Moving Forward When a Loved One Suffers From PTSD

By Geoffrey Tyrrell, D.Min.

Mr. D. was a combat vet with multiple tours of duty in the Vietnam War as a Special Forces operative. When I visited him, he was quiet and stoic, like many veterans. A man of few words, he did not share his feelings or experiences freely. Slowly, over several different admissions to the hospital, he began to open up.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “the main treatments for people with PTSD are psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Everyone is different, so a treatment that works for one person may not work for another. Regardless of what treatment option you choose, it is important for anyone with PTSD to be treated by a mental health professional who is experienced with PTSD.”

Working your way through.
Once a person recovers from the immediate effects of trauma, there may be an invisible impression left behind in their nervous system. That’s the root of PTSD, which is a way in which the trauma comes back in unwelcome, disturbing ways.

Be on the lookout for changes.
Those with PTSD are often very sensitive to stimuli associated with the incident – a car alarm or a firework, or a person coming too close – which can trigger sudden surges of powerful, mood-altering chemicals in the blood, such as adrenaline.

In extreme situations, they can feel out of control with anger and rage. Other symptoms include memories that pop up unexpectedly – flashbacks – and nightmares of being back in the traumatic situation.

Good relationships can happen.
The good news is that folks with PTSD can develop warm relationships. Intimate partners and family members can have closer, more fulfilling relationships if they know what is happening to their loved one and understand what he or she needs to heal. The problem is that loved ones are often hurt by the person’s post-traumatic behavior, and may respond accordingly.

People with PTSD can restore their ability to relate to others in healthy ways, and there are things the people who love them can do to help them, too. The core needs of people with PTSD are safety and trust. That means communication is an essential skill to rebuild good relationships.

Take time to listen.
Listening is the first step. When we take the time to really listen to someone else, we set aside our agenda, if only for a moment. We may not feel close if the relationship is broken, but we are present to the other. That’s an authentic relationship.

Be honest with your feelings.
To be close to someone, we need to be able to share our feelings. This can be a challenge if that person is not trusting or highly reactive, as is likely with someone with PTSD. Again, communication skills are key.

Exercise has many benefits.
Exercise can be very helpful for someone with PTSD, and walking is great because it is slow and conducive to observation of what is present. Walking is slow enough to be able to maintain a conversation. And it’s grounding, helping to soothe and restore one’s spirits. And walking side-by-side helps to lower the barriers to conversation for some people.

Therapy can be healing.
These communication-based approaches are helpful for restoring a relationship, but the skills of a specially trained therapist may be needed to heal the trauma itself. Because traumatic incidents are extraordinary, they need a special type of healing that may be available only through psychotherapy.

Take care of yourself.
It’s vital to value your own needs as well as the needs of the one who is traumatized. PTSD is painful and hard for the person who has it, but there’s also a real loss for loved ones.

Take time to do the things that restore your sense of self. Speak with your friends, and go out with supportive people. Read books that are uplifting. Exercise. If you are spiritual or religious, pray or meditate regularly. Go to church.

And if you need some specialist support, a therapist or a pastor, for example, reach out. You are going through a difficult time and you may need some help from professionals.

Take heart.
The good news is that healing can happen and there’s a special name for it: post-traumatic growth. This is a silver lining for the folks who get there because it brings deeper relationships, more sensitivity
and new skills that make life richer.

Excerpt taken from Moving Forward When a Loved One Suffers From PTSD CareNote.