How to Talk to Someone With Post-Traumatic Stress

Post-traumatic stress (PTS) is especially difficult because of its invisibility. That’s why we call it an ‘invisible wound of war.’ If you haven’t developed your skills on how to talk to someone who’s experiencing the effects of PTS, a well-intentioned thought (or unknown insensitivity) can end up causing more harm than doing any good. Oftentimes, people with PTS are met with diminishments and dismissals of their hardships, which don’t help them, but rather make both their recovery–and discussion of that recovery–more difficult.

Here are a few suggestions to help you think about what you say to someone experiencing the effects PTS:

“Don’t be dramatic” can be diminishing and dismissive of the feelings someone is experiencing. Instead, suggest that the person take a deep breath, and afterwards say “let’s talk through this. Why do you feel this way?” and listen to what they have to say. That gives them the space to feel their feelings, and you the opportunity to understand what they’re experiencing.

“You’re being illogical,” doesn’t help a person with PTS who’s being triggered. Instead, approach with logic and compassion. “Your brain might be telling you that you’re in danger right now. But try to repeat to yourself ‘I am safe,’ because you are. Those feelings are not facts.”

“People have been through worse,” is something that can be said to basically anyone who hasn’t been through the worst (which is an abstract and intangible idea on its own). By saying this, it diminishes the struggles someone with PTS has endured, something that stigmas of PTS have been propelling for years. Instead, say something encouraging like “You can get through this. You will get through this.” 

“Just get over it already,” tells someone that their experience isn’t valid. You never “get over” PTS, but you do learn how to cope with the symptoms and engage in treatments and therapies that help minimize the effects of PTS. 

“You’re faking it” has no alternative phrasing. Instead, the alternative is to do your research and understand that PTS is not fake, exaggerated, or something to be diminished. It is a real, serious medical condition with real, serious effects. 

Post-traumatic stress is a condition that, with proper diagnosis and treatment, can improve over time. For over a decade the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund has been building centers that diagnose and treat the effects of the invisible wounds of war, including PTS. More than 90% of patients treated at the centers continue on active duty or in regular civilian life. Consider supporting the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund mission today with a donation.

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Posted on June 27 2022 in Blog

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