February 9, 2015

What Not to Say to Someone With PTSD.


Ten months ago I was in a pretty serious car accident.

My car was totaled and my neck was injured. The worst part of that car accident was not the physical pain or the pain of dealing with insurance companies, it was what it triggered.

Almost immediately I began to experience flashbacks. Memories I didn’t know existed began to overwhelm me. I could not escape them. I began to be fearful of every noise I could not immediately identify, and even after I could the fear still persisted.

I stopped sleeping. At times I would feel an overwhelming rage that seemingly had no cause. I realized something was terribly wrong with me, so I sought therapy. It was there I found out I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I was confused. Wasn’t PTSD something only soldiers experienced? Why had it taken years for PTSD to show itself? Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that occurs after someone experiences a traumatic event.  The trauma can be something the person suffered directly or witnessed.

My experience involves the former. I have been living with PTSD due to years of trauma I suffered as a child and as a young adult/teenager. In my case PTSD did not appear until years after the traumas had occurred.

I let some people close to me know about my diagnosis and because of them I write this article. While most people were supportive, things they said were very insensitive and ignorant and have had a negative impact on my recovery.

I do not claim to speak for all people suffering from PTSD. PTSD presents in many different ways. I am simply speaking from my own experience.

“Lighten Up”

By saying “Lighten Up” you imply that what this person is feeling is not valid. You are implying that what they went through was not serious. Regardless of whether someone suffered one trauma or several, what they went through is serious. Let me reiterate: what they went through is serious. Do not assume to know anything about their experiences. Be supportive and validate their feelings.

“Let it go”

This phrase really upsets me personally. The trauma suffered is not something one can simply let go. If it was then I would not be writing this article and several million people around the world would not be suffering from PTSD. This phrase also implies that what someone suffered and how they are feeling is not valid. It implies that you do not care and that your feelings and comfort are more important than theirs. Just do not say it.

“Can’t you just live in the moment and forget about it for a couple of hours.”

Um, no. Sorry, I’m not sorry my disorder is interrupting your good time. My trauma is something I have to work to deal with every second of every day. I have to learn how to stop the unwanted thoughts and memories that come along with that trauma. I have to work at not showing it when I am having a flashback because I do not want you to know. This is a selfish thing to say to someone with PTSD. The sad look on my face is not there to inconvenience you or to ruin your day. It is there because I am sad. Period.

“It couldn’t have been that bad. You’ve never mentioned it before.”

Most people who have suffered any kind of trauma will most likely not tell you about it. There are several reasons for this. Sometimes there is a lot of shame associated with what the person went through. They are embarrassed that it happened even though it is not their fault. The person could feel guilty about what happened. A big reason that most people with PTSD do not talk about their trauma is the desire not to relive what happened. Our brains make us relive it through nightmares, flashbacks, unwanted memories and so on.  Why would we purposely relive it by telling you?

“You look like someone killed your dog/best friend/etc.”

Well, so would you if you had been through what I have been through. Again this is invalidating one’s feelings and experiences and that is not okay.

The moral of the story here is if you have a loved one suffering from PTSD what they need is your love, support and validation. What they do not need is your criticism. What they are going through is tough, so if they look sad at an event that should be fun instead of saying something insensitive, put your arm around them, tell them you love them and while you can’t understand what they are going through you are there for them.



Unlocking Trauma Through Embodied Healing.


Author: Emily George

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Deviant Art

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