PTSD Caregivers Hinder Recovery?



Partners have a number of challenges when living with a veteran who has PTSD. PTSD caregivers feel that they must take care of us veterans and attend closely to the veteran’s problems. PTSD caregivers may respond in ways that worsen the problem rather than help recovery. They may have difficulty understanding, become angry with us veterans, communicate poorly, and/or fail to provide support. (Julia M. Whealin, Ph.D)

I can only imagine how hard it is on all the caregivers. That is why I decided to write this: because it is to important for your personal health and our recovery. The National Center for PTSD has found, “The severity of the veteran’s PTSD symptoms was directly related to the severity of relationship problems.”

A well-known symptom of PTSD is avoidance. One way that most veterans do this is to avoid anything – people, places, conversations, thoughts, emotions and feelings, physical sensations – that might act as a reminder of the trauma. Avoidance of different kinds of social activities by us veterans may frustrate family members. Sometimes, this avoidance results in social isolation that hurts relationships.

But sometimes we do try to face our reminders through video games, news, movies, or television. And many times family members are very vocal about what us as veterans can and can’t do, or they try to orchestrate our surroundings to avoid the fallout or take actions that are well-meaning, such as helping us with PTSD avoid reminders of the trauma. This can be very helpful if it is used once in a while, but there are a few problems with this approach.

First, experiencing emotions and moving forward are a natural part of life for human beings. When we as veterans avoid thinking and feeling emotions connected with the trauma, it can reduce our ability to recover from it. Always avoiding can reduce our ability to live our life and enjoy or find any sort of happiness, because we are then isolated and limited in where we can go and what we can do. (Julia M. Whealin, Ph.D)

Second, when spouses and other family members develop patterns that are intended to help, they can make us veterans resentful because we don’t want to be controlled, treated like children, or not allowed to work through things our own way. We need to be allowed to regain a sense of control of our own lives. For years we have been told what to do and when to do it. Our training, the military way, kept us alive. We feel safe when we rely on our training; it is hard to let it go. But keeping us from every trigger never allows us the ability to relearn.

We need you as our caregivers to encourage and empower us by trusting us to handle our issues. Caretakers – distinctly different from caregivers – start fixing when a problem arises for someone else. Caregivers, on the other hand, empathize fully, letting the other person know they are not alone, and lovingly asks, “What are you going to do about that?”

Support us by being understanding and empathetic, not controlling or deeming. We don’t need you to try to fix, rescue, or be responsible for us and our emotions and reactions. Yes, we are going to get triggered, and that sucks for you. It sucks for us, too. Once those memories are triggered, we can start challenging our mis-perceptions stuck in our mind or start telling ourselves a different story. We have to start trying to regain control of our emotions (mainly anger) and our brain. Keeping us from triggers isn’t helping us; it is hurting us in the long run.

If you discover yourself doing these things, please find yourself counseling in order to receive support and learn how to cope better with our PTSD.




  1. Yes my ex wife could not handle me being happy and still tries to bring down now

    • So she got out and left you there.? War IS literally hell and even if some can’t deal with your PTSD and your at least partial return to some semblance of happiness you can know in your heart of hearts that you protected her freedom and safety and served your country and made a sacrifice for which you are owed a debt of gratitude from all who breathe in FREE air with each breath.If she couldn’t stand your happiness then SHE IS the one who missed out.Stand tall and laugh often warrior and patriot.You earned your happiness.Peac be with you!

  2. There is a huge difference between working through emotions that are triggered by something like a movie and trying to bring someone back from an all out flash back so severe that they can’t tell where they really are and see/feel/hear things full on that are not there and wanting to kill themselves and/or have tried to kill themselves in the past due to the severe flash back, also triggered by something like a movie.

  3. Thank you for sharing

  4. Amen, sister.Been doing it 43 years. We become the walking dead too. There really is little to no help for us. I wouldn’t do it again. It has nothing to do with love.

  5. Living with PTSD it’s like living with a terrorist in your head!

  6. Agree with Paula and Art.

  7. Yes…its..hard on the whole family….our circle of friends physically in our life is a small handful….and its hard to expect the outside to accept n understand our reality…

  8. It’s been my experience that Doctors will doctor you to death. You can’t just accept what they say. You have to talk to others and read and listen to your body. On the other hand you also have to take advantage of their great body of knowledge and arsonal of tools you don’t have access to. You have to advocate for yourself, if you can’t that’s where a caregiver comes in handy. Women especially mothers are nitpicking and insistent because they want the best for their loved one. Not saying a male caregiver isn’t as good but I think the majority of combat infantry veterans are male and there is an army of wives out there doing their best to cope mediating between the veteran and “the terrorist in his head” and between the doctor and the vet. All the while trying to keep the marriage going and parent children. I also think there are a lot of self indulgent people who happen to be veterans who think because they stepped foot in the war theater that they have the right to claim they are Captain Kurtz (Apocalypse Now) and their outrageous behavior is acceptable. Raging at your family, being a drunk, wasting your time being lazy and destructive, garnering attention like a two year old is not acceptable. That’s just being in my husband’s lingo ” a shitbag”. No caregiver should put up with that. Abuse and addiction behaviors are not acceptable. So I think that’s where caregiving ends and spouses need to draw the line. Let me be clear. My husband has a nightmare and wakes up punching the headboard that’s not abuse. That’s PTSD. Watching Rob Zombie movies is reworking the horror and feeling in control of it in a safe way…making your kids watch it with you? That’s not acceptable. I think the author of this article wants us to know that. Thing is I have had to go toe to toe with a guy used to suppressing enemy combatants to draw that line and the author needs to realize that’s what we get to deal with sometimes…

    • Justin does realize that. I mean we have went toe to toe over letting the kids watch horror movies. What he is talking about is the ones that go overboard. The ones who take the video games, won’t let them go watch a movie if they choose to, etc.

  9. Excellent distinction between what is a legitimate PTSD issue & what is “just being a shitbag”. In my case, my husband had control issues before the PTSD. They’ve been astronomically exacerbated by the PTSD, but, honestly, I believe he often uses (consciously or unconsciously ) the PTSD to justify his angry responses when he doesn’t get something he wants or especially when he doesn’t understand something. He exercises little to no self-control in these situations & even though he apologizes after the fact, the damage he causes cannot be undone.

  10. I have PTSD sense I was 17 years old due to tramatizing effents that took place when I was a child. People want me to stand in front of churches and tell my story. People in their fifty and sixties have told me, u have been through more shit, delt with shit a child should never see and felt pain and dealt with hardships people our ages have never dealt with a day in our lifes. And yet u stayed strong. How the fuck did u do it. I look up to people who have served our country to see how they handled it. My PTSD barely bothers me anymore now that I am 23. This article was really good. My last relationship my ex said he was trying to save me from myself. We grew appart and then he we would beat me in from of our son. So I left. Now currently with a man that is patient and him just being there for me is the greatest help. Sometimes its nice to talk about what hurts and never have to talk about it again. The nice thing is my man has gone through simular stuff so he is totally understands. One thing I cant stand is to see vetrens being yelled at or vice versa vetts yelling. People on this list should totally understand. Clearly this articale was written my a vet who thought by writting it it could help other but instead for some of u. Ya think its a real wise idea to start a social media war. Dont u think they suffered enough from the war. Fuck off and just let this man heal. Damn. Didnt ur moms ever teach u not to say anything at all if u have nothing nice to say. U did a great job on this article. Thank u for all the pain and suffering u went through and ur family went through due to u being our country’s defender and protecter and our hero. Im sorry to all vets and there family. I can feel ur pain with the PTSD. And its not easy.

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