Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health issue that can be incredibly difficult and painful to face. If your friend, partner or family member struggles with PTSD, it’s probably a stressful situation not only for them but also for you. Feeling lost, helpless, or overwhelmed is natural, yet it’s important to remember that there are many ways in which you can support your loved one and deepen your relationship. Research shows that social support plays a vital role in managing the difficulties of PTSD. In this article, we take a closer look at common symptoms and ways to manage living with your loved one with PTSD. We also discuss what to say and what to avoid in communication and share practical tips on how to help someone with PTSD.
Understanding the Symptoms of PTSD
PTSD symptoms can begin weeks, months, or years after a traumatic event, depending on each person. They significantly disrupt the life of the individual and those around them. It’s common to struggle with:
- Re-experiencing the traumatic event through:
- distressing images,
- bodily sensations
- difficult emotions, i.e. fear, despair, guilt
- avoiding activities, places or people who remind you of the trauma
- isolation and withdrawal
- Emotional numbness, i.e.:
- being distanced, disconnected
- less affection
Living with Someone who has PTSD
PTSD symptoms can leave your loved one feeling hopeless, lonely, misunderstood, and even considering self-harm. The constant stress, exhaustion, mood swings, and reluctance to socialise can also affect you. To offer support:
- Remember that a person with PTSD struggles to control their emotions. They can’t flip the switch off on their symptoms, so don’t take their mood swings or lack of affection personally.
- Learn what triggers their symptoms to better understand and anticipate any potential difficulties, i.e., a specific date, place or crowded, loud spaces.
- Help them feel safe by asking what comforts them, i.e., a hug, holding their hand or saying: “I’m right here with you”.
- Come up with a crisis plan, i.e. in case of a flashback, have a grounding exercise to do together, i.e. box breathing. Try your best to stay calm, make no sudden moves, tell them that it’s going to be okay and always ask for permission before touching them during an episode.
The Worst Things to Do to Someone with PTSD
Alongside all the things you can do to help someone with PTSD, many behaviours can do the opposite, such as:
Setting healthy boundaries and respecting their wishes is crucial when supporting someone with PTSD, so learn to give them space and respect their wishes. Avoid being controlling or overprotective, as it can create distance and lead to resentment and distrust or feeling as if they’re weak or broken.
Be patient with your loved one’s recovery. Don’t pressure them to heal faster or talk about the trauma before they’re ready, as it can cause more negative thoughts and feelings. Recovery is different for everyone, so let them go at their own pace.
Understanding PTSD, especially if you’ve never experienced it, is difficult, so don’t judge your loved one’s recovery journey, behaviours, or feelings. Avoid:
- minimizing their feelings,
- making unfair comparisons,
- shaming them for their actions during the traumatic event,
- pretending that there’s no issue.
Be gentle, empathetic, and open-minded. It takes a lot of courage and vulnerability to confide in you, so honor that.
Self-Care for Caregivers
Remember that you cannot pour from an empty cup. Instead of neglecting or ignoring your needs, try to:
1. Prioritise your physical health:
- improve your sleeping habits,
- eat well,
- exercise regularly.
2. Allow yourself to rest daily:
- consider doing something that brings you joy,
- i.e., read a book, go for a walk.
3. Reduce your stress:
- learn a relaxation technique and stick to it daily,
- i.e. body scan, guided imagery.
4. Reach out to your support system:
- ask to share responsibilities with them to avoid burnout or feeling overwhelmed,
- simply spending time with them can be beneficial for you.
5. Consider seeking professional help:
- helping someone with PTSD can be emotionally taxing and stressful
- your feelings are valid too – discuss them in the safety of a therapeutic setting.
What to Say and Not to Say to Someone with Complex PTSD
|If you see your loved one struggling:|
|Communicate clearly and ask direct questions, i.e.:
||Share rude comments, i.e.:
|If they feel lonely and hopeless:|
|Reassure them of your support and commitment to your relationship, i.e.:
||Dismiss or invalidate their issue, i.e.:
|Build them up, i.e.:
||Give unsolicited advice, i.e.:
5 Tips to Help Someone with PTSD
1. Educate Yourself
Learning more about PTSD means:
- understanding your loved one’s experiences better,
- recognising their triggers and warning signs,
- managing your thoughts and emotions towards their condition,
- providing appropriate support.
2. Stay In Touch
Your loved one might isolate and withdraw from social life, so make sure to reach out to them regularly.
Showing your care and support daily with small gestures like texting, running errands, or cooking for them makes a big difference.
3. Social Support
Encourage your loved one to have face-to-face contact with people they trust and feel comfortable around. Positive and healthy relationships reduce ruminating and feelings of being trapped in people with PTSD.
4. Build a Routine
Structure, consistency, and reliability help rebuild trust and a sense of safety, so create shared “normal” routines unrelated to their trauma, i.e.:
- grocery shopping,
- pursuing a hobby like dancing.
Grounding techniques are a great tool that helps regulate the nervous system and feel more present when symptoms appear. Mindfulness and meditation support our physical and mental wellbeing, so consider doing it together.
Encouraging Professional Help
If you want to help someone with PTSD whose symptoms have lasted for over 4 weeks, encourage them to seek professional support. The available treatment options are prescribed medications and trauma and PTSD therapy. Here at Therapy Central, we offer:
Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy:
- help in identifying harmful thought patterns,
- replacing them with more realistic alternatives,
- gradual exposure to triggers to decrease their intensity.
- recommended treatment to help to understand the symptoms,
- reduces the intensity of trauma-related feelings.
Get Professional Help with Trauma and PTSD at Therapy Central
If you or your loved one struggles with PTSD, starting therapy can help immensely in the recovery journey. It creates an opportunity to:
- manage challenging symptoms and emotions
- rebuild trust and a sense of safety,
- regain control and meaning in your life,
- build psychological flexibility and resilience.
Don’t hesitate and get professional help with Therapy Central today.
Click here for a free 15-minute consultation to see if our services fit your unique needs.