Lean on Me: How to Be There for a Loved One Battling PTSD
The weight of living with PTSD is often so heavy for your loved one that he or she is worn out and worn down from constantly trying to manage it. Their trauma is re-experienced often, or worse, it actually seems to reside inside him or her. No matter how they try to carry on normally, the disorder and the painful memories won’t let go.
Depending on the strength of its grip, PTSD actively changes your partner, parent, sibling, or friend into a haunted, hurting stranger at times. And though you only see the PTSD from the outside, it hurts you too. You are likely looking for ways to battle PTSD with your loved one, hoping to fight back and win.
Thank you for wanting to be there. Your loved one needs you, whether they express that or not.
However, to really “be there” for your PTSD sufferer, rather than engaging in a battle, consider being a soft, safe place to land.
PTSD is a reminder and exacerbator of turmoil and upheaval. Do your loved one the most good by allowing him or her to lean on you for reliable peace, stability, and grounded connection. When the battle in his or her mind necessitates retreat, be the one to call on for solid care and comfort.
No contribution is insignificant. Try these strategies and solutions:
Notice and respect your loved one’s hypervigilance
PTSD convinces your friend or family member that they are perpetually unprepared or out of control. The “on edge,” and over-alert, hypervigilant state of your loved one’s mind requires a certain amount of understanding and respect. Try not to exacerbate the upset, but do pay attention and encourage calm and quiet. Do your best to help slow things down and foster a safe, soothing environment when you’re together.
Be reliably present and available
PTSD sufferers often pull away from those they love. And friends and family members often wonder whether to pursue the relationship or let them go. Rather than force a connection or cut it off, simply let your loved one know that you are available. Remind them that they never have to be alone. Check in, listen when they share, or simply wait patiently in a doctor’s office for with them as they attend therapy.
Connection is vital. Look for ways to honor your loved one’s need to talk or not talk. Provide a sense of belonging and solid support.
Watch your words
Your loved one lives in a delicate place. Triggers, flashbacks, edginess, and depression can feel much worse if those they love are consistently demanding, insensitive, judgmental, or unkind. Words matter. Think carefully and compassionately. Recognize the impact and potency of a comment like “get over it” or even “I know how you feel.” PTSD is intense and personal. Try to be aware of how your words might validate or invalidate your loved one’s experience. Concentrate on listening more and sharing less.
Provide a thread of normalcy
Agin, PTSD is intense. The emotions and sensory experience can be unrelenting at times. You can be a buffer and crucial part of providing some normalcy and consistency. Be the person who shares that routine cup of coffee, shopping trip, or walking in the park. The world may seem less frightening and overwhelming if he or she can look to a safe, regular activity with a reliable friend.
The key idea here is to be strong enough to lean on for support and flexible enough to offer the kind of comfort your loved one needs. Being there the way he or she requires is vital. And to do that, you may find you need some support too. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a qualified therapist who can help you both get the care and resources you’ll need to put trauma in its place and PTSD behind you.