Friday, May 22, 2009

PTSD Education: 10 Tips For Understanding Someone With PTSD

We can talk all we want, but sometimes friends and family (and anyone else who is not the source of our PTSD but is standing by us while we're in it) needs a PTSD survival guide, something they can refer to that speaks directly to their experience and gives them a sort of road map. Today, a post just for them:

For all of you who love someone with PTSD, here's a Top 10 list of things you need to know in order to ride this horse with us. Armed with this knowledge, insight and awareness you'll have an easier time knowing how to react, respond and relate to us during our healing process.

#1 – Knowledge is power. Understanding the process of a triggering event, the psychic reaction to trauma, the warning signs and symptoms of PTSD, and available treatment options for PTSD allows you to help recognize, support and guide your PTSD loved one toward diagnosis, treatment and healing.

We need you to be clearheaded, pulled together and informed.

#2 – Trauma changes us. After trauma we want to believe - as do you - that life can return to the way it was; that we can continue as who we were.... This is not how it works. Trauma leaves a huge and indelible impact on the soul. It is not possible to endure trauma and not experience a psychic shift.

Expect us to be changed. Accept our need to evolve. Support us on this journey.

#3 – PTSD hijacks our identity. One of the largest problems with PTSD is that it takes over our entire view of ourselves. We no longer see clearly. We no longer see the world as we experienced it before trauma. Now every moment is dangerous, unpredictable and threatening.

Gently remind us and offer opportunities to engage in an identity outside of trauma and PTSD.

#4 – We are no longer grounded in our true selves. In light of trauma our real selves retreat and a coping self emerges to keep us safe.

Believe in us; our true selves still exist, even if they are momentarily buried.

#5 – We cannot help how we behave. Since we are operating on a sort of autopilot we are not always in control. PTSD is an exaggerated state of survival mode. We experience emotions that frighten and overwhelm us. We act out accordingly in defense of those feelings we cannot control.

Be patient with us; we often cannot stop the anger, tears or other disruptive behaviors that are so difficult for you to endure.

#6 – We cannot be logical. Since our perspective is driven by fear we don't always think straight, nor do we always accept the advice of those who do.

Keep reaching out, even when your words don’t seem to reach us. You never know when we will think of something you said and it will comfort, guide, soothe or inspire us.

#7 – We cannot just ‘get over it’. From the outside it’s easy to imagine a certain amount of time passes and memories fade and trauma gets relegated to the history of a life. Unfortunately, with PTSD nothing fades. Our bodies will not let us forget. Because of surging chemicals that reinforce every memory, we cannot walk away from the past anymore than you can walk away from us.

Honor our struggle to make peace with events. Do not rush us. Trying to speed our recovery will only make us cling to it more.

#8 – We’re not in denial - we’re coping! It takes a tremendous effort to live with PTSD. Even if we don’t admit it, we know there’s something wrong. When you approach us and we deny there’s a problem that’s really code for, “I’m doing the best I can.” Taking the actions you suggest would require too much energy, dividing focus from what is holding us together. Sometimes, simply getting up and continuing our daily routine is the biggest step toward recovery we make.

Alleviate our stress by giving us a safe space in which we can find support.

#9 – We do not hate you. Contrary to the ways we might behave when you intervene, somewhere inside we do know that you are not the source of the problem. Unfortunately, in the moment we may use your face as PTSD’s image. Since we cannot directly address our PTSD issues sometimes it’s easier to address you.

Continue to approach us. We need you to!

#10 – Your presence matters. PTSD creates a great sense of isolation. It makes a difference to know that although we lash out, don't respond, are not ourselves, you are still there, no matter what.

Stick with us! Your love, support and encouragement matter.

Regardless of how long the recovery process takes, it is possible to overcome trauma and PTSD. It is also possible for PTSD experiencers to preserve relationships with the people who matter to us most. To do this we need you to give us some room, cut us some slack, understand our struggle and not abandon us. In the darkness of PTSD you can be beacons of light full of information, guidance and encouragement, love, compassion and patience. It’s not easy. But on behalf of all PTSD experiencers, Thank you for making the effort!

What would you add to this list? Leave a comment or shoot me an email.

(Photo: Save Shayne)


Anonymous said...

I don't know if I'd add anything. Its a pretty comprehensive list.

Actually, there's one thing I just thought of that I'd add.

Even when we look okay, even after we've had treatment, even when things are mostly back to 'normal' (whatever that is!)... there's still the chance that every now and then we're going to behave strangely.

Everything will be great, and then suddenly it won't be. And we won't be able to tell you why, perhaps we don't even know.

Please don't freak out on us when we're freaking out like that. We need your support and understanding that something else is working its way out. Its not a one time deal. It may take years before everything has leeched its way to the surface...

Michele Rosenthal said...

@Svasti - Great addition! Never a bad thing to remind ourselves and others that healing continues to be a process long after the 'program' is done.

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