PTSD: 5 Rules to Help a Friend

by Suzanne Grosser

Someone you love has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD sufferers need help. You want to help them. I warn you, it won’t be easy. If you care enough about them to read this page, they are lucky to have you. But don’t expect them to realize that for a long time.

Rule #1: Her PTSD is not about You

Her mood swings, anger, depression, and generally bad behavior is not about you. It is about her fear. It is about her anxiety. It is about her pain. This is her post traumatic stress. It is not about you. Understanding this does not make the problems (or obnoxious behaviors) go away. But it can keep your feelings and your relationship from being hurt unnecessarily by PTSD.

Post traumatic stress disorder is an illness. Once you accept this, you can treat PTSD like any other disease. If she had the flu, you wouldn’t expect her to be all cheerful and chatty. You would bring her a box of tissues and some orange juice. You’d keep her company if that’s what she wanted. You’d let her rest, if she wanted to be alone. Either way, you would not take it personally.

You would encourage your friend to get treatment. She needs it, but she may resist it.

Rule #2: Set Boundaries

Do not under any circumstances tolerate unacceptable behavior.

Do not tolerate abuse of any kind. You are not a punching bag or a target for degrading insults. You do not deserve that and you will not help your friend that way either. If he hits you, leave. If you stay, you will only endanger yourself and you will give him one more thing to hate himself for, later. Don’t do it.

Do not do everything for him. I can not tell you where the line between helping a friend and being co-dependent is – but your gut will tell you. Give as much as feels right to you. Do not accept the guilt trip you will be handed when you refuse to give everything. Do not feel guilty for having a life outside of his problems. Someday he will join you there. But he’s not ready yet. 

Rule #3: Do not Expect Much in Return

Right now, he doesn’t have much to offer. He’s struggling to get through the day without losing his temper, or drinking too much. He’s doing good if he can get to his doctor appointments and take his medications properly.

You will need your own support network, because he’s got all he can handle to take care of himself. PTSD is taking all his energy to cope with. You will be putting more into this relationship than you will get back out, at least for awhile. He may occasionally acknowledge some of what you do for him. Accept that as the precious gift that it is. It is a sign of his healing. Right now, it is all he has to give. 

Rule #4: Do not Judge

She needs to talk abut it. It sucks to hear about it. Try to remember that living through it was worse. Now, because of PTSD, she is going over and over it in her mind. Reliving the horror everyday. This is what is making her sick. This is the poison that is eating away at her. Telling someone is like washing out a infected cut. It stings, it burns, it grosses out people, but it is the only way to get rid of the poison.

Her greatest need is to tell what happened. Her greatest fear is that if she tells, she will lose your love. You probably won’t understand what it was like and she may have done things you both know are wrong. She is afraid of being judged. She has already lost a big part of herself to this trauma. She can’t stand to lose you, too. And if she tells, maybe she will.

It will take a great deal of courage for her to talk about her trauma. So please listen, and don’t judge her. She is still the person you used to know. But she has been hurt, big time, and she is trying to piece her life back together. In time, she will see her actions clearly and make amends if necessary. But right now, she needs to tell someone and not be rejected for the telling. Here are some tips to help you listen to her story. 

Rule # 5: Have Fun!

This is absolutely impossible when you are dealing with PTSD – and absolutely essential. You’ll just have to figure it out. He won’t want to, but maybe he will do it to humor you. He would rather wallow in his pain, but you’re not going to allow that. He is stuck and you can intend to help him get unstuck.

Watch a silly movie together. Gather some friends and play board games. Practice blowing soap bubbles. Buy one of those giant soap bubble rings and see if you can get it to work. Go for a walk and jump into, not over, the puddles. Eat watermelon, and have a seed spitting contest. If it’s the wrong time of year for watermelon, build a snowman instead.

Remind him of good times before his trauma and PTSD – look at your high school yearbook or old family pictures. Laugh together. Laughter is healing. So is your love. 

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