Practical Ways to Love Someone with PTSD

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PTSD is the abbreviation for post-traumatic stress disorder. There is also another form of PTSD known as CPTSD. This stands for complex post-traumatic stress disorder. There are many people across the world who either struggle with PTSD or CPTSD. The former is more linked with war veterans; however, the latter is more connected with those who have undergone repeated traumatic experiences, such as being abused as a child, sexually abused by a partner, or verbally abused by a caregiver.

While CPTSD has not been officially recognized by the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), it is a very real mental health disorder. The DSM is not fully correct in many of its diagnoses; therefore, it is best not to rely on this as the sole indicator of someone’s diagnosis. As an example, the DSM has recently added narcissistic personality disorder as a mental health condition when it is not technically a disorder. If someone is a narcissist, it is because of sin—not because of a disorder.

It is funny how they will add narcissistic personality disorder as a mental health disorder when they won’t add disorders such as CPTSD. Similarly, the DSM also invalidates those with eating disorders since they base the diagnosis on weight rather than behaviors. As we can see, the DSM is not the best place to go when trying to find help with a proper diagnosis or how to get better from your mental health concerns. Instead, it is better to be knowledgeable about these things from your own research and from real help from doctors who care.

Helping Someone With PTSD/C-PTSD

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The best things you can do to help your loved one with PTSD or CPTSD are to be knowledgeable about the disorder, actively listen, and be there for them. There will be days when it is really hard for them, which will show in your relationship with them. If your parent, friend, or spouse is struggling with PTSD or CPTSD, know that the disorder can cause them to have some symptoms that can change the way they interact with you. Remember that your loved one has gone through something traumatic, and it cannot be fixed overnight. It might take many years or even a lifetime for someone to make progress in healing from their traumatic experiences.

Be patient with them and extend grace to them. PTSD and CPTSD can cause a variety of symptoms, such as flashbacks, nightmares, unwanted memories, difficulty expressing emotions, emotional withdrawal, feeling bad about themselves, feeling unworthy, dissociation, depression, anger, anxiety, being easily startled, and suicidal ideation. Your loved one struggling with PTSD or CPTSD needs you to be caring, understanding, and there for them even when it is hard. Each of these symptoms can come upon them unexpectedly and cause them significant distress. It is not all in their heads, nor is it something they can stop from happening.

If you want to be there for your loved one, listen to them without judgment. Be okay with just sitting beside them and listening. It is alright if you don’t know what to say to help. Often, just listening to and being there for them is more than enough. If they ask for your help, advice, or thoughts, be encouraging and helpful. Validate their feelings and reassure them of your love for them. This can go a long way for them and help them not feel as alone in their struggles.

Don’t Take Things Personally

Another thing you can do to help your loved one with PTSD or CPTSD is to not take things personally. Due to flashbacks, feelings of unworthiness, anger, and nightmares, many individuals struggling with PTSD or CPTSD can take it out on their loved ones or say something that might hurt them. Additionally, if your loved one went through abuse that was related to a partner, it might be hard to listen to them say positive things about their abuser. Understand that this is part of trauma bonding, especially if they have CPTSD. This happens often for those who were mentally, physically, emotionally, or sexually abused.

Those who have traditional PTSD might not experience trauma bonding; however, if your loved one has CPTSD, it is best to be aware of trauma bonding, especially if you are dating, engaged, or married to someone with CPTSD. Understand that although they may still have feelings for their abuser, it is not based on love or mutual love. Your partner may have loved them, but their abuser did not. A person who truly loves another person would never abuse them in any form or in any way. This can be hard for those with CPTSD to understand or accept; try your best not to take things personally when they talk about their abuser in a positive way.

Remember that they have chosen to be with you, and this means a lot. Fears of them leaving or returning to their abuser can creep into your mind, and it might happen, but try to do your best always to remind your loved one that you love them, care about them, and want to help them in the best ways you know how. Even if your loved one does return to the abuser, know that it was nothing you did. CPTSD is very complicated, and it can be challenging for the person struggling with it to fully understand their own feelings. Choose to continue to be there for them because you love them.

Taking Care of Yourself

Lastly, you can help your loved one with PTSD or CPTSD by taking care of yourself. While this might sound cliche, it is very important. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to care for your loved one. Most likely, you are going through some struggles of your own. Maybe you are feeling insecure in your relationship, or you are going through depression, anxiety, or another personal issue. Remember to take care of yourself and engage in proper self-care. Self-care doesn’t have to be bubble baths or taking yourself out on a shopping spree.

Instead, self-care can be going for a walk, listening to music, or reading. Any of these things can help you rest and relax for a little bit. It is important not to let your entire life be drained, especially if you are a caregiver of a child or an adolescent who has PTSD or CPTSD. Allow yourself time to have self-care, and do not neglect taking a day off when you need time away. If you are in a relationship with someone with PTSD or CPTSD, also remember to take time to do things you enjoy and get your mind off things that might have been hurtful or said in a way that your partner didn’t mean.

Whether your loved one struggles with PTSD or CPTSD, it is important to get them the help they need, as well as you need to take care of yourself. If your loved one is not interested in seeking help right now, continue to pray for them and be there for them. Encourage them to seek out professional help, but don’t be pushy. If you are pushy, it could push them away from ever seeking help and possibly from talking with you about it ever again.

Be kind, considerate, and validating of their feelings. Those who struggle with PTSD or CPTSD are not prone to share their feelings or their past experiences with just anyone. They have shared their feelings and past traumatic experiences with you for a reason. They trust you. Don’t abuse this trust.

Keep being there for them, listen to them, and love them. While it can be hard at times, continue to do your best to be there for them. Above all, remember your loved one is the same person you have always known and adored. Underneath the pain and traumatic experiences, they are still someone who is your best friend, your sibling, your parent, or your partner.

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Vivian BrickerVivian Bricker loves Jesus, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master’s degree in Christian Ministry with a deep academic emphasis in theology. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, reading, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, she is embarking on other adventures.