All too often when we talk about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) it is within the context of the person suffering from the condition. However, we don’t always discuss the people closest to their loved one who has PTSD. This could be a spouse, children, parents, etc.
Even if they never directly experienced the trauma that caused the PTSD, they are still feeling the effects. That’s very important to keep in mind when considering PTSD treatment. It really needs to involve the whole family.
Here are three ways in particular that PTSD impacts the whole family, and what families can do about it.
1. Increased Stress and Anxiety
Stress is definitely an issue for any family member of a loved one who has PTSD. They may see their loved one get angry really easily and quickly. One moment they seem fine, but the next they lash out.
This may be because of a triggering event that is causing them to recall a traumatic memory. Or, they always seem grumpy and moody all the time. This is still anger, but to a lesser degree than rage. Still, when you know someone is moody, stressed, anxious, or angry, you feel anxious too.
Now, imagine that is happening all the time at home. Even children will pick up if their parent or older sibling is angry. They may learn not to talk to them when this happens. This directly impacts the relationship between the child and the parent.
2. The Spouse and PTSD
Someone who is in a committed relationship with a person diagnosed with PTSD has their own set of challenges. For example:
- They take on more responsibility to maintain the household while their partner is working through their diagnosis.
- The spouse/partner tries to insulate their partner from potential triggers
- When a triggering even occurs, the spouse may witness destructive behaviors from their partner.
- The spouse could be directly impacted, such as being yelled at or worse.
This is a difficult position for any spouse or partner to be in. On the one hand, you want to support your loved one to ensure they get the help and support they need. You know their PTSD isn’t their fault. However, it’s also hard taking on such a burden with no help.
3. Substance Use, PTSD, and the Family
One significant problem with PTSD is substance abuse. According to the Veteran’s Administration, two out of ten veterans diagnosed with PTSD also struggle with substance abuse.
Someone with PTSD may try to hide their substance abuse from their partner or family. However, in the long-term, it’s very hard to keep it hidden. The reality is that substance abuse will eventually affect the family.
Maybe that person comes home at night drunk. Or they get into a car accident. Perhaps this person and their partner get into a fight about the substance use in front of the children.
There are so many ways that substance use, even without a PTSD diagnosis, harms the family. When you add that extra layer it amplifies the problem.
Addressing PTSD and the Family
To address PTSD and the family, it helps if everyone participates in counseling. There several avenues that families can pursue. For example:
- Family counseling for everyone as a group
- Individual therapy for each family member (including children)
- Addiction counseling if substance use is involved
Families should be aware of how PTSD not only impacts their loved one, but the whole family too. Be on the lookout for how the above warning signs might occur at home. If they are, don’t hesitate to reach out for help from one of our therapists who understands these complex issues, 256-686-9195.