Helping Someone With PTSD? Here’s What Not To Do Or Say To Someone With PTSD
Healing from any traumatic event is a lengthy process. Our loved ones want us to heal quickly as they can’t see us in pain but oftentimes, our loved ones’ urgency can worsen our PTSD and set back our healing.
While I understand that our loved one’s intentions are pure and while they try to understand our trauma, they can truly fail to grasp the reality of the pain the trauma left behind.
When living with PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder, a person’s daily life can be a nightmare. The symptoms of PTSD including flashbacks, anxiety, nightmares, and sleep troubles are the mind’s response to the trauma it has been through. Triggers in daily life can not only cause physical distress but emotional distress as well.
In the urgency to help, you may fail to understand what to do or what not to do. Living and navigating life with PTSD can be a minefield and one wrong move, phrase, word, or action can be risky and set back your loved one’s recovery.
Living with PTSD is tiring in itself and people with PTSD may resort to separating themselves from social situations to avoid experiencing triggers. Although, most of the time, the people around them fail to provide the right support to them and their trauma.
And it’s not out of ignorance of the complications that come with post-trauma stress but just a general lack of knowledge about the complications. This lack of knowledge can manifest in the reactions, words, and actions towards someone with PTSD.
So if you’re struggling with a similar lack of knowledge and don’t know what not to do to someone with PTSD, here’s a small guide for you.
What NOT To Say To Someone With PTSD
1. “You’ll Get Over It”
When it comes to depression, anxiety, or even burnout, telling someone to “get over it” is not the right thing to do. It can make them feel like they are not strong enough to cope with their disorder.
The same applies to someone with PTSD. Any trauma survivor deals with a pain that can seem unresolvable and when someone tells them to get over it, they can feel like they are the problem and they don’t have what it takes to cope with their trauma. Avoid this statement at all costs.
2. “It’s Just a Shock, That’s All”
Trauma can be shocking, yes but it can continue to shock the person-years after the initial experience. PTSD can be like the ripple effect and can keep affecting a person.
If someone is caught in a trigger, their mind will automatically react to the trauma which can be shocking and can make them avoid specific situations at all costs. PTSD is not just about being too shocked, keep this in mind and avoid saying this to someone with PTSD.
3. “You Weren’t In Combat”
Another thing you need to understand is that not only veterans and people who’ve been in combat experience trauma and PTSD. PTSD is a disorder that can affect anyone, regardless of their trauma and experience.
There is no greater trauma than PTSD and saying this statement is only disregarding your loved one’s trauma which is not the right thing to do.
4. “You Need To Let It Go”
No one can just “let go” and using this phrasing with someone with PTSD can disregard their feelings and the seriousness of their trauma. People believe that the less attention is given to trauma, the less severe it will affect.
While the intention may be good, it can backfire. Playing down the seriousness of the trauma as asking to let go can make your loved one lose trust in you. Try to understand their pain through their eyes.
5. “Others’ Experiences Are Worse”
Never compare one experience to another. Not all traumatic experiences are similar. What your loved one has experienced can be as minor as a nearly-fatal accident while others can be as major as being a war veteran. Here, comparing experiences can only trigger feelings of shame and unnecessary guilt. So please avoid comparing PTSD.
6. “Your Experiences Are Irrational”
People with PTSD are more prone to experience anxiety and fear so it’s only natural to them that rational arguments don’t make sense to them. Saying that their experiences are irrational will not make them see things rationally and will only worsen their anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, and helplessness.
7. “You’re Just Sensitive And Overreacting”
Someone with PTSD will avoid anything that may trigger their disorder so it can be easy for many people to label them as sensitive and over-dramatic. However, their sensitivity is not a personality trait; instead it’s a coping mechanism that prevents them from getting emotionally and mentally hurt. Avoid using these phrases when talking to someone with PTSD.
8. “It Could’ve Been Worse”
Often, statements and phrases like this can make someone with PTSD feel guilty. No one, especially someone with PTSD, needs to hear that someone other than them is also experiencing worse than they are. Using this statement and phrasing can invalidate their individual experiences and feelings along with the trauma they’ve been through.
9. “You Need To Focus On The Positive”
Our emotion spectrum is diverse and while some emotions are pleasant, others are not so pleasant. While focusing on the positive can be a valuable thing, it can also cause someone to hide their pain and run away from the emotions.
Remember, unpleasant emotions are as important as positive ones, and acknowledging the negative emotions is part of the healing. Don’t ask your loved ones to ignore them.
10. “Why Didn’t You Say It Before?”
Please keep in mind that someone with PTSD may not openly talk about their trauma, especially immediately after the said trauma has taken place. And in any case, it can be hard for someone who’s been through a traumatic experience such as rape or sexual abuse to speak about their experiences.
Being Helpful: Try These Phrases Instead!
- “I know you’re scared but you’re safe now.”
- “With the right help, we’ll get through this together”
- “I know you’re scared, but I’m going to be right here by your side. We can do this.”
- “I know that your brain is telling you that everything can be a trigger and you feel like you’re in danger but keep repeating that you are safe, no one will hurt you and you will be OK.”
- “Take a deep breath. Let’s talk this through. Why do you feel unsafe?”
- “Help me understand why this is impacting your life so much because I don’t get it. And I want to understand how to help you better.”
Alternate Actions To Help Your Loved One:
- When your loved ones say they’re “OK” don’t always believe them. Instead of walking away, do something to make them feel better. Bring a cup of warm tea, unasked. Give them some chocolate or help them relax.
- You need to educate yourself. You may not know the whole story. Remember, trauma can look different to people. Before commenting, try to understand the whole story.
- Educate yourself about the disorder as well. Learn to better understand what your loved one may be feeling or experiencing. Don’t just reply with “you’re faking” when you’re not aware of the symptoms and the conditions of your loved ones.
If your loved one is struggling with PTSD, avoid the above-listed statements and phrases. Instead, use alternate phrases and actions to support your loved one. What they’ve experienced can never truly be understood but helping them heal from, even through your words and actions, can mean a lot!
I hope these above-listed statements will help you communicate with your loved one with PTSD better. If you need additional help, you can connect with a professional counselor.
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Take care and be safe!