What To Do When Someone With PTSD Pushes You Away?

Types of Trauma, How to Help Someone with Complex PTSD?, 5 Thoughts on “What to Do When Someone with PTSD Pushes You Away?,” & What Not to Say to Someone with PTSD?

Types Of Trauma

It can be overwhelming when someone you care about suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, especially when you don’t know what to do when someone with PTSD pushes you away. But by understanding traumas and PTSD, you can help your loved one get proper care and move on with their life.

Traumatic experiences typically do not result in long-term impairment for most individuals. It is normal to experience such events across the lifespan; individuals, families, and communities often respond to them with resilience. [1] A traumatic event is time-based, while PTSD is a longer-term condition where one continues to have flashbacks and re-experience the traumatic event. Furthermore, to meet the criteria for PTSD, there must be a high level of ongoing distress and life impairment.

There are three main types of trauma: Acute, Chronic, or Complex

  1. Acute trauma results from a single incident.
  2. Chronic trauma is repeated and prolonged, such as domestic violence or abuse.
  3. Complex trauma is exposure to varied and multiple traumatic events, often of an invasive, interpersonal nature. [2]

The following section reviews various forms and types of trauma.

  • Natural or Human-Caused Traumas Natural traumatic experiences can directly affect a small number of people, such as a tree falling on a car during a rainstorm, or many people and communities, as with a hurricane. Natural events, often referred to as “acts of God,” are typically unavoidable. Human-caused traumas are caused by human failure (e.g., technological catastrophes, accidents, malevolence) or by human design (e.g., war).
  • Individual, Group, Community, and Mass Traumas – In recognizing the role of trauma and understanding responses to it, consider whether the trauma primarily affected:
    • An individual and perhaps his or her family (e.g., automobile accident, sexual or physical assault, severe illness)
    • Occurred within the context of a group (e.g., trauma experienced by first responders or those who have seen military combat) or community (e.g., gang-related shootings)
    • Transpired within a culture or was a large-scale disaster (e.g., hurricane, terrorist attack). 

Knowing these forms of trauma is important if you’re loving someone with PTSD. This context can have significant implications for whether (and how) people experience shame as a result of the trauma, the kinds of support and compassion they receive, whether their experiences are normalized or diminished by others, and even the kinds of services they are offered to help them recover and cope.

What to do when someone with PTSD pushes you away?
Loving someone with PTSD means getting them the help they deserve. Although it may take a while to feel the benefits of therapy or medications, PTSD treatment can be effective, and most people recover. 
  • Interpersonal Traumas – Interpersonal traumas occur (and typically continue to reoccur) between people who often know each other, such as spouses or parents and their children. Examples include physical and sexual abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, and elder abuse.
  • Developmental Traumas – Developmental traumas include specific events or experiences within a given developmental stage and influence later development, adjustment, and physical and mental health. Often, these traumas are related to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Still, they can also result from tragedies that occur outside an expected developmental or life stage (e.g., a child dying before a parent, being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness as a young adult) or from events at any point in the life cycle that create significant loss and have life-altering consequences (e.g., the death of a significant other in the later years that leads to displacement of the surviving partner).
  • Political Terror and War – Political terror and war will likely have lasting consequences for survivors. In essence, anything that threatens the existence, beliefs, well-being, or livelihood of a community is likely to be experienced as traumatic by community members. Whether counselors are working with an immigrant or refugee enclave in the United States or another country, they should be aware of local events, local history, and the possibility that clients have endured trauma.
  • System-Oriented Traumas: Retraumatization – This form of trauma occurs when clients experience something that makes them feel like they are undergoing another trauma. Unfortunately, treatment settings and clinicians can create retraumatizing experiences, often without being aware of it. Sometimes clients themselves are not consciously aware that a clinical situation has triggered a traumatic stress reaction. 

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PTSD Alive In The Body For Years After Traumatic Events

Trauma affects everyone differently, including one-time, multiple, or long-lasting repetitive events. Some individuals may display posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) criteria. Still, many more individuals will exhibit resilient responses or brief subclinical symptoms or consequences that fall outside diagnostic criteria. The impact of trauma can be subtle, insidious, or outright destructive. [3]

What to do when someone with PTSD pushes you away?
What to do when someone with PTSD pushes you away? Loving someone with PTSD requires patience. Whether your loved one has trauma or PTSD, a professional’s assessment and counseling (psychotherapy) can make a critical difference in recovery. 

PTSD and complex PTSD symptoms usually start soon after the traumatic event, but they may not appear until months or years later. In the United States alone, an estimated 70% of adults experience at least one traumatic event. Of those, 20% will develop post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs reports that about 8 million people suffer from PTSD annually. [4] With such a large number of people affected, it’s important to know what post-traumatic stress disorder is, how it’s treated, and if it ever goes away.

The type and severity of the trauma that a patient suffers, how long that trauma lasted, how the trauma altered the patient’s brain, and how receptive the patient is to treatment are all elements that determine the intensity and length of PTSD, like most mental health illnesses.

