PTSD, like any other illness does not just affect the person that lives with it. PTSD will also impact family and friends, and even colleagues. Partners of those with PTSD are particularly vulnerable to exhaustion, worry, and fear, as they have to experience first-hand the control PTSD, has on the person they love.
It is normal to not know how to be there for someone with PTSD. Below you will find 10 ways to help your partner with PTSD.
Understand PTSD and the science behind it. Misinformation and misunderstanding of this diagnosis can lead to challenges with managing it. For example, a partner telling their loved one to “just get over it” or “to ignore it” is often rooted in a lack of awareness and understanding of PTSD.
Find out what your partner needs from you to feel safe. For instance, perhaps your partner might need someone to describe their surroundings in order to help them ground into the present moment, or maybe its watching a tv show or listening to a specific song.
Be patient. Remember you will not cure PTSD. It is also not your responsibility to be your partner’s therapist, case manager or doctor. Your role is to be a supportive figure.
Reach out for help. Neither partner has to do this alone. Individual and couples therapy can make a huge difference in recovery.
Don’t take things personally. It is common for the supportive partner to feel responsible for any triggers or for their loved one’s emotional reactions. You are not fighting your partner; you are fighting PTSD.
Be respectful of your partner’s wishes to keep parts of their trauma to themselves. If your partner is ready and willing, they will share it with you. Otherwise, trying to push them to open up will only make them feel more unsafe.
Be mindful of labeling your partner as “irrational”, “dramatic”, or “crazy”. PTSD is a real and difficult diagnosis to manage. They are doing their best!
Don’t dismiss or ignore any thoughts of suicide. Encourage your partner to reach out to a therapist to get better support around this. If your loved one is unsafe or you are worried for their safety, call 911.
Be compassionate to yourself and your partner. You are both going through a lot, and you are both learning how to navigate through this together.
Take care of yourself. It is important to understand how essential self-care is for you. You are a caregiver, and research has shown that caregivers can be greatly impacted too.
Caregiver stress and burnout are both common experiences amongst any person who has taken the role of caregiver in a relationship.
Signs and symptoms of caregiver stress include:
· Feeling exhausted and fatigued
· Having difficulty sleeping
· Problems with concentration and attention
· Poor self-care (eating poorly, drinking more, smoking more)
· Anger and irritability
Signs and symptoms of caregiver burnout include:
· Neglecting personal needs
· Difficulty separating from the role of caregiver
· Lack of other social activities or relationships
· Feeling exhausted and fatigued, even after sleep
· Feeling helplessness and hopelessness
If any of these resonate with you, know that you are not alone. Here is how to cope:
Focus on the progress. What is going well? Caregiver stress can make anyone feel as though nothing is changing and nothing is getting better. Making a conscious choice to pay attention to the progress, no matter how small, will help. Make a list every night before going to sleep, and/or every morning before getting up.
Reflect on what else makes you who you are aside from a caretaker. Try to make room to connect to these other parts of you every week.
Practice acceptance. A common experience of caregivers can be that of resentment and anger for the way things are and for the way things have changed. Learning to accept that this is the reality will help you keep moving forward. Challenging this reality will only bring feelings of anger, guilt, and anxiety.
Prioritize self-care. Make sure you are taking care of yourself by eating, sleeping, and engaging in body movements (this can range from short stretches, to a walk around the block, to running every day).
Identify at least one thing that you did each day that makes you feel good about yourself. Reflect on this before going to bed each night.
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