For most, family involves intimacy, security, and comfort. When the world turns ugly, many people turn to their family for reassurance and emotional support. But when the ugliness of society invades the minds of a family member, as the symptoms of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) do, the entire family can suffer. One great challenge of having PTSD is for the person to successfully manage their illness while staying emotionally connected to their family. Family members who are caring for their loved one may lose patience if they do not understand the disease or they may adopt some of the same symptoms if they do not know how to help their loved one recover. Doctors suggest that family members educate themselves fully about PTSD and specifically about the distinct ways it affects the one they love. They also caution families of the emotional and physical risks they may face as their family encounters PTSD in their home.
Affecting Family Connection
Those who have suffered trauma oftentimes dull their emotions and feel detached from others in a way to distance themselves from thoughts of the traumatic event. While they do not intend to distance themselves from their loved ones, it can happen. Family members reach out to help and are sometimes ignored or rejected. Their sympathy toward their loved one may turn to resentment or anger as the member with PTSD becomes withdrawn, turns to substance abuse, or loses a job by their own actions. Some family members may feel guilty that they cannot help their loved one. Research has shown how PTSD in one family member can affect family dynamics and other individual family members. Those with PTSD have more marital problems than those without. The children of those with PTSD have more anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems than other children. Problems like substance abuse and neglecting healthy eating and exercise also have been known to harm those who have a family member with PTSD.
Affecting the Family Outside the Home
While family members strive to keep a loving emotional connection with their family member who has PTSD, they are sometimes at risk of hurting themselves and their social relationships. One major characteristic of PTSD is avoidance. Some families sacrifice going out because their loved one does not feel comfortable doing it. Yet, doctors suggest that while the person with PTSD should not be forced to do something they do not feel comfortable doing, other family members should not change their entire social lifestyle. They should keep socially active or they may fall into depression or become resentful.
Getting Social Support
There are ways for family members to help their loved one with PTSD while they maintain their own healthy lifestyle. Through the following, families can more successfully support one another:
- Education about PTSD
- Being Supportive, Caring, Patient, and Understanding
- Seeking Counseling and Family Therapy
- Knowing the Triggers-knowing circumstances, words, smells, sights, that have and may once again trigger PTSD in that individual
With personal and professional help, the symptoms of PTSD can be treated to once again reveal the person the family recognizes and loves.