Although the Department of Veteran Affairs claims that after 3 months of treatment, PTSD symptoms will disappear in 53% of patients who undergo trauma-focused therapy and 42% of patients who take SSRI and SNRI medications, lasting effects can and do persist even after treatment. [5]

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How To Help Someone With Complex PTSD?

Seeing your loved one suffer is terrible. The same goes when you are loving someone with PTSD. But it is more difficult when you don’t know what to do when someone with PTSD pushes you away. You can see how tense they can become and their unstable emotions. You can see how troubled they may get in close relationships. Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) results from surviving repeated abuse, particularly child abuse or domestic violence.

If you’re searching for how to help your loved one or someone with complex PTSD, long-term psychological therapy is the most effective and main treatment for CPTSD. This helps people slowly regain their trust in others. They can then gradually start to make friends, improve their work life and opportunities, and develop leisure interests.

People with complex PTSD often have problems with drug and alcohol use, anxiety, and depression. These will need dual diagnosis treatment too. Support from family and friends is very important for most people. Minimizing other stressful life experiences can allow a person to focus on recovery. Treatment of PTSD and complex PTSD should occur under the care of a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist who gets to know the person over time.

Seeing Through Their Eyes, And Not Only Yours

A person may develop post-traumatic stress disorder after going through a stressful incident like a vehicle accident, combat stress, or maltreatment. They may develop increased sensitivity to ordinary occurrences, known as hyperarousal, and difficulty unwinding and resting.

Healing from trauma takes time. If you’re loving someone with PTSD, be patient with the pace of recovery, and remember that everyone’s response to trauma is different. Don’t judge your loved one’s reaction against your response or anyone else’s. Don’t take their trauma symptoms personally. Your loved one may become angry, irritable, withdrawn, or emotionally distant. Remember that this results from the trauma and may not have anything to do with you or your relationship. When a loved one has suffered trauma, your support can play a crucial role in their recovery.

Loving someone with PTSD or dating someone with PTSD can be hard for many people. PTSD affects not only one’s mental health but can also negatively impact one’s marriage or relationships. it’s crucial to reach out for help as early as possible to save your relationships. If you are loving someone with PTSD or considering forming a relationship, there are many things you should know. Being educated about PTSD can help you know what to expect, how to sympathize with what your partner is going through, and how to be a support system for them in times of need.

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5 Thoughts On “What To Do When Someone With PTSD Pushes You Away?”

Here are the 5 tips about what to do when someone with PTSD pushes you away or if you’re loving someone with PTSD.

  1. Provide Support And Listen – The best thing you can do is to encourage the person and listen to them. They will approach you when they are ready, so let them take the initiative and avoid pressuring them to communicate. It would be best if you carried on as usual and let them know you are there for them, making dinner and eating alone or with someone else. The PTSD patient will feel more at ease and be able to unwind if they maintain a sense of normalcy. It can be helpful to educate yourself on PTSD so that you are prepared to support others.
  1. Rebuild Trust And Safety -It’s easier than it might sound to regain safety and trust. By establishing routines and maintaining your word, you can reduce this person’s stress and demonstrate that they can trust you. Building trust with someone involves encouraging and praising them and verbally demonstrating your commitment to a relationship. Hence, they know you won’t just walk away when things become difficult.
  1. Understand Possible Triggers PTSD triggers could be both internal and external. We look at common triggers below that could remind a person of their trauma.

Internal Triggers

  • Physical discomfort
  • Feelings towards certain individuals
  • Strong emotions pleading to feelings of overwhelm
  • Bodily sensations 

External Triggers

  • A sense of something, such as sight, smell, or sound
  • Things, locations, or individuals 
  • Certain dates and times
  • Weather conditions
  • Negative media coverage 
  • Medical establishments
  • Funerals
  • Confined or restricted situations
  1. Identify Possible Unsafe Behavior – It’s crucial to see such conduct and know what to do because PTSD symptoms can occasionally become dangerous. Severe irritation, outbursts of rage, and extreme moodiness are frequent signs that someone is on edge and likely to erupt. If you experience this behavior, maintain your composure and give the person room to process their emotions. Always put safety first when you are scared, and call the police if you are concerned about what someone might do.
  1. Encourage Support Treatments – As crucial as your love and care are to PTSD patients, there are occasions when they will also want expert support and therapies. Therefore, you should always promote professional treatment to help a loved one. Waiting for the right moment to bring up such a subject is crucial, but when you do, concentrate on the potential benefits and what specific issues could benefit from such support and acknowledge that treatments don’t always work right away. Hence, they know you understand it might take time to help them.

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What Not To Say To Someone With PTSD?

When talking to your loved one about PTSD, be clear and to the point. Stay positive, and don’t forget to be a good listener. When your loved one speaks, repeat what you understand and ask questions when you need more information. Don’t interrupt or argue, but instead, clearly voice your feelings. The worst thing to do to someone with PTSD is to blame or shame them. Yelling at someone with PTSD could only make things worse too.

