How can I support a loved one with PTSD?

May 23, 2019 | by Jennifer Kenneavy, LCSW
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

Is your loved one suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? PTSD is a mental health condition that occurs after a traumatic or life-threatening experience, such as a war/combat, sexual assault, accident, natural disaster, or unexpected death of a loved one.

It can be difficult to live with someone with PTSD. Your loved one may experience a range of symptoms that arise anywhere from a few months to years after the triggering event. The PSTD sufferer may act moody, anxious, skittish and aggressive. Some PTSD sufferers may have outbursts of rage. Their emotions can be up one day and down the next.

It’s also common for people with PTSD to withdrawal from family and friends. They may feel disconnected from others and lose interest in activities they used to enjoy.  

Watching your loved one’s personality change can be alarming. It’s hard to understand why your loved one is acting so differently and distancing themselves from you. PTSD can also lead to drug or alcohol abuse, job loss, and other issues that can make the situation even more challenging.

For all these reasons, PTSD takes a heavy toll on relationships. As the loved one of someone with PTSD, you may feel scared, hurt, angry, helpless and lonely. It’s common to feel frustrated about how your loved one’s PTSD is affecting the entire family.

To better understand what your loved one is going through, it helps to learn as much as you can about trauma, PTSD, recovery and healing. Also:

  • Realize that your feelings are completely normal.
  • Try not to take their behavior personally.
  • Understand that this is not something your loved one can “snap out of.”
  • Set limits. Do not tolerate abusive language or actions. If anger leads to violent behavior or abuse, go to a safe place and call for help right away.
  • Practice self-care for your own physical, mental and emotional health.

When your loved one has PTSD, you want to take action to help. Where do you start? Here are some ways you can support a loved one with PTSD:

  • Let them know you are here for them. Show acceptance and concern, but don’t force them to talk.
  • Offer to go to doctor visits with them.
  • Anticipate triggering circumstances such as large crowds, loud noises or new places.
  • Be there to listen without being judgmental or giving advice.
  • Let them talk about the trauma only if they want to, without interrupting. Validate their experiences.
  • Don't give advice unless you are asked. Instead, ask how you can help them.
  • Remain calm even when faced with their unexplained anger.
  • Give your loved one space, but tell them that you will always be ready to help.
  • Plan activities together, like having dinner, going to a movie or taking a walk.
  • Talk about the benefits of therapy (individual, family) if they are feeling hesitant about seeking help.
  • Encourage additional support from family, friends, faith and community resources, such as a support group for people with PTSD.
  • Help them through panic attacks, flashbacks, or nightmares by reassuring them of what is real, and helping them take deep breaths.
  • Encourage healthy living, including diet, sleep and exercise, and refraining from smoking, alcohol or drugs to cope.
  • The risk of unsafe behaviors can be higher in individuals with PTSD. If your loved one expresses thoughts of harming themself or others, call 911 immediately.

When you are emotionally overwhelmed and depleted, you are also at risk for developing secondary PTSD symptoms as you relive the trauma your loved one describes to you. Take care of yourself so you can take care of your loved one.

If your loved one is suffering from PTSD, we can help. Get support from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

Related blogs:

Could I have post-traumatic stress disorder?

Are you experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder? Here’s what to do


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