What Not to Say to Someone With PTSD?

What Not to Say to Someone With PTSD? - Boulder, CO

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, such as combat, physical assault, or a natural disaster. It is a complex and debilitating mental illness that affects millions of US adults every year.

Individuals with PTSD often struggle with a wide range of symptoms, including intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and nightmares of the trauma, difficulty sleeping, severe anxiety, hypervigilance, getting startled easily, and avoidance of situations that remind them of the traumatic event.

While it is natural to want to be supportive and offer comfort to a loved one or friend dealing with PTSD, there are some things that you can say that may end up causing more harm than good. Below we will explore some common statements that should be avoided when interacting with someone with PTSD and offer alternative ways to express your support.

What Not to Say

  1. “You’ll get over it”:Telling someone they will “get over” their trauma minimizes the impact that their experiences have had on them. It implies that their trauma is not significant, which can be incredibly invalidating and insensitive.
  2. “It wasn’t that bad”: Invalidating someone’s experiences by downplaying the severity of their trauma can be extremely damaging. It may cause them to feel ashamed, embarrassed, or guilty for experiencing symptoms of PTSD.
  3. “You’re overreacting”:PTSD can cause individuals to have intense emotional reactions to triggers, which can be overwhelming and distressing. Telling someone that they are overreacting can make them feel invalidated and misunderstood.
  4. “Just forget about it”:Forgetting about traumatic experiences is not a viable solution for individuals with PTSD. It may cause them to feel dismissed and misunderstood and can lead to social isolation and depression.
  5. “It happened so long ago”:The effects of trauma can be long-lasting and can continue to impact individuals for years or even decades. Telling someone that their trauma happened too long ago to still be affecting them is dismissive and ignores the complexities of PTSD as a potentially lifelong illness.
  6. “You’re being too sensitive”:PTSD can cause individuals to be hyper-vigilant and sensitive to perceived threats. Telling someone that they are being too sensitive can be invalidating and may cause them to feel ashamed or embarrassed, which can culminate in feelings of low self-esteem and guilt.
  7. “Others have been through worse”:It is not helpful to compare the traumatic experiences of one person to another. Everyone experiences and processes trauma differently and comparison only succeeds in making one feel inadequate.
  8. “Why didn’t you say anything when it happened?”:It can be difficult to talk about traumatic experiences, and there may be a variety of reasons why someone didn’t feel comfortable expressing their feelings at the time. Asking this question implies that they should have been in control of the situation, which is not the case.

What To Say Instead

When interacting with someone with PTSD, it’s important to be sensitive and understanding of their experiences. Here are some alternative statements that offer support and validation:

  1. “I’m here for you”:Letting someone know that you are there to support them can be incredibly comforting.
  2. “What can I do to help?”:Asking someone what they need from you can help them feel heard and understood. It can also help you understand how to best support them.
  3. “I believe you”: Validating someone’s experiences by letting them know that you believe them can help them feel less alone and more understood.
  4. “It’s okay to feel how you feel”:Validating someone’s emotions can help them feel less ashamed and more accepted.
  5. “I’m sorry that happened to you”:Expressing empathy for someone’s experiences can be a great way to express your support and make your loved one feel understood.
  6. “Take your time”: Reminding someone that it is okay to take their time and process their emotions at their own pace can be very comforting.
  7. “I’m not sure what to say, but I’m here to listen”: Acknowledging that you may not have all the answers but are willing to listen is also a great way to show your support for someone with PTSD. Giving them the space to unburden themselves can be very helpful in the healing process.

The Takeaway

Ultimately, each individual with PTSD is unique and will respond differently to different types of conversations. Your best bet is to keep an open mind and avoid giving unsolicited advice when expressing your support and validation. Additionally, treatments like ketamine therapy have been found to help alleviate symptoms for many, offering another supportive option for managing PTSD.

It is also important to remember that it is okay if you don’t know the right thing to say – simply expressing your support for them in an empathetic and compassionate way can go a long way in ensuring they feel loved and understood.

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