Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that can be triggered by experiencing or witnessing something traumatic. Many people think of PTSD as a disorder that only military veterans deal with, but it can also occur in reaction to other distressing events like sexual violence, a physical assault, childhood or domestic abuse, a robbery, the sudden death of a loved one, a terrorist attack or a natural disaster.
Symptoms of PTSD may include vivid flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance of anything or anyone that reminds them of the trauma, difficulty sleeping, irritability, being easily startled and feelings of numbness. The symptoms must last more than a month and be severe enough that they disrupt the person’s ability to function at work, in their relationships and in their daily life.
Having a strong support system can help carry a person through some of the more difficult periods of PTSD, but only if those with the disorder are able to communicate what they need from their loved ones.
“Like any illness, PTSD doesn’t just affect me, it has impacted the people in my life who love and care about me,” blogger Alexis Rose told HuffPost. “My family’s dynamic has definitely changed. Keeping the conversation open, getting support, and having accessible information about PTSD can help with the challenges that families and friends face when caring for a loved one with post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Below, people with the disorder share what they wish more of their well-meaning friends and family understood about loving someone with PTSD.
1. Instead of always trying to “fix” us, we just want you to listen.
“Sometimes we do not want to hear any advice. We do not need you to fix us and tell us what to do, or compare us with others. We just need the people we love to stay, to sit with us through the storm, to listen and to embrace us.” ― Nicole Figueroa
2. Please don’t tell us to “just get over it.”
“I think it’s great if loved ones can to do their best to find that balance between allowing someone with PTSD to move through their symptoms, while also holding their hand to help them pick themselves back up. I can appreciate that it’s difficult to see someone you love suffer, but telling that person to ‘get over it’ or shaming them for what they’re experiencing only makes the process harder for the person experiencing symptoms. Meeting them where they are, and saying things like, ‘I’ve got you,’ ‘Let me help you breathe,’ or whatever resonates best for your loved one helps make those most challenging moments easier.” ― Susannah Pitman
3. Be patient with us — and yourself — when we’re experiencing it.
“Don’t take it personally. If you’re reading this, you probably have a big heart, and you might feel frustrated when your love isn’t enough to ‘cure’ someone’s PTSD. So here are two things to remember: First, while many people can recover from PTSD, there is no ‘cure,’ as there’s no way to know what might trigger an episode of PTSD in the future. Second, this isn’t about you. So be patient with your loved one, and with your own heart.” ― Rita Zoey Chin, author of “Let The Tornado Come”
4. Consider attending a therapy session with us to better understand what we’re going through.
“I think it’s extremely important to go with your loved one to a therapy session so the mental health professional can walk you through your loved one’s PTSD. My now-husband was with me during one of my worst flashbacks. Despite me having explained thoroughly my PTSD symptoms to him, along with what tends to trigger me, he argued with me rather than recognizing I was having a flashback. His resistance made the flashback and the anxiety that followed significantly worse and my symptoms lasted more than a week afterward.
Thankfully, he listened to me when my therapist suggested he come with me to my next session. The therapist was able to articulate what I couldn’t in a way my husband could understand. It was really helpful for both of us and since then my husband has been supportive, loving and understanding whenever I’ve felt symptoms.” ― Pitman
5. When we’re having a bad day, know that it’s not your fault.
“I wish they understood that when I’m struggling it has nothing to do with them. Like, if I’m going through something because of my PTSD, it’s because of my PTSD, not them. I never want friends or family to feel like it’s their fault when I’m struggling with anxiety or from other symptoms of my PTSD.” ― Kayla Stevenson
6. Try to understand our fears instead of writing them off as “irrational.”
“People with PTSD experience terror that can be debilitating. This is a terror that is often impervious to logic, which means that trying to reason with people who have PTSD is one of the quickest ways to alienate them. Instead of trying to talk them out of their fears, let them talk to you. Ask questions. Listen. Let them know that you understand. You don’t have to understand the exact nature of their terror; you simply need to understand that it is, in fact, terror.” ― Chin
7. Don’t rush us to move through the trauma.
“I don’t like being pushed to do things that others might think would ‘cure’ me. I don’t like being pushed to go out and explore, to forget people and events that have happened right then and there, to meet people, to date, etc. I am taking things at my own pace, and time.” ― Figueroa
8. Ask how you can help us feel safe.
“People with PTSD often don’t feel safe. This is where you can draw on that big heart of yours. Because you have now asked your loved one questions about their fears, you’ve learned some things you can do to help them feel safe. For some people, it’s a hug. For others, it’s watching a funny movie. For others, it’s a bowl of ice cream or an impromptu dance party in the kitchen or a drive on a country road. Whatever it is, the point is not to try and fix people with PTSD but to instead let them know you’re beside them, wherever the road goes.” ― Chin
9. Know that we each have different ways of coping with the disorder.
“We have our own coping mechanisms, and it varies depending on the personality of the person. As for me, I write. I wrote a series to be able to express how it feels to suffer from depression, panic and anxiety attacks, and PTSD.” ― Figueroa
10. Don’t forget to take care of yourself, too.
“During the time that I was processing my trauma and trying to cope with the overwhelming feelings, emotions and unrelenting symptoms of PTSD, I felt unglued. Before I had learned skills to tolerate my distress, I was upset, angry, hurt and lived in what felt like a constant state of panic. I took anything my husband said personally and blew things way out of proportion. I lost my trust in the world, feeling raw and vulnerable, working hard to push him away. At the same time, I was terrified he would abandon me, needing constant reassurance that he wasn’t going anywhere.
He was stunned and hurt and didn’t how to be around me any longer. He didn’t understand what was happening to me, and I’m sure he felt helpless not knowing how to make things better, to fix it. He found a support group for loved ones of PTSD and started therapy to learn how to take care of himself. It’s extremely important that our caregivers get what they need for their own emotional and physical wellbeing.” ― Rose
“Living With” is a guide to navigating conditions that affect your mind and body. Each month, HuffPost Life will tackle very real issues people live with by offering different stories, advice and ways to connect with others who understand what it’s like. In June, we’re covering trauma and PTSD. Got an experience you’d like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.