Dr. Robert Schnurr, a psychologist in London, Ontario, is a guest contributor. He has been in practice for more than 20 years. His practice is geared towards individuals who have suffered psychological and/or physical injuries. Most of the injuries he sees are related to motor vehicle collisions or work-related accidents but he also sees individuals with other injury-related problems. In addition to suffering from pain, many of the individuals he sees and treats suffer from anxiety, depression, PTSD, relationship problems, loss of employment or ability to work, and job stress or job-change problems. He can be reached in London at 519-858-0491, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at his website http://www.robertschnurr.ca . This is the third of his series meant to help vets and their families recognize PTSD and develop coping skills. Vets are invited to submit questions for Dr. Schnurr to work answers into his articles or to comment. BONNIE
PTSD AND YOUR FAMILY
by Dr. Robert Schnurr, Psychologist
PTSD has a significant impact not only on the soldier but also the wife, partner, children, and family. Many of the symptoms experienced by the returning vet also affect the family. For example, many individuals with PTSD experience “hyperarousal.” There is a tendency to always be on guard. What the children may pick up on is a sense of impending danger, lack of trust, and lack of security. This can result in increased feelings of anxiety among children. They may be more afraid to go to bed or sleep by themselves.
Individuals with PTSD may also experience a decreased capacity to love. They feel numb and detached from their loved ones. They may lose interest in friends and family. They may find it difficult to cry or to just be close. These feelings may alienate the spouse or children who have a difficult time understanding the distance. The longer you keep them at a distance the harder it is for them to come back.
Individuals with PTSD often experience feelings of anger and irritability. When these feelings are prolonged they can result in loved ones feeling pushed away and uncared for. In the extreme, this can lead to marital breakdown. The spouse may feel as if he or she is living with someone who isn’t there, someone who doesn’t care anymore. They may feel hurt and shut out.
The family may feel angry, scared, and guilty as well. It is hard to see a loved one suffer and feel helpless. And sometimes people don’t understand. Even when it’s explained to them, they sometimes don’t really understand what it’s like. Unfortunately, some people think that all it takes is time. But you know it isn’t that simple.
Living with someone who has PTSD is not easy. Your loved ones experience the stress as well but in a different way. Caring about someone and wanting to help can be exhausting.
What can be done to help? As difficult as it may be, you need to talk to your spouse or partner about what you are going through. They don’t need to know all the details but knowing a little about what you are thinking, feeling, and experiencing may help them to better understand. Bring them with you to your next therapy meeting. I find it is often helpful to talk with the spouse about what their partner is experiencing. It helps to hear it from someone else.
It is also important for your partner and family to look after their own emotional needs as well. They need to continue being involved in life. Too often they close themselves off as well. This isn’t good for anyone.
What can be done to help? First and foremost try to share what you can and are able with your loved ones. If you are not able, provide them with information on PTSD or have them speak to your family physician or mental health provider. Simply knowing what someone experiences with PTSD and how intense these feelings can be helps them to understand. Couple or family counselling may also help. There may be a support group for spouses of individuals suffering from PTSD.
If you experience nightmares, there may be a way for your loved one to wake you up without startling you. But he or she won’t know this if you don’t talk about it. If your loved one knows and understands the things that might trigger a reaction, such as a loud noise or coming up from behind, tell them. Don’t be embarrassed. They need to understand that you may need time to be alone or that it may take you longer than normal to calm down.