It’s awful to see someone you love suffer. You see how anxious and triggered they can get. Their mood swings. You see how troubled they become in intimate relationships. And you say to yourself “I wish I knew how to help someone with Complex PTSD”.
Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) is the result of surviving repeated abuse. Sadly, it often occurs at the hands of those who are supposed to love and care for us the most. Often the signs of complex trauma are overlooked. The survivor my struggle with how to explain complex PTSD to their loved ones.
It’s this fact that is makes recovery from C-PTSD so challenging.
Remind Them About How Their Nervous System Works
Its power to color experience is awesome. We have all had it happen; we are having a high stress day and our ability to cope plummets. Even minor setbacks feel life threatening.
Our early relationships with our parents largely shape our autonomic nervous system. So if your loved one grew up in what I call “a high threat home” they will be in the habit of responding as if everything is a threat. In essence, they are living with constant emotional memory flashbacks. The exact opposite can happen too, and we can become adept at dissociation, disconnection and emotional numbing.
The threat brain works by convincing us there really is an emergency. After all, if it weren’t so compelling, our survival brain wouldn’t be doing it’s job well. It can be helpful to remind yourself and your loved one that the problem isn’t the specific situation- it’s the habitual triggered reaction.
Have Empathy- It’s A Key Way To Help Someone With Complex PTSD
It’s important for you to stay calm when your loved one is triggered. Then you can gently remind them that they are triggered and experiencing an emotional flashback.
Being around someone who is moody and reactive requires patience. It also requires empathy. Avoid sounding judgmental and remember that the nature of complex post traumatic disorder is one of problems with emotional regulation.
Despite the challenges this presents, find some way to verbally acknowledge what your loved one is upset about, and why it’s understandable.
It’s important to do the best you can to avoid what I call “the fight of the week” problem. This is a problematic cycle I’ve seen when some couples attend couples therapy. It typically occurs when one, or both members of the couple suffer from the effects of untreated childhood trauma. Because of this, they have very high reactivity, and low insight about the source of the problem. They blame the other person, or the specific situation instead of seeing poor emotional regulation skills as the real problem.
Remind Your Loved One: People Recover
Encourage them to find the right therapist.That is something that takes some effort. In order to recover from complex ptsd, it’s vital that your loved one receive competent trauma informed care. While therapists regularly encounter the survivors of trauma, most do not have much training in treating trauma.
Trauma treatment is a specialty that requires advanced clinical training. Having provided clinical supervision to Bay Area Therapists for over 15 years, I am completely unaware of any graduate school that provides even the most bare amount of trauma treatment training.
It’s vital that your loved one with C-PTSD is in treatment with a trauma therapist who:
- Provides education to the patient about the nervous system and its role in developing trauma symptoms.
- Teaches emotional regulation skills
- Develops a coping plan for Complex PTSD triggers
- Helps process and resolve traumatic memories
Drugs and magical thinking are powerful things, but they won’t cure you. What do I mean by that? Many people, especially those with C-PTSD, think unrealistically. They believe a pill will solve their problems, and fail to see patterns. They will often externalize blame and think that troubling situations are the problem. This tendency can lead them to drop in and out of therapy and avoid the consistent commitment that good therapy requires.
In short, not knowing how to help someone recover from complex ptsd is completely understandable. If you, or your loved one is looking to learn more about the treatment I provide, visit my trauma treatment page.