get over it.”

Post-traumatic stress disorder is like any other health condition and should be treated as such. By telling us to “get over it” you make us feel like our feelings, symptoms and issues around our PTSD are not valid. It makes things harder for us. Try saying “I’ve got you” instead.

3. Be patient.

PTSD is a complex condition that can be caused by many different things. Although people can work on recovering from the condition, it will take time and patience. There is no official cure for the condition, and one never knows what may trigger the PTSD in the future. Finally, remember this is about the person living with PTSD, so make sure you go at their pace and not yours.

4. Recognize and try to understand our fears rather than making them out to be irrational and excessive.

One of the biggest parts of PTSD is fear, which can be debilitating. It can make your loved one scared to be around certain people or to leave the house, along with avoiding certain situations. Don’t try to talk them out of their fears, which are ingrained in the person’s mind and may make them feel worse. Instead try talking to them, listen to their fears and feelings, sympathize with them and find out the best way to help them.

5. Ask how you can help us to feel safe.

People with PTSD are afraid a lot of the time, especially if they have a flashback. It can be scary, and sometimes all they want is to feel a sense of security and safety. You can simply ask what helps them feel safe. For some it might be a hug, others it might be using distractions like watching a film. By doing this you aren’t trying to fix them, you are letting the person know you are there for them in both the good times and bad.

6. Remember everyone has a different way of coping.

Everyone, no matter if they have PTSD or not, has different coping mechanisms. These vary depending on the personality of the person. Some coping mechanisms may involve reading a book, while others may include self-harm, drugs or alcohol. No matter what a person’s coping mechanism is, please try not to judge them for it. Just try to support them as best you can.

7. Remember appearances can lie.

Many who live with a mental health condition know what it is like to ‘”wear a mask” — the fake smile, the half laugh and the engaged, slightly vacant expression. It is now even easier for a person to pretend they are fine because of social media. People may only show their best side on social media, and those with mental health issues may seem to “be fine.” However, one person noticing a loved one isn’t fine and saying something or checking up on them can mean the world to someone with PTSD.

8. As frustrating as it is for you that we aren’t the person we were before our trauma, it frustrates us more.

Trauma changes a person, and the journey to move past or live with PTSD is a long and difficult one. Your loved one may lose themselves, be confused and feel more alone than they have ever felt in their life. Not knowing who one is anymore adds to the fear of the trauma and also increases all of the anxiety around it. Don’t try to force them to be the person they were before their trauma, as they will get there in their own time.

9. When we are having a bad day, remember it’s not your fault.

There are days when things seem worse than others and when symptoms are less controlled. This isn’t your fault, it’s just part of the condition. We never want you to feel like any of this is your fault.

10. Don’t forget to take care of yourself too.

When you are supporting someone through processing their trauma, it can be exhausting. If the person with PTSD decides to talk through their trauma with you, it can be overwhelming and upsetting thinking of what your loved one has experienced. It’s not always easy, but remember it’s OK to say to your loved one that you need a break from talking about it; you need to take care of yourself too.

Getty Image by Mladen Zivkovic

Originally published: September 25, 2019
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