People with PTSD are more likely to engage in risky or destructive behavior. If PTSD is triggered by trauma, doing something that might lead to additional trauma, is difficult to understand. It’s a common belief people with PTSD turn to these behaviors as a way to escape the symptoms of PTSD, especially intrusion. Those who use drugs or alcohol may be using them as a coping mechanism, to avoid thinking about their original trauma. It may also be a way to assuage guilt or shame associated with the trauma.
Types of risky behavior may include:
- Drunk driving
- Unsafe sex with strangers
- Extreme sports without regard for self-protection
This self-destructive behavior may diminish symptoms of PTSD momentarily, but ultimately the stress of these choices prolongs PTSD symptoms, and make the disorder worse. Dr. Naomi Sadeh, an Assistant Professor the National Center Boston VA/Boston University, is quoted saying: “for individuals with PTSD, exposure to new stressful events will often prolong their symptoms and can even make them worse. So these findings suggest that treatment providers should ask trauma-exposed veterans about reckless behavior to make sure they are not engaging in harmful behaviors that could make their PTSD symptoms worse”. When it comes to treating PTSD, a therapist will try to address any risky behaviors, to help reduce the risk of continued trauma.
PTSD AND RELATIONSHIPS
It’s no secret that PTSD can strain relationships, particularly with a spouse or partner. There have been many cases of strong marriages unable to withstand the effects of severe PTSD. Though both may want to maintain the relationship, there are times the issues care extremely difficult to resolve
In 2019, Meagan Drillinger wrote a piece for Healthline called “6 Things I Learned From Dating Someone With PTSD.” In the article she explained, “For three years, I was in a relationship with a man who experienced PTSD symptoms daily. My ex, D., was a decorated combat veteran who served in Afghanistan three times. The toll it took on his soul was heartbreaking.”
She went on to say: “being the partner of someone who has PTSD can be challenging — and frustrating — for many reasons. You want to take away their pain, but you’re also dealing with your own guilt at needing to care for yourself, too. You want to have all the answers, but you often have to come to grips with the reality that this is a condition that can’t be loved out of someone”.
If you are in a relationship with someone who has PTSD, you can’t heal them with support. You can make their road easier, but your loved one should seek professional help, to get the tools and resources they desperately need.
Things that you can do that might help ease their burden and lessen the strain in your relationship:
- Understand that PTSD is real. Perhaps one of the first steps in helping someone with PTSD, is acknowledging it’s a real disorder that produces real symptoms. Though mental disorders are difficult to understand or relate to for those who are not experiencing them, to people with the disorder, it is very real and very debilitating.
- Give them room not to talk. Talking about a traumatic event might help someone who has PTSD, but that doesn’t mean they’re always willing or able to discuss the details of their trauma.
- Their resistance to talking about the traumatic event is not a sign of being unloving or untrusting, it’s more likely because they want to avoid thinking about the event. Bringing it up often is more likely to cause them to pull away and become uncommunicative.
- Gently encourage them to talk about it when it seems appropriate but allow them to be the one to discuss it when they’re ready.
- Work with a routine. A routine is a good way to help establish order in your home for a person suffering from PTSD. Doing this can give a person with PTSD a sense of security and stability and provide comfort in a world that feels chaotic and out of control.The schedule you use will be different than someone else’s, but it may include exercise, meditation or prayer, planned mealtimes, and daily chores.
- Learn more about PTSD. Educating yourself on PTSD will be one of your biggest strengths for helping a loved one, and help you cope with the reality. You can do this by reading, watching videos, talking with other people who have PTSD, or discussing it with a therapist.
- Understand that caregiver burden is real. Taking care of someone struggling mentally or physically can be extremely stressful and draining.This experience is commonly perceived as a chronic stressor, and caregivers often experience negative psychological, behavioral, and physiological effects on their daily lives and health.
Every moment of every day can’t be consumed with PTSD. Take time to do things that you love and enjoy. You can also try finding a support group, or community of people dealing with the same thing. To help lighten this load, if you’re a caregiver, it’s a good idea to take time for yourself.
In closing, if you are a caregiver, seek loved ones in your life and allow them to be part of your greater support network. Outside help is essential for helping you and your loved one cope. Although some may feel there’s a stigma getting professional help, this viewpoint is becoming less common, as people open up about mental health issues. There is no shame in it.
To Your Success,