When someone you care about suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it can leave you feeling overwhelmed. The changes in your loved one can be worrying or even terrifying. You may feel angry about what’s happening to your family and relationship, or hurt by your loved one’s distance and moodiness. But it’s important to know is that you’re not helpless. Your support can make all the difference in your partner, friend, or family member’s recovery. With your help, your loved one can overcome PTSD and move on with his or her life.
Understanding PTSD and its impact on relationships
PTSD can take a heavy toll on relationships. It can be hard to understand your loved one’s behavior—why he or she is less affectionate and more volatile. You may feel like you’re walking on eggshells or living with a stranger. You may have to take on a bigger share of household tasks, deal with the frustration of a loved one who won’t open up, or even deal with anger or disturbing behavior. The symptoms of PTSD can also lead to job loss, substance abuse, and other problems that affect the whole family.
It’s hard not to take the symptoms of PTSD personally, but it’s important to remember that a person with PTSD may not always have control over his or her behavior.
Your loved one’s nervous system is “stuck” in a state of constant alert, continually feeling vulnerable and unsafe.
This can lead to anger, irritability, depression, mistrust, and other PTSD symptoms that your loved one can’t simply choose to turn off.
With the right support, though, your loved one’s nervous system can become “unstuck” and he or she can move on from the traumatic event.
How to help someone with PTSD tip #1: Provide social support
It’s common for people with PTSD to withdraw from friends and family. While it’s important to respect your loved one’s boundaries, your comfort and support can help the person with PTSD overcome feelings of helplessness, grief, and despair. In fact, trauma experts believe that face-to-face support from others is the most important factor in PTSD recovery.
How to support someone with PTSD
Knowing how to best demonstrate your love and support for someone with PTSD isn’t always easy. You can’t force your loved one to get better, but you can play a major role in the healing process by simply spending time together.
Don’t pressure your loved one into talking. It can be very difficult for people with PTSD to talk about their traumatic experiences. For some, it can even make things worse. Instead, let them know you’re willing to listen when they want to talk, or just hang out when they don’t. Comfort for someone with PTSD comes from feeling engaged and accepted by you, not necessarily from talking.
Do “normal” things with your loved one, things that have nothing to do with PTSD or the traumatic experience. Encourage your loved one to participate in rhythmic exercise that engages both arms and legs, seek out friends, and pursue hobbies that bring pleasure. Take a fitness class together, go dancing, or set a regular lunch date with friends and family.
Let your loved one take the lead, rather than telling him or her what to do. Everyone with PTSD is different but most people instinctively know what makes them feel calm and safe. Take cues from your loved one as to how you can best provide support and companionship.
Manage your own stress. The more calm, relaxed, and focused you are, the better you’ll be able to help a loved one with PTSD.
Be patient. Recovery is a process that takes time and often involves setbacks. The important thing is to stay positive and maintain support for your loved one.
Educate yourself about PTSD. The more you know about the symptoms, effects, and treatment options, the better equipped you’ll be to help your loved one, understand what he or she is going through, and keep things in perspective.
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.
Find the last three tips at the link below
tip #2: Be a good listener
tip #3: Rebuild trust and safety
tip #4: Anticipate and manage triggers
Communication pitfalls to avoid
Giving easy answers or blithely telling the person everything is going to be okay
Stopping the person from talking about their feelings or fears
Offering unsolicited advice or telling the person what he or she “should” do
Blaming all of your relationship or family problems on the person’s PTSD
Invalidating, minimizing, or denying the person’s experience
Giving ultimatums or making threats or demands
Making the person feel weak because they aren’t coping as well as others
Telling the person they were lucky it wasn’t worse
Taking over with your own personal experiences or feelings
Family members and close friends sometimes neglect their own needs when they commit themselves to caring for someone with PTSD. It is important for you to find support for yourself when you are helping someone deal with PTSD.
Most US States have a National 211Link will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site. referral line that connects people with important community services (employment, food pantries, housing, support groups, etc.). Dial 2-1-1.
The SIDRAN InstituteLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site. is a nonprofit organization that helps people understand, recover from, and treat traumatic stress and offers a referral list of therapists for PTSD. You can contact the Help Desk via email or by leaving a confidential voicemail: 1-410-825-8888.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)Link will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site. offers a Family-to-Family Education ProgramLink will take you outside the VA website. VA is not responsible for the content of the linked site. for caregivers of people with severe mental illness. You can also email or call the Information Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).
You can find more resources on Web Links: Families page.
I thought I’d include the link to my PTSD /GULF WAR ILLNESS BOARD on Pinterest. I have information and links to various websites there.