Avoid saying these phrases:
  1. It wasn’t that bad, was it?
  2. That happened in the past. Why are you still upset?
  3. Calm down.
  4. You’re overreacting. It’s been years now. Get over it.
  5. You’re too much right now.
  6. What’s wrong with you?
  7. I don’t believe anything you’re saying.
  8. You are crazy. You are dramatic.
  9. Stop crying.
  10. Other people have gone through worse things. Are you serious?
The goal is not to:
  • Minimize their experiences
  • Invalidate or dismiss their experiences
  • Compare their experiences
  • Blame them
  • Shame them
What to say:
  1. I hear you. I’m listening.
  2. It’s not your fault what happened to you.
  3. Your feelings matter to me. You are important to me.
  4. What would help you right now as you feel overwhelmed and anxious? Making a list? Brainstorming what we can do together if something happens? Slowing down and breathing? Taking a break?
  5. I’m not sure what to say right now. Can I sit next to you and be here for you?
  6. Would you like to tell me more? No pressure. I’m here to listen.
  7. I’m here for you. You’re not alone.
  8. Your reactions and symptoms make sense based on what you’ve been through.
  9. There is nothing wrong with you. You are not crazy.
  10. You’ve been through a lot. I know it’s not my fault, but I’m sorry.
The goal is to:
  • Validate (hearing some kernel of truth in what they are saying, not necessarily agreeing)
  • Actively listening (listening to understand, not interrupt)
  • Foster connection (to let them know they are not alone)
  • Be authentic
  • Be present and attuned

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How To Help Someone With PTSD Episode?

PTSD episodes will inevitably happen as you help your loved ones work through their issues. Learning how to identify triggers and symptoms of an episode will ensure that you know how to handle the episode and avoid the initial onset. Triggers usually consist of people, smells, sounds, sites, anniversary dates, and physical distresses associated with the incident.

One of the most common types of PTSD episodes is a flashback. A person will feel disconnected from the present during a flashback and find themselves reliving the traumatic experience. The best thing you can do in this case is to find a way to bring your loved one gently back to reality without startling them. This can mean helping them slow their breathing, asking them to recognize objects in the room to ground them, and reminding them that although their flashback feels real, they are in a safe place, and the event is not repeating itself. Never touch the person before asking them first, as doing so may be sensed as aggression and further remove them from reality.

What Not To Say To Someone With Complex PTSD?

If you’re loving someone with PTSD or if you know someone living with CPTSD, you may be wondering how to help them—and what not to say. Here are some you should never say to someone with CPTSD:

  • Get over it. – This phrase dismisses the severity of one’s condition and makes them believe their inability to feel better is due to a character defect.
  • People have been through worse – While others may have “had it worse,” comparing trauma or suffering is not helpful at all because, in doing so, you aggravate feelings of guilt and increase shame. 
  • You’re overreacting – Another way to minimize a survivor’s experience is to say, “you’re being dramatic and overacting.” Statements like these are made out of frustration, not compassion. 
  • But that was so long ago – While the events trauma survivors experienced may no longer be happening, they relive them most days. Trauma alters the body and mind, from flashbacks and nightmares to literal changes in how one thinks and feels.
  • Things weren’t that bad – Telling someone things weren’t “that bad” doesn’t just negate their experience; it trivializes it. It is hurtful, at best.
  • My friend went through something similar, and she got over it –  Everyone is different and handles trauma differently. No recovery is linear. 
  • You’re too sensitive – While individuals with complex PTSD may seem more sensitive than their mentally well peers, calling someone sensitive minimizes their experience.
  • You have to face your fears –  Trauma survivors should only face their fears when ready. If you are loving someone with PTSD, you must understand that this should also be done with the help of a licensed counselor, therapist, psychologist, and/or psychiatrist.

Looking for the best ways on what to do when someone with PTSD pushes you away? When you are pushed away by a PTSD sufferer, it usually emphasizes that something has triggered them and puts their nervous system on high alert, making them very irritable, frustrated, and angry, which is why they choose to be alone.  They are constantly on high alert, so they may not feel safe around others, no matter how much they love or trust them.

Without treatment, the psychological symptoms of PTSD are likely to worsen over time. Along with severe depression and anxiety, other serious outcomes may include increased suicidal ideation, problems managing anger, and aggression.

We Level Up Florida has family support and counseling available to help you and your loved one suffering from PTSD to continue to strengthen your relationship. As well as work on ways to help support one another. Contact us to learn more about how our family counseling therapy can benefit your family.

What to do when someone with PTSD pushes you away?
Loving someone with PTSD means you must be a supportive listener without attempting to “fix” the situation. Encourage him or her to talk to a doctor or a trained mental health professional. 
Search What To Do When Someone With PTSD Pushes You Away? & Other Resources

[1] Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (US). Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2014. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 57.) Chapter 2, Trauma Awareness. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207203/
[2] Trauma-Informed Care – Missouri Early Connections – https://earlyconnections.mo.gov/professionals/trauma-informed-care#:~:text=There%20are%20three%20main%20types,of%20an%20invasive%2C%20interpersonal%20nature.
[3] Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (US). Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2014. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 57.) Chapter 3, What to do when someone with PTSD pushes you away? & Understanding the Impact of Trauma. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207191/
[4] How Common Is PTSD in Adults? – https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_adults.asp
[5] Medications for PTSD – https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand_tx/meds_for_ptsd.asp