Help PTSD Sufferer: Living with Someone Else's Fears

by Suzanne Grosser

If you want to help someone with PTSD, one of your biggest challenges will be dealing with their fears.

Most people are afraid of something. Fear is not a bad thing. It stops us from doing foolish things. Fear is why we are careful with fire and with sharp objects. Often, fear is what keeps us alive. But for people with PTSD, fear is their all pervasive, unwanted companion. It makes all their choices, invades their nights with horrifying dreams, and keeps them hyper-vigilant during the day. Fear never lets them rest or relax. They are living on a razor's edge and it is their constant battle to keep from falling.

Here are five ways you can help:

1. Accept that they have a right to their fears. They have been hurt badly enough that their world has been torn apart. Their fears are a way of shielding themselves. It is an attempt to protect themselves and the people they love from being hurt again. Your part is to accept their fear as a part of them, for the moment.

2. Listen to them. Don't tell them their fears are unreasonable. Fear can not be reasoned away. This does not mean you have to take on their fear as your own. Realize that you are each looking at the same event from a different perspective. It is not about who is right and who is wrong. Here is some advice on how to listen to someone with PTSD.

3. Negotiate ways to accommodate their fears that you can both live with. This allows you to give them the reassurance that they need, while at the same time maintaining your own perspective. You may agree to changes in your daily routine to avoid a location that frightens them. You may put certain activities on hold. You may alter your schedule to have more time to spend with them. Honest communication is the key here to ensure that both of you can live with these changes.

4. Encourage them to get treatment. The changes you have made in the previous step are intended to be temporary. You are providing a safe place for them while they work through their trauma. The PTSD sufferer has to be doing something to deal their fears. That is their part of the bargain. Here are some tips to help them get treatment. 5. Don't get infected. Fear is highly contagious and there is no vaccine to prevent its transmission. You will need to work hard to avoid adopting their fears as your own. Start by paying attention. Make sure you are caring for yourself. Keep in touch with your emotional support system. Your friends will be the first to tell you when you stop sounding like yourself and start sounding like them.

Here's an example of how this works from a real-life situation.

I met a single woman, Mary, who had lived alone for years with no problem. Then she became the victim of a home invasion. While Mary was not physically injured, the emotional fallout was stifling. She suffered an intense fear of being alone.

Her sister recognized this (#1) and provided emotional support (#2).

To help Mary, get through this difficult time, her sister gave Mary the option of moving in with her. (#3) Mary accepted gratefully. Now she felt a little safer.

Mary found a therapist (#4). She talked about her fears and she began to spend short periods of time alone. The time periods became longer as she became stronger.

Mary's determined progress helped her sister maintain her own life and perspective. (#5) Eventually Mary was able to move back into her apartment. They each got their lives back and a deeper appreciation of and gratitude for one another.

You can help someone with PTSD work through their fears. Your emotional support and the safe, loving environment you provide them is the first step in their healing. Love alone will not cure them. But it can give them a safe place to find the cure within themselves.

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Suzanne Grosser