I’ve seen them on Facebook and blogs lists of things NOT to say to someone with PTSD. One person commented that they would like a list of things to say….
My choices are things that someone said to me or I wish they would say to me. Keep in mind that a person with PTSD experienced a total invasion of boundaries at some point of their life. Respect plays a huge part in saying what needs to be said. I liked what the one Facebook post said that sometimes no matter what you say the person with PTSD will be annoyed with you. I want to start here. Sometimes sitting next to me saying nothing at all is the safest, kindest choice in that moment. Hyper-arousal or flashbacks do not leave me in a receptive mood or even close to reasonable.
Ask, “What would you like to talk about?” and accept the answer, “Nothing.” However, don’t ask this question if you do not want to be unloaded on.
Ask, “Is there something I can do that will be helpful?” again accept the answer, “No.” The nothing and no are not personal attacks….quite often I can’t handle any further interrelationship interaction but feel relieved to have a person there that cares what happens.
Hard to know what to say if you don’t know the person very well. Cheerfulness is rarely well received, however encouragement is appreciated.
“You have a challenge. You can do this.”
“I don’t know how you feel, but I am here for you when you are ready for someone to be close.”
“Would you like a safe hug?” Don’t assume a person with PTSD will be comforted by a hug. Being asked if we want to be hugged is great, even if the answer is no.
If the person is in a flashback or other distressful state:
Ask, “Is there someone you trust that I can call for you?” Spouses and loved ones need to accept the person they trust may be their counselor or someone else.
Ask, “Would you like me to walk with you?” Action and movement are often a way to ‘walk away from troubles.’
Ask, “May I sit with you?” Asking permission allows the person with PTSD feel like they have control over something. However, if they tell you to go jump in the lake, they may need alone time.
“I would like to help you but I don’t know how.”
Validation is a relief…
“I can see by your reaction that you are suffering. I am sorry you are hurting.”
Talk about present tense…
Ask, “what day is it?” Ask any question that require a present answer.
I believe one of the best things is to talk over with the friend or family member with PTSD what would help them on dark days or during flashbacks. Have plans made in advance and create a list of things that may help. Mostly please, don’t give up on the person with PTSD.