While PTSD is traditionally associated with military trauma, I have met many civilians who exhibited plenty of the same kinds of symptoms. Whether you have a family member coming home from a long deployment in a war-torn country, or it’s your little girl coming home from a date with tears in her eyes, it can be terribly difficult to stand witness to the changes you are about to see take place in your loved one. You are unable to alter what happened, and yet you want so badly to take their pain away. More than anything, you want to have your child, parent, spouse, or friend, back the way they used to be. You may feel very angry at whoever has done this to your loved one, terribly angry, and very much afraid that things are never going to be the same again.
The Road Ahead
I won’t lie—the truth, although less comforting right now, will do you better in the long run—you may have a long and difficult road ahead of you if you are committed to seeing another person through their recovery from a very severe trauma. Watching their beautiful, talented daughter change before your eyes from an outgoing and engaging person with all of the potential in the world and turn overnight into a suicidal, alcoholic mess, would drive a canonized saint to distraction. It is normal for you to be very upset, too. Please understand that it is very understandable that you may feel overwhelmed, bewildered, frustrated, and even angry with your spiritual Higher Power for allowing such things to happen.
If you have a loved one who is suffering from PTSD, you might be wondering what, if anything, you can really do to help them. Obviously, you can’t go back in time and somehow prevent them from winding up in the situation, as much as you wish you could.
Here are some more practical suggestions for both dealing with a trauma survivor (not an easy thing in and of itself) and helping them—and yourself—along the road to recovery.
How can I help?
You may feel helpless, but there really is a lot that you can do to be proactive and help your loved one. And remember, nobody expects you to have all the answers. It’s not going to do a whole lot of good, in the long run, to ask a lot of existential questions about why and how this happened—while it’s natural to ask those questions, the reality is that dwelling on them will leave you and your love one stuck in the past. Here are some ways that you can offer constructive help:
- Learn a little about PTSD. Read some more in this blog about what it does to the brain, in order to help yourself understand that, for many people, even when a severe trauma is over, it has really just begun. Knowing how PTSD influences survivors may help you understand what your loved one is going through. The more you arm yourself with the facts, the better you and your family can handle the situation, and the more quickly you can all move on from the past.
- Go along to doctors’ visits with your family member, whether they are for psychiatric concerns or any physical injuries that may have happened during the trauma. Survivors can have a very difficult time managing medicines, therapy, and appointments, and your being there for organizational assistance and damage control will mean the world to the survivor. No doubt, the doctor will be pleased to see that the patient has support, as well.
- Try to drag them out for some fun. Chances are that they’re not going to be that into it, but life is in session, and it’s important for them to realize that they made it and they’re still alive. Sometimes that takes a little prodding, so plan some fun family activities together, even if it’s something simple, like going for a hike. Many people with PTSD can find music very healing, so find out if they might want to hit a concert. Whatever the survivor’s interests are, it’s important that they can leverage them into getting back into life.
- Exercise is a great way to get healthy, not only physically, but also emotionally. Try not to let your loved one get too stagnant, because there is significant danger when they get to the point where they’re not getting out of bed.
- Organize a little social activity. Don’t let people walk on eggshells around your loved one. I can tell you from personal experience that it is pretty awful to have everyone tiptoeing around you with big eyes and open mouths. Tell people to let your loved one know that they heard what happened, and want them to know that they will be there if the survivor wants to talk. If you come from a family that does not bring negative things out into the open, then I sincerely hope that you will help that to change, because a victim of war or violence should not have to attempt recovery alone. More than anything, the support of family and friends is what is going to bring him or her through this.
Thanks, but No Thanks?
Remember, as kind and sincere as your intentions may be, your loved one may not be able to drum up a lot of interested in (or gratitude for) your help, especially at first. This happens, depending on the nature and severity of the trauma, and the kind of person they were at the outset. Give your loved one space, if that is what they need, but tell him or her that you will always be ready to help when they are ready to get some help. At the same time, you have to understand that this person may have had their view of reality pretty well skewed by what has happened to them, and the truth is that, no matter what they think, they’re most certainly not better off alone.
Here’s the thing: there is a lot you CAN do to help a person recovering from a severe trauma, and then again, there is a lot you CAN’T do. You can’t force someone into being ready to get help, that’s for sure. The survivor has to want to get help, and that may not happen right away. In fact, some survivors can seem to get very angry, taking out their pain and stress on the very people that are closest to them.
Keep an eye out for my next post, which will be on how to deal with new a bewildering behaviors your loved one may suddenly be exhibiting, such as withdrawal from the people that care for them most, angry or even violent outbursts, a sudden turn away from spiritual values they have held their entire lives, and more. If you need any help before then, are going through your own PTSD symptoms, or just want to reach out and say ‘Hi,’ I’d love to hear from you. My email address is Jamie.Kaufhold1@Gmail.Com.
Until next time, best of luck to you, and hold on tight—happier times will come again. I’m living proof that it can be done.