When a person gets PTSD, he doesn’t suffer alone. The symptoms of PTSD can also affect family members. Fortunately, there are PTSD treatment options and coping strategies that can help you manage PTSD and family challenges.
Effect of PTSD on Families
You don’t need to experience a trauma directly to feel the effects of PTSD. If someone in your family has post-traumatic stress disorder, you may feel anger, fear, pain and shock because you care deeply for the survivor. Sometimes, living with a PTSD sufferer can create secondary traumatization in family members.
Here are some other ways PTSD may affect family members:
- Feeling isolated from people outside the immediate family
- Feeling like the trauma never ends, even if it happened many years ago
- Feelings of hurt and resentment when the survivor loses interest in family activities or becomes emotionally distant
- Poor communication because the survivor feels there is no future to plan for or has difficulty focusing
- Poor sleep for entire family because of survivor’s sleep problems
- Taking on extra responsibilities such as child care, housework or finances, and discounting the survivor as a responsible adult in the household
- Violent behavior or verbal aggression on the part of the family member with PTSD
- Worry about the survivor if he abuses substances or becomes suicidal.
Coping With PTSD
If you have a family member with PTSD, you may feel overwhelmed and helpless. You can help yourself and your loved one by:
- Accompanying the survivor to doctor visits.
- Being willing to listen to the survivor and understand when he doesn’t want to talk.
- Educating yourself about PTSD and understanding that the survivor’s anger or distance is not your fault.
- Encouraging the survivor to maintain contact with family and friends.
- Spending quality family time together, such as dinners and movie nights.
- Taking care of yourself: Don’t neglect outside relationships, and take time to be alone and recharge.
Dealing with PTSD Family Anger
When anger is an issue, agreeing to time-outs, where an issue is dropped until everyone is calm, can be helpful. If situations become violent, however, you need to protect yourself and get help right awayâ€”PTSD is no excuse for domestic violence or abuse. Remove yourself and other family members from danger and get to a safe place until things calm down.
When you return home:
- Rather than criticize, try “I” statements instead of “you” statements. For example, “I was hurt” as opposed to, “You hurt me.”
- Take turns listening and focus on solutions rather than problems.
- Together, try to work out a plan of action to resolve the issue.
Getting Help: PTSD Family Support
Sometimes the strain of post-traumatic stress disorder is too much for families to cope with alone. Fortunately, many PTSD treatment options are available including:
- Individual therapy
- PTSD couples counseling
- PTSD family support groups
- PTSD family therapy.
Psych Central. (2006). PTSD and the family. Retrieved August 2, 2010, 2010, from: http://psychcentral.com/library/ptsd_family.htm.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2010). Helping a family member who has PTSD. Retrieved August 2, 2010, from: http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/helping-family-member.asp.