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What You Need To Know About Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Posted May 16, 2022 by Tamika Payden, MA, LPCC-S, MFT & Patrick Palmieri, Ph.D.

2 women hugging

As humans, we strive to achieve a sense of belonging, acceptance and connection with others. These innate needs and desires are often originated from family. Through these interactions, we gain a sense of self-worth, security and community. Families, regardless of blood relation or choice, are bound together by shared meaning and values. These beliefs and perspectives shape the realities that form these connections, but what happens to a family when trauma alters and divides the very fabric that weaves together its members? Trauma can impact one or more members of a family, and even the same event can cause very different reactions in each person affected. These differences can sever communication, understanding and exhaust empathy. So, what can we do to support a loved one with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)?

Before we can explore the answers to these questions, we must first understand trauma and PTSD. PTSD is described in clinical terms as a condition resulting from life threatening events such as sexual or physical assault, child sexual or physical abuse, serious accidents (like a motor vehicle accident), natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or combat and other military experiences. Following these types of events, your loved one may experience several of the following hallmark symptoms:

  • Re-experiencing or reliving the event
  • Avoidance of reminders of the event
  • Increase in negative thoughts and feelings
  • Hyper arousal (which can include feeling on edge, being irritable, having poor quality of sleep, and engaging in reckless or self-destructive behavior).

As we look more closely at these symptoms, we begin to understand the devastation that they can cause on a relationship.

PTSD can occur at any age and occur long after the traumatic event has taken place. This can be confusing for loved ones as their initial response may be “that was so long ago, how can it bother you so much now?” It is very important to understand PTSD and how it develops to prevent harming your loved one further with potentially hurtful remarks of this type.

Support and connection are critically important in recovering from PTSD. It can be very helpful and encouraging to engage in the following behaviors with and for your loved one:

  • Check in with your loved one by sending a text or reaching out by phone to let them know you are thinking of them and are available to listen, if they would like to talk.
  • Offer to go to the doctor with them as it can be very intimidating to establish with new providers and overwhelming to retain lots of new information from several appointments.
  • Invite them to engage in enjoyable activities while understanding it may be very difficult for them to navigate crowds or leave their homes, especially soon after the traumatic event.
  • Ask them what type of help they would like to receive and listen with an open mind; sometimes we tend to offer our loved ones the type of help and support that we ourselves would like to receive instead of what they would prefer or want. Be willing to learn and adapt as the needs of your loved one can change throughout their recovery.
  • Take good care of yourself by not taking on more than you can manage; don’t be afraid to seek out your own support by using community resources (like health care organizations, your local church, and support groups).

Your continued support and understanding are vital, but know that professional treatment does work and can expand the support team to a “village” of others that can assist your loved one throughout their journey. Through trauma treatment with a trained professional (like a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, marriage and family therapist or social worker), your loved one will begin to explore the event and its impact as well as the ways that the event has altered their views of themselves, others, and the world around them. Your loved one also will learn strategies and skills in treatment to reengage in life with a feeling of confidence and safety.

While your loved one is in treatment, it is important to respectfully ask questions if you do not understand their new approaches to their symptoms. Many have found couples or family therapy very beneficial in working together to develop improved styles of conflict resolution, communication and connection.

If you or your loved one is suffering from PTSD, know that you are not alone and there is help. The Summa Health Traumatic Stress Center has been serving our community for nearly 20 years. To learn about traumatic stress resources available through Summa Health, call 330.379.5094 or visit


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