What is PTSD?
PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), or CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) can be a result or residual effect from a wide range of traumatic events. Some of the more “common” individuals that often experience PTSD are Veterans, Police Officers, Firemen, First Responders, and Healthcare workers. It appears frequently in people that have been sexually/ physically assaulted or abused, involved in bad accidents, witnesses of violence and terror, or have experienced the devastation of a natural disaster. However, I think we often overlook or underestimate the traumatic impact of abandonment, neglect, racism, childhood trauma, verbal and emotional abuse, just to name a few.
PTSD can bring about feelings of not being worthy, not being good enough, being a bad person, not feeling loved, and feeling broken. It can bring about the inability to trust others, feelings of insecurities, hopelessness, and feeling unwanted. Relationships often become difficult as people can be filled with anger, resentment, fear, and shame. There seems to be a sense of being stuck in a deep well without a ladder to climb out that just seems to take over.
This is the best way, that I personally have found, for describing to someone what it is like to have PTSD: If you could just imagine that there is a video playing over and over in your head. This video is in full color, high-definition, with all of the sounds, smells, and tastes, and you do not have the remote. It’s not that you can’t control the remote, it’s entirely gone. The first time I explained it that way to one of my clients experiencing PTSD, he said, “Wow! You do get it, you do understand.”
How to identify PTSD?
How can you tell if your loved ones or friends are experiencing PTSD? Here are just a few of the possible signs that you might be able to recognize. (TherapistAid.com)
- Continuous nightmares
- Difficulty sleeping
- Reoccurring flashbacks of disturbing images
- Stress caused by past events or trauma
- Excessive mood swings
- Suppressing thoughts
- Withdrawal from, and losing interest in activities
- Avoidance of people, places, things, or certain conversations
- Emotions such as anger, rage, fear, sadness, and irritability
- Feelings of being anxious or paranoid
- Easily startled
- Physical pain, tremors
- Alcohol or substance abuse
- Impulsive or unusual behavior
- Memory loss/unable to concentrate
- Low self-esteem
How to Support Individuals with PTSD
Now that you’ve identified some symptoms and have discovered the possibility that your friend or loved one needs help, how are you going to support them? This is where the challenge begins for so many people because they do not know where to start. If the person is willing, try to encourage them seek professional assistance from a licensed therapist or counselor.
In the meantime, there are ways you can offer them support. One approach might be to educate yourself on trauma. Another way to support is by ensuring that you are not unintentionally saying things to them that may initiate an undesirable reaction. Here are a few things that you might avoid saying to someone that is experiencing PTSD or any kind of trauma, as you may trigger a distressing emotional response.
The following phrases could actually cause more harm, and cause the person’s nervous system to become even more escalated.
- “Just get over it, that happened a long time ago”
- “Calm down”
- “What’s wrong with you?”
- “You’ve been through worse”
- “Maybe you are overreacting “
- “You’re being too sensitive”
- “Quit living in the past”
- “Let’s go do something to take your mind oﬀ it”
- “Why didn’t you say something at the time it happened?”
- “You’re just in shock, you’ll get through it”
- “You have to face your fears”
While your intentions may be coming from a place of love and support, you might just be putting a match to the fuse on the end of a stick of dynamite. Don’t pressure the person to talk about the “event” if they don’t want to, but if they do, be compassionate as you listen to them. Ask them how you can support them, as they probably do not want you to try and “fix” anything, or advise them on what to do. If they are ready to seek help, you can assist them in finding the right therapist or counselor. And please(!!) If the person is making harmful threats towards themselves or others, or showing any suicidal thoughts please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. 1-800-273-8255