PTSD ‘s Impact Can Harm Relationships
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a very real condition that affects countless individuals on a daily basis. While veterans are the most likely to suffer from PTSD after experiencing or witnessing the horrors and trauma of war, any terrifying event can trigger this mental health condition. This can include sexual assaults, bombings, attacks, car accidents or other traumatic stimuli.
As a result, the nightmares and anxiety can severely impact relationships as the person suffering from the condition is consumed with thoughts and memories of the traumatic event. PTSD can occur immediately after the event, or it may take years to develop and become evident to loved ones. When someone has suffered an event that you didn’t experience with them, there may be feelings of grief, guilt, denial, hopelessness or even fear.
Life after trauma
The first reaction any loved one has upon the return of their spouse, partner or child from the battlefield, or upon their release from the hospital following a terrifying event, is relief: Thank goodness it’s over with, it’s done, and now we can get back to normal life. It may seem to take a bit of time, but most people who have suffered some form of trauma do get over it relatively quickly, given time and good self-care and a lot of love. Some individuals, however, seem to undergo more severe damage, and the symptoms may get worse to the point where, after months or years, they are no longer able to function, may suffer from rage, nightmares or fear. This is when a person is normally diagnosed with PTSD, and this is why treatment has to start as soon as possible.
Common symptoms include memory flashbacks, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood or changes in how sufferers react emotionally. He or she is longer the person you once knew, and this can seriously impact relationships. Nightmares and flashbacks can awaken the entire family as the person with PTSD violently thrashes about and reacts to his or her memories. Sleep can be interrupted on a nightly basis, causing exhaustion and frustration and impacting the ability to work and function. Sufferers can break down or react violently when something reminds them of the event – something that may appear innocuous or innocent to bystanders.
Not everyone who suffers a severe traumatic event suffers from PTSD. It’s thought that a combination of factors contribute to the likelihood of this disorder, including existing depression, life experiences, your temperament and how your brain reacts to stress hormones and chemicals. It’s also a possibility that reactions increase with the length of the trauma, especially if you experienced childhood neglect or abuse. A stressful job can be a contributing factor, as can having blood relatives with mental health disorders and lack of a support system.
Talking about PTSD in your relationship
It’s difficult for the outsider to understand and can be terrifying to witness. When loved ones attempt to discuss the event, the person suffering from PTSD may avoid the conversation, shut down or leave. It’s painful to hear them recall it, but even more painful when they refuse to allow you to help them as they try to avoid thinking about it.
A sufferer of PTSD may have negative feelings about himself or others, and the person may seem to no longer be able to feel positive emotions: To express love, desire, hopes and dreams for the future. This can impact relationships if the person’s affect is dead and they no longer share your interests and plans. Places you once enjoyed together may remind a loved one of the trauma, and he may be afraid of hurting you to the point that he avoids any contact. Your loved one may feel hopeless and numb and you may feel helpless and inadequate.
As time goes on and the denial increases, PTSD patients may become angry, irritable or even aggressive. They are vigilant, watching for danger and may even suffer from guilt or shame. They may begin to drink too much, drive too quickly, startle at the slightest thing, have increased trouble sleeping and be self-destructive. Stress can increase the symptoms and news events can trigger reactions. They may even talk of suicide, or you being better off without them. All this can erode a relationship, and the outbursts can cause a loved one to fear for their safety and that of their children. When things deteriorate to this point for over a month, and when symptoms are severe and there is a feeling of lack of control, it’s time to visit a physician and discuss getting help before things get even worse.
If you have suicidal thoughts, you should reach out to a close friend or loved one, contact a minister or spiritual leader, call a suicide hotline ( 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) and make an appointment with your health care professional. As a loved one, you may have to convince your partner to take this step at a time when he or she is approachable. If you fear for your safety, call 911, or if you fear for your loved one’s safety, take him to the emergency room of your nearest hospital. Stay with the person and try comfort him the best you can. As a last resort, remove yourself or any children from the immediate area if you fear for your personal well-being.
Both partners have to ensure that they take care of their own health and well-being. This is where a trusted physician, loving family, a support group or a pastor can step in to help. They can encourage you to keep on going, to allow you to share your fears and trauma to the best of your ability. They can try to help alleviate some of the symptoms and relieve some of the anxiety and depression. It takes a strong person to help someone overcome adversity such as this, and it can definitely affect a relationship.
Encourage your loved one to eat well, exercise regularly, take any prescribed medication, to keep the lines of communication open and to tell you if he or she has any suicidal thoughts. A support group will help you deal with the symptoms, the frustration and the heartache of seeing someone you love turn into a different person. With any luck, this sense of community may help the person suffering from PTSD to the point where she can once more function and show the love that you know is still inside.
Knowledge of the condition is key to understanding, and that understanding can give you the patience to overcome the fear and guilt and anger that is bound to surface. Any condition takes time to improve; healing won’t happen overnight and PTSD can take years to fully overcome. Learn more about this disorder at the National Center for PTSD, find a local Vet Center in your area, or employ a therapist who can help.