Understanding a Loved One’s PTSD

By Matthew Tull PhD – updated July 23 / 2009 – PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] The symptoms of PTSD are the body’s attempt to cope with extreme stress. Recovery from PTSD can be a long and difficult road. A family’s support and understanding can be invaluable on your loved one’s journey to recovery.


Coping with PTSD in family members can be a difficult thing to do. The effect of PTSD on family can be great. Studies have shown that families where a parent has PTSD are characterized by more anxiety; unhappiness; martial problems and behavioral problems among the children in the family as compared to families where a parent does not have PTSD.

The finding is not entirely surprising. PTSD sypmtoms can cause a person to act in ways that may be hard for family members to understand. Their behaviour may appear erratic and strange or be upsetting.

The Role of the Family – The family can either positively or negatively impact on the loved one’s PTSD symptoms. The first step in living with and helping a loved one with PTSD is learning about the symptoms of PTSD and understanding how these symptoms may influence behaviour.

Symptoms such as:- Re-experiencing / Avoidance / Hyperarousal

What can family Do? – A family can do a number of things to cope with a loved one’s PTSD. First it is important to understand that the loved one’s behaviour does not necessarily indicate his/her true feelings. That is; he/she may want to go out with friends and family but he/she is too afraid of bringing up upsetting thoughts and memories. It is important for family members to understand their loved ones symptoms and the impact of those symptoms on behaviour.

A family also needs to know what leads to those symptoms. That is; family members need to know their loved one’s triggers. For example; If you know that the nightly news on the TV always triggers your loved one’s PTSD symptoms; you may want to schedule other activities during that time so there is no way that your loved one will contact those triggers.

Family members may also need to change their routines based on the loved one’s symptoms. For example; if your loved one tends to have nightmares; try to figure out a way to wake him/her up without touching him/her. Some people with PTSD may respond as though they are being attacked.

Finally support groups and/or couples counselling may be a good way to learn how to communicate with your loved one; as well as cope with his/her PTSD symptoms. They may also help you find the best way to encourage your loved one to get help if he/she hasn’t already.