In a recent blog, I explained how PTSD is a family illness. But what is it really like as a family member living with someone with PTSD? When a loved one is fighting an internal war, often they think it is only affecting them…until they see the effects on their family. The effects on the family didn’t happen over night. The symptoms have been building up for quite some time, just as your PTSD symptoms have been building up over quite some time.
Generally speaking, others will see things in us before we do. I always encourage my clients to listen to others when they say “you’ve changed” or “why are you [doing, behaving, acting, saying, etc] that”? We can very easily make excuses for our behavior – “I’m tired, work is stressful, etc.” However, when a loved one tells you you’ve changed, it isn’t because this is the first incident they’ve seen. Others seeing changes in you before you do is a key component to getting help before it knocks the boat over completely.
You cannot throw a stone in the water and have no ripples. The ripples will be smaller therefore more compact and stronger, right around where the stone hit the water, and will get bigger and less intense the farther out from the stone they go. The same goes for relationships. The closer the people are to you, the stronger the impact will be. The more removed people are to you, the less the impact, although there will still be some impact.
As your loved one starts to notice changes in you, they might ask more questions. Are you ok? What’s wrong? You seem (insert emotion). If you answer honestly, telling your loved one that you are having trouble sleeping due to racing thoughts about work, (or whatever is going on for you), they will worry about you. That is normal; they care about you and don’t want you hurting. If you lie and say you’re fine, they’ll worry even more because they know something’s not right and fear of the unknown (what’s going on for you), is very strong. So you always want to be honest.
Children are very perceptive. They rely on their perceptions as a baby for survival. As they grow up, they lose some of the reliance on their perception, but as children, it is still strong and accurate. Children know something changed in you. They see it. They don’t know what it is, don’t know how to react to it. Often their behavior will change because they don’t know what to do; they don’t understand what is going on. They just “know” something is wrong. You may see regressive behaviors or rebellious behaviors.
As your outward composure starts to break down, leaking internal truth into the outside world, if you are not being honest with yourself and loved ones, relationships start to deteriorate. Your loved one knows you’re not ok. They want to help. They don’t want you hurting. If you’re not being honest with them, the fear of the unknown starts to take hold of them and they may become more irritable, clingy, or withdrawn. In other words, their behavior changes in turn. As you see their behavior changing, you feel bad but you don’t know what to do. After all, it is not because of changes in you, right? Your problems are held tightly inside. So you ask them. Your significant other has already been lied to by you, so they may minimize what is going on, or put it back on you, telling you that you’ve changed. If they minimize it, it will perpetuate your worry about them. (And perpetuate a cycle of lying to each other). If they put it back on you, are you ready to hear it? What may happen if you’re not ready to hear it? You might get into an argument, right?
Your kids start to notice the change in your significant other and they get very confused. Again, their keen perception is telling them something is very wrong. But they don’t know how to respond because they don’t know what is wrong. So their behavior changes even more.
Your significant other sees changes in the children and starts to worry about them. Because your significant other is already worried, they may not have been able to provide the kids with exactly what they need to get through this. (He or she may not have picked up on the smaller changes in the kids. Sometimes it takes larger changes for parents to notice something is wrong with them too). Worry is part of the fight/flight response. Your significant other doesn’t want anyone hurting, and is now worried about the kids and you. So they come to you to talk about the changes. But because you are struggling so much inside, you may have a hard time giving your significant other what they need at that moment. They react to that out of their own fight/flight and things may not go well.
As you fight this internal war and your significant other and children notice changes and have changed themselves, you may find yourself withdrawing from them or getting more irritated with them because “they aren’t the same; they’ve changed.” As you withdraw or are more irritated with them, this affects them more as well and it becomes a vicious downward spiral for the family unit.
It is important to realize that PTSD does not affect only you. It will have ripple effects into the family unit and beyond. Many times loved ones just don’t know what to do. Keeping them in the dark makes it significantly scarier for them. Honesty will get the family through PTSD with much less damage than trying to pretend everything is ok. Your loved ones will feel the effects which will impact how they act and respond. They are responding to the PTSD in the house. Their emotional and behavior changes are a direct result of the PTSD. If you notice they’ve changed, maybe it’s time to take a look at yourself.
If you need help, reach out. If you don’t know who to reach out to, call me (860-501-9767; 941-462-4807) or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will help you locate someone who can help you.