Andrea Carlile, the spouse of a 12-year military veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), once detailed a struggle that many families are familiar with. She said, “I sometimes attempt to prevent … triggers by handling the situations myself. This can make me feel worn down and discouraged. It’s sometimes difficult to understand what my husband is feeling when he becomes withdrawn and closed off emotionally.”
PTSD is a mental illness that significantly impacts a person’s quality of life, but his or her consequential behavior can affect loved ones as well. While it can sometimes strike without warning, there are some tried and true methods to help a family member with this disorder.
Educate the family
Learning about PTSD is the only way to truly understand what a family member is re-experiencing. Candice Monson, Ph.D., from the National Center for PTSD summarized, “Providing psychoeducation as a part of individual evidence-based treatment can help significant others understand what their loved one is going through, and help clients engage in and adhere to treatments that work but aren’t a piece of cake.”
This sentiment was seconded by Psychologist Elizabeth Carll, Ph.D., who outlined multiple strategies for dealing with family members stricken with trauma. They consist of:
- Teaching stress-management skills with a framework of coping and resilience.
- Discussing how to address emotionally sensitive traumas with people outside the family.
- Understanding that everyone is impacted by the event, even if it is not noticeable.
- Accepting that all individuals process trauma differently in terms of patterns and recovery time.
Have a system to handle anger or violence
Setting up a protocol of conversation can facilitate behavioral management in a family member with PTSD. Example guidelines include:
- Set up a time-out system that helps individuals converse while angry. Agree that anyone can call a time-out at any time and postpone the discussion immediately.
- Take turns talking about solutions to the problem. Listen without interrupting or criticizing.
- Use statements that begin with “I,” as using “you” statements may sound accusatory.
Most importantly, do not tolerate abuse of any kind, whether it is financial, emotional, physical or sexual. Individuals with PTSD may try to justify their destructive behavior and rationalize their wrongdoings as a part of the disorder. However, survivors should be held responsible for their actions and always seek to manage them.
Ensure that the family members care for themselves
When someone in the family develops PTSD, common reactions from others may range from mild sympathy and avoidance to severe anger, guilt or depression. In order to support a family member, one must be able to take care of him or herself first. Parents, children and siblings must remember:
- It is normal to feel helpless sometimes.
- People have to change themselves and it may take time.
- Make time for activities, hobbies and friends that allow a chance to recharge.
- If you find yourself getting sick often or notice feelings of intense sadness or hopelessness, seek out professional help.
- Celebrate the good things that happen to you and your family.
“I have learned that I am not the cause or the solution of my husband’s PTSD,” concluded Carlile. Instead, there are a number of external and professional resources that can assist a household in need of support. If you or a close relative is having difficulty managing symptoms of PTSD, contact Sovereign Health of California for extensive and long-lasting solutions such as our family program.
Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer