A guide for loved ones

These past two months have taught me that listening to someone who has PTSD talk about what happened to them is a challenge. I have received many surprising emotions and reactions from both friends and family since coming forward with my trauma: Understanding, sympathy, love, and support of course, but on the opposite spectrum- it can be overwhelming, insensitive, frustrating or upsetting.

Both myself and those who love me share these reactions to my trauma. Its not a comfortable topic for daily conversation and certainly not easy to listen to. So, since I’ve been reading through my homework and external links, I’ve compiled some points that stood out to me.

I’d like to share them with my readers of course, but mostly for the friends and family that read this. Hopefully these notes can help those who care for me understand a bit better.

  • She needs to talk abut it. It sucks to hear about it. Try to remember that living through it was worse. Now, because of PTSD, she is going over and over it in her mind. Reliving the horror everyday. This is what is making her sick. This is the poison that is eating away at her. Telling someone is like washing out a infected cut. It stings, it burns, it grosses out people, but it is the only way to get rid of the poison.
    Her greatest need is to tell what happened. Her greatest fear is that if she tells, she will lose your love. You probably won’t understand what it was like and she may have done things you both know are wrong. She is afraid of being judged. She has already lost a big part of herself to this trauma. She can’t stand to lose you, too. And if she tells, maybe she will.
    It will take a great deal of courage for her to talk about her trauma. So please listen, and don’t judge her. She is still the person you used to know. But she has been hurt, big time, and she is trying to piece her life back together. In time, she will see her actions clearly and make amends if necessary. But right now, she needs to tell someone and not be rejected for the telling.(1)”
  • PTSD symptoms include;
    -Re-experiencing symptoms(flashbacks/nightmares/intense intrusive memories), they can start from the person’s own thoughts and feelings. Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger re-experiencing.
    -Avoidance symptoms (“emotional anesthesia”/distant/numb/avoidant), staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience.
    -Hyperarousal symptoms (being on edge/jumpy/angry outbursts/hypervigilance) are usually constant.(4)”
    “It’s important to remember that the person may not always have control over his or her behavior. Anger, irritability, depression, apathy, mistrust, and negativity are common PTSD symptoms that your loved one can’t simply choose to turn off. With time and treatment, they will get better, but it’s a gradual process.(3)”
  • “Their memory is seriously impaired. This is not amnesia: in fact, it is almost the opposite! The trauma comes back, bursting into awareness, when it isn’t wanted or welcome. This “hot memory” lasts minutes to hours and may be clear or altered, like a dream. It is very disturbing for two reasons. The person with PTSD becomes flooded with something frightening, or disgusting, or tragic. And she or he may feel entirely out of conscious control. Often the trauma comes back in subtle ways – a fleeting feeling, a vague sense of dis-ease. This may not be terrifying, but when it occurs frequently it changes one’s whole sense of being the person they once were. Unwanted mental experiences can also include nightmares. The worst memory symptom is the waking nightmare, the flashback. This is as vivid as reality, and may actually seem like reality. (5)”
  • They need your love and support. They need comfort and your reassurance. What they don’t need, at least right now, is your advice. What they will never need is for you to judge them.
    Do not criticize your friends’ choices. They may have made some huge mistakes, but they don’t need you to point that out to them. They will come to that realization on their own. Or maybe those “mistakes” were the best options they had under the circumstances. They’ll figure that out on their own, too.(1)”
  • Be patient and avoid harsh remarks. Stay away from telling your friend or family member to get over their problems.(2)”
    “A person with PTSD may need to talk about the traumatic event over and over again. This is part of the healing process, so avoid the temptation to tell your loved one to stop rehashing the past, stop talking about it and move on. (3)”
  • Accept (and expect) mixed feelings – As you go through the emotional wringer, be prepared for a complicated mix of feelings—some of which you’ll never want to admit. Just remember, having negative feelings toward your family member doesn’t mean you don’t love them.(3)”
  • “It may be hard for you to hear what they have to say. They may have experienced things you don’t understand, things you’ve never heard of or thought could happen. They didn’t think those things could happen, either. But they did. That is why they have PTSD. They are struggling to make sense of what happened.
    It will hurt you to hear how they were hurt. It may make you cry. It may sicken you. It may make you angry. It may overwhelm you.
    Stop them when you have had enough. It was awful for them and it is awful for you to hear it, so realize you will reach a point of overload. Tell them you need a break. Reassure them.(1)”

(1) http://www.heal-post-traumatic-stress.com/
(2) http://casapalmera.com/ways-to-support-someone-with-post-traumatic-stress-disorder/
(3) http://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/ptsd-in-the-family.htm
(4) http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml
(5) http://www.giftfromwithin.org/html/partners.html