Although most commonly associated with military combat, PTSD can occur following any life-threatening event. Things such as a serious accident, a natural disaster, or even a violent personal assault can all cause someone to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In most cases, those who survive a traumatic event return to normal with a little time. Some people, however, have reactions that don’t fade with time and sometimes become worse; often developing into PTSD. As such, dealing with PTSD is challenging, but important.
PTSD can exact a heavy toll on family, marriages, and relationships. It can be difficult to understand why your loved one behaves differently; why they seem more volatile and less affectionate. Some liken it to living with a stranger and constantly “walking on eggshells.” Family members often find themselves taking on more of the household tasks, coping with the frustration of their loved one’s refusal to open up, and trying to understand the anger and sometimes disturbing behavior exhibited by those with PTSD. Thankfully there have been many inroads into the treatment of PTSD and there are some things that family members can do to cope with a loved one suffering from this disorder.
This is perhaps one of the most important things that you can do. In order to cope with someone who suffers from PTSD, you must have some understanding of what they are dealing with.
It’s very important that family members don’t take the sufferer’s behavior personally, as difficult as that may be. The nervous system of a PTSD sufferer is essentially “stuck” in a perpetual loop of heightened anxiety where they feel continually unsafe and vulnerable. This can cause them to be irritable, angry, depressed, and mistrustful as well as many other symptoms that can’t simply be “turned off.” With the right support, however, your loved one can overcome these hurdles and move past the traumatic event.
Your local VA can provide a host of information about PTSD and often offers counseling as well. There are many support groups sponsored by the VA, both for PTSD sufferers and for family members who are trying to help their loved ones heal.
Provide Social Support
Those who suffer from PTSD often withdraw from family and friends. While it is crucial to respect their boundaries, your support and comfort can help them overcome feelings of despair, grief, helplessness, and fear. It is believed by trauma experts that the most important factor in the recovery of PTSD is readily available face to face support. There are some important things to remember when offering support, however:
Don’t try to pressure them into talking. Let them know that you will listen if they want to talk, but can just be together when they don’t. It can be difficult for some sufferers to talk and pressuring them may make it worse. Comfort often comes from feeling accepted and engaged by you, not necessarily talking.
Engage in “regular” activities. Don’t make everything about PTSD. Pursue hobbies, spend time with friends, or take a class together.
Expect (and accept) mixed feelings. Coping with someone suffering from PTSD puts you through an emotional wringer and you are bound to have mixed feelings. Some negative feelings towards your loved one are perfectly normal and it doesn’t mean that you are unfeeling or don’t love them.
Make Time for Yourself
Letting your loved one’s PTSD become dominant in your life and forgetting about your own needs will quickly lead to burnout. You have to take care of yourself if you want to be able to help your loved one.
- Make sure that you eat and sleep properly and take care of your physical needs.
- Lean on other members of the family for support or join a support group for families of PTSD sufferers.
- Don’t give up the things that you enjoy, such as hobbies, friends, or other activities that you enjoy.
Know how to Deal with Anger and Volatility
Those who suffer from PTSD are in a constant state of emotional and physical distress. They often have difficulty sleeping, causing them to be on edge and physically drained; increasing their risk of overreacting to everyday stress. In some cases, anger is a way to avoid feelings of fear or helplessness because they feel more powerful when they’re angry. In other cases, anger is held and erupts at unexpected times.
- Watch for signs of anger. Speaking loudly, jaw or fist clenching and pacing are all signs of agitation or anger. When you notice these signs, take measures to calm everyone down.
- Stay Calm. If you remain calm it will reassure your loved one that they are safe and may prevent the situation from becoming worse.
- Give them space. Avoid crowding or touching the individual as this may make them feel more threatened.
- Be Safe. If the situation can’t be defused or becomes worse, leave the home or go to a room that can be locked. If you feel that you or someone else is in danger (including your loved one), dial 911. Depending on the severity f your loved one’s PTSD, it may be wise to have an escape plan in place in case you must leave your home until things calm down.
Coping with someone who suffers from PTSD is traumatic in itself. It can be overcome however and you don’t have to cope alone. There are many support groups that are filled with people who are going through the same things that you are. Talking with those who know exactly what you are going through can help ensure that your physical and emotional health doesn’t suffer as you help your loved one overcome their illness.