Loving on Someone with PTSD
I grew up in a home where things were "different." By different, I mean that my dad was enlisted. He served his country. I moved around alot, and I had the chance to learn about different cultures and different people...but I also had a dad who exprienced the woes of war...and whenever he returned from war...he was...different.
He was loving. He was amazing. He was a hero...but he was also scarred. And I can remember whenevever he went "away" to war...or went somewhere in the world to be "on duty"...he came back home...changed...and different.
It has taken me years to understand those changes. And my dad did his best to shelter me from his experiences. To this day...even after his passing...he has not told me his war stories. But then...I went away to college....enrolled in psychology and then...some of those "changes" started to make sense. My dad didn't have to say a word to me about these changes. As his daughter, I just had to figure it out for myself. How can I love on him and how can he love me even after all these changes?
I grew up in a military family. A family that experienced the residuals of Desert Storm and Afganistan, Persian Gulf, Bosnia and Herzegonvia, Iraq, Lords Resistance Army, Saudia Arabia. My dad would come home from these wars after being away for a whole year, two years, 6 months. The time line was always different...
But we went through the residuals of whatever stories that were untold to me. His body told the story though. His brain...his behaviors. It changed him. And it changed us as a family.
He did the best he could. Just like anyone else experiencing trauma and still trying to navigate life while not hurting others along the way...he did his best. But he was scarred.
And our family was scarred. And no we did not have a family counseling center to help us "figure it out." (By the way, I think the government can give alot more with what they have to offer regarding mental health services to veterns - But that is another post for another day).
For today....I'll get to what I have learned about what its been like counseling, living, and learning how to love on someone with symptoms and signs of PTSD. I want to thank my dad ( rest him) who taught me so much about this before my head hit the books, my mom who lived this thang out with a household of folks who had PTSD for various reasons( shes the real MVP), and my brother, who is currently in the services and is also trying his best to navigate our current times while serving this country. This is in no way an exhaustive list. This is free advisement. And if you want special attention to your circurstances, I encourage you to seek a licensed mental health practitioner for assistance.
1. You have to be quiet sometimes.
This can go back to my previous post about chaos and having things be calm and keeping a stable environment. Sometimes noise is not helpful. Talking to much is not helpful. Listening and being observant can be one of the best gifts you can offer someone with any forms of anxiety. You can mirror to them what they need. They need stillness. They need peace. They need calmness. Sometimes they need for someone to just be still...and quiet and listen. Having a listening and attentive ear being slow to speak and quick to listen is therapuetic within itself.
2. Ask the right questions and be open to hearing their answers.
Appropriate questions or prompts can be similar to the following:
How are you feeling today?
Is there anything I can do to help?
I can follow up with you later. You dont have to give an answer now.
Let me know how I can be of service.
Would you want me to help you with that?
I dont understand right now but I will try my best to understand.
I can see that bothers us, feel free to let me know what you are comfortable with.
We can figure this out together.
----The main point of these prompts are mirroring concepts of "Trauma Informed Care". This is where you give the person the feeling that they are in charge of what happens next, they have a say, you are giving them space, and you are giving them time. You also can enforce that you are there as a secure base. "I will be here if you leave, and when you come back!"
3. Don't rush
Give these folks time to figure out themselves and their lives. Seriously! There is alot that goes on in a brain of a person who has PTSD, anxiety...anxiousness. Let me tell you...do not even ask them to explain themselves 'cause half the time they probably won't even be able to. And then even if they try, they will become frustrated because they find they cant express themselves the way they would like to. Dont rush. Give them time. Give them time to think and to breath! Be careful with the deadlines and give them space to choose what they can and can not do! If someone says "not today", let their word stand and give them space to figure out when they will be ready. And ALWAYS give them the opportunity to change their mind! Its their god given right to change their mind!
4. Just be present.
Now the story of Job from the bible comes to mind. He just wanted someone to be there. He wasn't asking for verbal banter...or a vacation. He literally just asked for some quiet company. If you can be quiet and steady company, be that and know that you are loving on them well.
5. Speak their love language and do it often.
Now, if you havent heard, but in pop culture there is this book called "The Five Love Languages". Its a banging concept. The book mentions that people love to be loved on in different ways. Some people love be to TOLD how awesome they are, some folks just want your company, some folks want tangible items that show you were paying attention when they said "I like this and I want that" and then you purchased or made that "thing" available. Some folks need help with activites, others want a hug to sooth their souls. Whatever the case may be...make it your mission to figure out what that THING is...and do it. Yes, they might side eye you...but do it anyway!
6. Learn their story the best way you can.
Everyone has a story, reasons behind why they act a certain way, believe certain things, or say what they say. Put the judgeyness aside, and figure that out! Step out of what your expectations and assumptions are and truely try to understand. There are alot of folks out here doing the best they can with what they know and the last thing they need is for another person to come along and make life more difficult. Be a blessing, not a burden. Try to understand them. Now...I am not saying enable dysfuntional behaviors...but...try to understand.
7. Dont blame them and dont blame shift.
When someone has PTSD chances are, they have been through some life changing events. What happened to them is usually not their fault, and they need time to even figure out that its truely not their fault. Their healing is their responsibility however its not something they can go at along. Community is important. Its important to have supports that won't blame them for their responses to the traumas. Its important for folks to give them space and time to figure out life again. Its work. Its work on their end, but its also work on ours too. Recovery is not a solo event. Oh no, we are social creatures. We need more than just ourselves to make it to the other side of this thing called Healing!
If you or someone you know suffers with PTSD, please know that whatever happened to you is not your fault. You healing is your resposibility though. You have to be intentional about your healing. It doesnt just "happen" with no work!
And it certainly doesnt happen alone. You can heal and at the same time contribute to someone else's healing. Tribe vibe is all about understanding that we are responsible for ourselves but we are also responsible for each other!
If you want more tailored information on how to love on someone with PTSD, feel free to reach out to us for our services. We out here...seeking healing...and wholeness...despite what we been through or where we came from. We have a responsibility to become our ancestor's dream. It'll take some love though to make that happen.