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.