8 Ways to Love Someone With C-PTSD

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2 years ago

Many people with C-PTSD have suffered childhood trauma in the form of physical/sexual abuse and neglect. People with C-PTSD love and need to be loved differently. Often their behavior does not reflect their emotions accurately. If you love someone who has C-PTSD, here are 8 ways you can help.

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  1. Educate yourself.

The most important helpful thing is to educate yourself about C-PTSD, the causes, the symptoms, and the healing process. Out of the Fog is a wonderful online resource for family and loved ones. Please consider going there to learn more.

I had been diagnosed with PTSD for about 3 years when I learned about Complex Post Traumatic Stress. I read through the symptoms. Everything suddenly clicked. Through research, I found resources and have taken steps onto the path of healing. After 45 years of on again off again therapy, finally, something is working. Having an understanding, kind, and safe support system has helped tremendously. In six months I have gotten further down the healing path than in the previous 45 years put together.

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  1. Understand Emotional Flashback.

Emotional flashback, rather than being visual, takes a person back to the emotional state they were in when experiencing the original trauma or abuse. These states of being are often difficult to detect, even for the person suffering through them. People in emotional flashback feel small and vulnerable. They feel afraid. Emotional flashbacks can last from a few moments to days, months, even years.

A kind, safe person who understands what is happening is an invaluable help in bringing someone out of emotional flashback and back to reality. On the other hand, reacting to behavior that results from an emotional flashback without understanding what is going on is very counterproductive.

Last year, while working as a caregiver to an older, disabled woman, I suffered an emotional flashback so severe I became paranoid and had hallucinations. I had been threatened by my client’s niece. The same niece who just days before told me that she carried a gun in her purse. She didn’t even threaten me to my face. I heard from someone else that she wanted “to kick my ass.” This 3rd party threat triggered anxiety, fear, paranoia, and hallucination. I dropped that client. For weeks afterward, I saw her niece’s truck everywhere. I became convinced she was following me. I accused my husband of doing things he was not doing. My family’s assurances that no black pickup truck was behind us (it was likely a yellow VW bug), kindness, and understanding helped get me through the weeks of hallucination and the next few weeks of anxiety and fear.

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  1. Triggers.

Triggers are the catalyst for emotional flashbacks. If you and your loved one can figure out what triggers an emotional flashback, you can also find ways to avoid them. If unavoidable you can work through them in a helpful and supportive way. I have found Pete Walker’s book C-PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving an invaluable help to both me and my family. It is free on Kindle Unlimited if you have it. I have a print copy as well.

A word on the word “trigger”: I had to ask my husband what he thought the word “triggered” meant after he made an exploding noise when I mentioned something had triggered me. I discovered that he and I weren’t speaking the same language. My husband is a veteran. When he heard the word “trigger” his mind immediately went to “exploding” or shooting a gun. When I would say something had triggered me, I was hoping to explain that he was doing nothing wrong. What he heard was that I was about to blow my top. I quickly corrected myself and let him know that when I say the word “triggered” I mean some catalyst has thrown me into an emotional flashback. This brings me to:

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  1. Speak the same language.

Please ensure that you and your loved ones are using the same terminology. It helps to read the same books and gently ask for clarification when necessary. Be clear in your meaning and check to make sure your loved one is on the same page.

  1. Listen closely.

Often those with C-PTSD have been minimized, disbelieved, and discounted throughout their lives. Listening closely to what they say happened in the past as well as when they describe how they feel in the present will help them feel safe, loved, and validated. This, in turn, speeds healing and allows them to more quickly begin to thrive.

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  1. Tell them

Above all, when you love someone with C-PTSD, be sure to tell them and tell them often. People with C-PTSD have been incredibly damaged by trauma. They interpret emotions in a skewed way. They often feel under-loved, under-appreciated, and filled with shame about feeling this way. Not only are they likely beating themselves up on the inside, they very likely believe those surrounding them feel the same way.

So tell them, show them that you love them every day, all day.

  1. Be Patient

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Survivors of childhood trauma, abuse, and neglect most likely never developed a healthy sense of ego. They most likely have muddled their way through their lives surviving as best they could without having been taught or developed life skills. Sometimes their survival mechanisms can be caustic and annoying. Please be patient with them. Most likely they are in an emotional flashback. Your love, kindness, gentleness, and patience are the greatest gifts you can give.

  1. Good enough.

Not even the healthiest of humans are perfect. You will never be able to perfectly love someone with (or without) C-PTSD. And that is ok. Better than perfect is good enough. If you are a good enough friend, good enough spouse, good enough family member, your loved one feels it. Even if they are unable to verbalize their appreciation. Trust me. They will feel it.

I do.

Jonica is a writer, rancher, painter, and poet. For the past ten years, she has been living and working on a ranch in Texas with her husband, 2 dogs, 1 cat, 3 goats, 20 sheep, 1 chicken, 1 turkey, and a llama. She writes about all of this and her many, varied life experiences. Jonica is a mental health advocate and shares her experiences in the hopes of destigmatizing mental and emotional conditions. She does not like the words “mental illness”, “disorder”, and “should” among many others.

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This article first appeared on Medium. com

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2 years ago


Great content. Thanks a lot for this. Very good information and I know for sure that there are many that will find it to be helpful and deal with some situations better.

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2 years ago

Mental and emotional conditions have such sigma attached to them. Trauma gets sympathy and understanding for maybe five minutes and then society wants us to get over it and get back to being productive citizens.

These are conversations we MUST have. It's why I speak out.

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2 years ago