When a loved has faced a traumatic event, all you want to do is take their pain away. Car accidents, sexual assault and military service are just a few experiences that can leave a lasting mark on your loved one’s life. They may be struggling to cope in the aftermath of what they’ve been through. Knowing the right thing to do or say can be incredibly difficult. You probably worry that you’ll end up making them feel worse.
While you can’t erase your loved one’s trauma, there is still so much you can do. Your time, love and support can make a huge difference in their recovery.
Understanding Someone With PTSD
No matter how strong they are physically or psychologically, your loved one is at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder in the aftermath of a traumatic event. PTSD is a condition in which a person has trouble recovering after seeing or going through an event that made them feel distressed, afraid and helpless. Some signs of PTSD include:
- Intrusive thoughts of the traumatic experience
- Recurring nightmares
- Intense fears or anxiety
- Sleep difficulties
- Avoiding anything that will remind them of the event
- Difficulty thinking or speaking about the experience
- A negative view of the world as unsafe
- Self-doubt, self-blame and negative perceptions about themself
- Emotional detachment
- Difficulty experiencing positive emotions
- Heightened emotional responses, such as irritability and hypervigilance
While you may feel hurt by their responses, their reactions probably have nothing to do with you. They may push you away, but your loved one undoubtedly needs your ongoing support.
Supporting Someone With PTSD
Being a support person for someone struggling with PTSD is a wonderful gift to that person, but it’s also a difficult position to be in. Navigating the aftermath of trauma is hard for everyone, even if you didn’t witness the event. Yet your love and support will be critical in helping your loved one overcome what’s happened and move forward.
If you’re wondering how you can help someone with PTSD, these tools are a place to start.
1. Offer Practical Support
After going through a traumatic experience, it’s important to reestablish a sense of normalcy. Predictability and some measure of control can help your loved one feel safe. You can help them get back into a normal routine by:
- Offering to watch kids or run errands
- Limiting media exposure if the news is covering the event
- Encouraging healthy habits like sleeping, eating well and exercising
- Suggesting they do at least one enjoyable thing each day
2. Lend Emotional Support
Your loved one may not want to talk about their experience or feelings — and that’s okay. Just being there to listen when they’re ready to open up will be a huge source of support. When they do talk about the traumatic event, keep the following things in mind:
- Don’t rush them.
- Don’t push them to share.
- Don’t interrupt.
- Allow them to feel whatever emotions arise.
- Avoid simple reassurance. Instead, acknowledge their distress.
- Even if they try to isolate, encourage your loved one to keep in contact with others.
3. Encourage Them to Seek Professional Support
If your loved one is still finding it difficult to cope after a few weeks or months, you may want to speak to them about seeking professional trauma support. Trauma can interfere with your loved one’s daily life and leave an insidious scar on their emotional and mental health if it’s not dealt with.
4. Support Your Personal Wellbeing
Supporting a loved one who’s dealing with deep pain can be overwhelming. It’s okay to struggle with it. As you pour out your energy and resources to help your loved one, be sure to take care of yourself as well. Consider pursuing therapy or joining a support group. Take time off to relax and reenergize.
Professional Trauma Therapy Is Available at Gateway Foundation
If your loved one has experienced trauma, they’re undoubtedly finding ways to cope with their experience. Some are healthy, while others could be destructive. The heartbreaking reality is that many people turn to substance use to deal with the stress of trauma.
At Gateway Foundation, we specialize in helping those who struggle with both trauma and addiction. Our trauma therapy program is a safe, supportive place where your loved one can address their underlying trauma while recovering from substance addiction. If you would like to learn more, please contact us today.