You know how alone you feel with your PTSD symptoms? The flashbacks, the panic attacks, the sadness/loneliness? The feeling that nobody understands? Maybe people have told you to “stop acting” or “get over it” or “you’re being dramatic.” It is so frustrating. If you had a broken bone or other physical ailment that others can “see” people tend to give you the time you need to heal. If they do a second x-ray and you need to stay in the cast longer, nobody thinks you’re making it up. Nobody tells you to stop being dramatic or get over it.
PTSD is such a lonely ailment. It destroys you inside, and can wreak havoc with your life outside as well – the difficulty with your family and friends (especially with communication), the difficulty concentrating at work, the avoidance of things you used to enjoy; all causing you to lose internal and external comfort. All you want to do is scream at people “please understand; I’m not doing this on purpose and I need your support.”
Imagine if those around you understood you…at least to some degree. Imagine if they understood the reasons why you are having flashbacks, nightmares, difficulty concentrating, irritability, not wanting to do things you used to. Imagine if you got the support you needed. Some people have this support and I hope you do. I hope you have the support you need to get through this difficult time. However, many people do not. Many people are trying to imagine right now what it would be like if they had the support from others.
What would it be like for you to have this support? What would change in your world? How would things be different? Would you start to feel safe again? Would you not feel so alone? Would you venture out with that person knowing they will not purposely put you in a situation you feel uncomfortable (or if they do, they do it with respect and communication)? Would you start to regain trust?
How do you get others to understand so you can experience the above? How do you explain what’s going on in your brain and body to them in a way they understand? What is unseen is often scary. Think about kids wanting a nightlight because they are afraid of the dark; the monsters that lurk in the shadows. Those around you cannot see what your brain is showing you; what they see is someone they care about in distress, and they don’t know how to help. They stand by helplessly wanting to do something, and not knowing what to do. It is so much easier for them to get frustrated at you than to look at the deeper reason for the frustration (them not being able to help you). Also it is much easier to feel frustration and anger than it is to admit to feeling fear and uncertainty. Over time, as they continuously cannot help you, the frustration misdirected at you becomes frustration at what they see (flashbacks; nightmares)…something keeps happening to someone they love that they have no control over; no ability to help with. Their lack of control causes them to get angry. Generally people feel more comfortable in control than out of control. Like the situation(s) that happened to you, the lack of control is scary for them.
It can be helpful to validate this fear for them. Tell them you understand that the flashbacks and panic attacks must be scary for them because they seem to happen out of the blue and the loved one doesn’t know what caused it or how best to help. Sometimes they will not admit to feeling scared; don’t worry about that. Say it anyway. There is a very good PBS video the two of you may be able to watch together to help them understand the workings of the brain with PTSD: The Secret Life of the Brain. After watching this video, talk about it. What did each of you think of the video? What made sense and what didn’t? What would you like to learn more about? This video may be able to help alleviate some of the unknowns with flashbacks, nightmares and panic attacks making them not so scary. Tell the other person what you need and ask them what they need. How can you support each other during difficult times? Knowledge is one of our best weapons. Once we take the unknowns out of something, the fear of that something goes down dramatically. Learn about PTSD together. Talk about it together. If the other person isn’t interested in talking about it, offer them information they can read about it. Every now and then broach the subject with them again. Where knowledge will combat unknowns and fears, communication is the key to unlocking the success of knowledge in relationships.
Let me know how this goes for you. Did it work? Did barriers come up you were not expecting? I would love to hear back from you on your experiences. Leave a comment below!