How do you support someone with PTSD? How do you make things better when a friend has survived the unthinkable?
Friendship is a combination of the highest of highs and lowest of lows. Friends are the people you know you can turn to when life knocks you down. While you may know how to be there for your friend during the bumps and bruises of everyday life, helping them navigate a traumatic experience is different. The same rules don’t apply, and you may be left scrambling as you watch your friend’s world fall apart.
The more you understand what trauma is, the better equipped you’ll be to support your friend on the road that lies ahead.
The Signs of PTSD and Trauma
Trauma is a response to an actual or perceived life-threatening event. Your friend may have been the victim of sexual assault, abuse or violence. Maybe they served in the military, and what they witnessed left a mark on their emotional and mental health. Whether it’s experienced as a child or as an adult, the impact of trauma can be subtle, insidious and downright destructive.
Everyone’s experience and symptoms vary. Some people with PTSD or trauma experience symptoms within a few weeks. For others, it can take months or years for symptoms to appear. If you recognize these signs in your friend, they may be trying to mask a past trauma:
- Struggling to feel safe
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Frequent nightmares
- Anxiety or intense feelings of fear despite no threat or danger
- Emotional outbursts, including anger or crying, that seem disproportionate to the circumstance
- Difficulties relaxing or feeling calm
- Seeming disconnected from other people
- Compulsive behaviors
- Substance use
- Suicidal thoughts
How to Help a Friend With PTSD or Trauma Symptoms
Helping someone with PTSD or trauma symptoms means approaching their story through the lenses of empathy and compassion. Each person is unique, so your friend will probably have their own way of coping and surviving past trauma. If you want to help, here are some things to consider doing.
1. Educate Yourself
Trauma and PTSD tend to be misunderstood. If you educate yourself and become familiar with the common effects of trauma, you may better understand your friend’s struggles.
2. Be There and Be Present
Trauma can push someone into a shell of isolation. Distrust of the world and fear of judgment may cause your friend to avoid their loved ones. Sadly, this isolation will only worsen their symptoms.
As a friend, you don’t need to solve their problems or make their fears go away. Your only job is to provide a safe space for your friend to share — somewhere they know there will be no judgment. Listen to them, validate their feelings and give them respect and emotional support.
3. Don’t Pressure Your Friend to Share
Talking about a traumatic experience, even briefly, may push your friend to the brink and worsen their symptoms. When your friend is ready to share, they will. Until then, be patient and avoid pushing them to talk.
4. Don’t Worry About What to Say
Loving a trauma survivor doesn’t mean that you need to get it exactly right all the time. In fact, if you worry too much about saying the wrong thing, you may be tempted to pull back or avoid your friend altogether. Having a safe place to share is critical for your friend’s recovery. If you’re there, you’re listening and you’re loving your friend, that’s enough.
5. Encourage Your Friend to Seek Treatment
You can’t make your friend seek professional trauma counseling. However, you can encourage them and suggest treatment as a good way to find healing. You can also research treatment centers that specialize in PTSD or trauma therapy so that, when they’re ready, you have options you can share with them.
Seek Help for PTSD and Addiction at Gateway Foundation
As difficult as trauma can be on its own, the excruciating impact of this life-changing event is often amplified by substance abuse. Many people who experience trauma use drugs or alcohol to mask their pain. If your friend is struggling with substance addiction, they need specialized treatment that can address both their underlying trauma as well as the serious impact of drugs or alcohol.
Contact us today to learn about our trauma therapy program at Gateway Foundation. Our personalized programs are the ideal place for your friend to move past pain and find new hope.