Published on October 26, 2020
Paulina Sienko, BSW
The event or events that lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are unexpected and life changing. Stepping back into everyday life can be difficult and even feel impossible. The world around you has not changed and yet everything feels different, you feel different. How you see the world, what you notice, how you react is suddenly altered with no warning. Things that made you smile may no longer bring you joy, things that seem insignificant can instantly aggravate or anger you without warning. Everyday events may suddenly trigger you or overwhelm you into a state of panic or exhaustion. Feeling safe, feeling joy, feeling purpose can seem unattainable and obscure. So, what happens to those that stayed behind, those that love you but are not there with you in the moment everything changed.
PTSD leaves no man, woman, or child behind; it is something that impacts the whole family unit and the dynamics of each relationship. Living with PTSD is difficult and supporting a loved one who is suffering from PTSD can be stressful and overwhelming. It is important to make sure that everyone in the family unit is getting the right support. Moreover, it is essential to remember that you are all doing your best with where you are at. Your lives might be different now but knowing what to expect can be the first step towards helping your family through this challenging season.
How a family is impacted is as unique as the family itself however, there are some commonalities. Those who suffer from PTSD often become emotionally unavailable or detached. However, anger and emotional outbursts are also very common, making daily interactions confusing and exhausting. Not being able to connect with your loved one on an emotional level can become taxing, especially when their reactions are no longer predictable. This can lead to tension, fighting, or even avoidance within the family unit. The inability to express feelings and the general feeling of detachment can lead to intimacy issues between couples as their emotional needs are not being met, making it difficult to feel a desire towards intimacy.
Activities or social events that were once enjoyable and opportunities to spend time together may now feel like more of a burden. It can be disheartening to see that your loved one is no longer getting the same sense of enjoyment out of activities that they used to. Children can find it difficult to understand why their parents no longer want to participate in activities they once shared. As a spouse, you may feel a greater sense of responsibility to ensure everyone is taken care of and that their needs are met, leaving you overwhelmed and depleted. Eventually, families may begin to isolate themselves from social events or stop activities altogether to avoid possible outbursts or disappointment.
Over time the family dynamics may begin to shift. As a spouse or caregiver, you may find yourself overtaxed from needing to assume certain roles that were previously the responsibility of your partner, who may now be unable to do these tasks (work, finances, childcare, errands, household chores). Children may also find themselves taking on additional roles or responsibilities at an earlier age in attempts to diffuse situations or gain connection. You may also suddenly find yourself playing the role of ‘therapist’ or ‘mediator’ to family members. With these additional responsibilities and challenges taking care of your well-being and mental health can easily be neglected. It is undeniable that these unexpected changes will impact each member of the family and the dynamics of the whole family. Education and understanding are an important steps towards supporting your family and yourself. Although at times it may feel hopeless and lonely, it is important to know that you are not alone. Getting help in the form of counseling from professionals who specialize in PTSD for each family member and eventually the family unit can be a great way to gain some much-needed support.
The Traumatic Stress Recovery Program encourages participants who suffer from PTSD to have a support person join them for a portion of the program. This may be a spouse, parent, sibling, caregiver, or friend. Participation in the program will provide education along with an opportunity to develop or strengthen your coping skills, and help you better understand how to support the individual who is recovering. Living with someone who suffers from PTSD can be very stressful, this program can help you learn valuable tools on how to cope with this stress and how to better support your loved one on their recovery journey.