How To Comfort A Friend With PTSD Without Being Insensitive
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is not easy to live with.
Typical day-to-day responsibilities can feel more like completely overwhelming tasks, and the most minuscule activity might just trigger a difficult memory without warning.
Depending on what caused the PTSD, the types of trauma, and how it manifests in a particular person, is likely to vary.
Elite Daily spoke with two experts on the matter to fully dive into what living with PTSD is really like.
Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a certified trauma professional, describes the condition,
PTSD is a condition that is deeply embedded in a person's body. It results from their enduring an event that overwhelmed their central nervous system. While the triggering events that cause PTSD vary from individual to individual, the reactions remain pretty consistent across individuals.
He also says, if you are in any kind of relationship with someone with PTSD, whether platonic or romantic, it is crucial for you to fully understand, to the best of your ability, what the person is truly enduring.
Dr. Hokemeyer explains,
If you are in a relationship with someone with PTSD, it's important to know their triggers. Finding these out requires sensitivity and honoring the nature of your relationship. Once you know the general nature of their trauma, be respectful and compassionate to avoid these specific triggers.
Along with those triggers, of course, comes what you should say, and what you shouldn't.
For one thing, Dr. Hokemeyer says it's key to never undermine a person's experience:
The worst thing you can do is try to comfort them by saying something to the effect of 'it's not that bad,' or 'look at all you have to be grateful for' when they have a negative reaction. Such comments are shaming and diminish their integrity.
Here are some helpful things you can say instead when a friend with PTSD is going through a tough time.
1. Suggest Something Fun To Do
It sounds a bit obvious, but seriously, to hear you suggest something fun can provide the ultimate relief for someone struggling with PTSD (of course, as long as that something fun isn't going to trigger their trauma).
Elite Daily spoke with Dr. Patricia Salber, editor-in-chief of The Doctor Weighs In, who began suffering from a mild case of PTSD after a bad slip down a staircase.
Though she noted it felt gruesome at first, her friends' suggestions for certain activities helped her through some particularly difficult times:
One of my friends suggested I attend the local zen center for Sunday group meditation sessions.
Within moments of the first session, I could feel my mind letting go, easing up on the anxiety. I found it incredibly soothing to be in a large, serene room with 60 or 70 other people also letting their thoughts go. I continued to go to the meditation sessions until the PTSD symptoms went away.
2. Say You'll Accompany Them In Whatever It Is They Need
Dr. Salber tells Elite Daily, if it weren't for her friend accompanying her to the zen center for that initial meditation session, she probably wouldn't have gone at all.
You may not realize it, but just the simplicity of your company can be extremely calming and supportive for a friend with PTSD.
3. Mirror Back The Comments They Make To You
According to Dr. Hokemeyer, the safest thing to do when comforting a friend with PTSD is to mirror the comments they have said to you:
If they say, 'I'm terrified,' mirror back those exact words: 'You're terrified.' Then manifest some nonassertive physical comfort: 'Is it OK if I hold your hand?' The overall point is to create a nonjudgmental frame for them to have their experience, and hold it until it passes.
4. Say Something About Positive Future Plans
This can help counteract the common feeling among people with PTSD that their future is limited to their terrible experience.
Dr. Salber adds,
I developed PTSD after taking a nasty fall at the airport and fracturing my shoulder in two places. The worst symptom was terrible insomnia. One night it was so bad, I just stood in my room and cried. I wondered if life would be bearable, if I could never get a normal night sleep again.
Remind your friend that life really is beautiful and amazing, and there's so much more waiting for them beyond these awful experiences.
5. Tell Them You're Here To Stay
When someone is suffering from PTSD, it is always one of the biggest comforts to know that, no matter what, someone, will always be there for them, no matter what happens.
Remind them of this as often as possible.