One of the worst things about PTSD is how it cuts you off from those who want to be there for you: your spouse, and closest friends and family.
When you’re suffering, your loved ones want to help. They might ask what’s wrong. You know they’re trying to help… Only, you feel like you can’t talk to them.
Your loved ones can’t understand why you won’t talk about it. They might feel shut out and rejected; their feelings might be hurt that you won’t let them be there for you. And that might make you feel guilty, which doesn’t help: now you’re feeling guilty on top of suffering, and your loved one is feeling rejected and helpless. Yikes!
…If this scenario sounds familiar to you, then I invite you to read this post, and then share it with your loved one. Hopefully, it’ll help both of you understand what’s going on and why. And it’ll help both of you feel better.
A big piece of PTSD is avoidance. Basically, that means even thinking about “that stuff” is about as easy as staring directly into the sun without squinting: just like the glare of the sun, the glare of your feelings around the trauma is too intense. It’s not that you’re trying to shut out your loved one; first and foremost you’re trying to shut yourself out, because thinking about your trauma just feels so awful.
Now, add to the pain of thinking about the trauma, the idea of sharing it with your loved one. That takes it to a whole new level: it feels like taking your most horrible, painful thoughts and feelings, and inflicting them on someone you care about. You can’t bring yourself to do it because you can’t bear to even think about that stuff, can’t bear to hurt them, and can’t bear to watch how it hurts them to know what happened to you.
It’s not a choice, it’s a symptom. So, stop beating up on yourself about it – the shame and guilt just makes you feel worse for something you can’t control right now. Instead tell your loved one something like, “Thank you for caring about me. Your support means a lot. I wish I could talk to you about it, but right now I just can’t. Even thinking about it to myself is too much.”
If you’re the loved one on the other end of this, understand that it can be too painful for the person with PTSD to talk about their trauma. It’s not a choice; it’s not a reflection of how much they trust you, so please don’t make it a test of your relationship. Know that if they could, they would tell you. Let them know that you support them, and ask how you can be helpful. Realize that sometimes, being helpful might mean backing off, or helping them distract from their feelings.
I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…
~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.
*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.
**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.