Things Not To Say to Somebody with PTSD

These are random, in  no particular order (duh, that’s what random means, I’m stalling). Some of them are personal, some are only things I’ve read from somebody else, some I’m just guessing. It’s by no means a comprehensive list, nor is it an inclusive list- that is, not everything on this list will apply to every other person with PTSD. It’s not meant to be bitter. My intention is first to be helpful and second, at least occasionally, possibly entertaining.  I’m still rough drafting in my head as I type these words, so I have no idea how my loose plans about this are going to work out when I get to the list part.

 

You don’t look like anything’s wrong.  This one might be okay if it’s immediately followed by ‘you must be working really hard to hold it in,’ or something of that nature that acknowledges that yes, something is wrong, and honors the work somebody with PTSD is putting in for you to think things look okay, because, frankly, it’s utterly exhausting.

Other people have it worse.  Yep.  Other people have it better, too.  If I can’t be broken because worse things have happened to other people, you can’t be happy because better things happened to others as well.  You do get points for smug, though. My cousin had that and he killed his wife.   (Thanks.  That’s encouraging. I don’t know anybody like that, but I might know somebody with PTSD who punched their big mouth friend) I always think stuff like that is just a matter of mind over matter/it’s all in your head.

 

If you really wanted to be well, you’d just try harder. A variation of this is  “You’re just not trying hard enough.” ptsd trying It’s time to move on.  You are not my secretary, not my clockwatcher, my time keeper, my alarm clock.  It’s not your call. Why don’t you just get over it? You need to let go of the past.  You have no idea how much I would love to let go of the past. I am literally dying to let go of that past.  I’d let it go a million times over, gladly, joyfully, gleefully.  The problem with PTSD isn’t that I am holding onto the past, it’s that the past has a relentless, monster of the deep with many suckered tentacles grasp on me. PTSD get over it God told me to tell you….. I don’t know about anybody else, but I have never in my life had anybody start a sentence like this with me where the rest of the sentence was remotely helpful, useful, or even applicable to my circumstances.  The results have never been beneficial. You just need to remember that everything happens for a reason.  Yes. The reason people have PTSD is because of something very, very bad that happened to them and it changed the way their brains function in a measurable, visible via MRI, way.  Why did something bad happen to them?  I don’t know, and you don’t know either, Job’s Comforter.   But quite often, people with PTSD blame themselves for whatever it is that happened, so when you say ‘everything happens for a reason’ an almost kneejerk, reflexive response in their head is, “Yes, because I am a horrible person.”    I don’t know why bad things happen, and nobody else does either, and platitudes like this one don’t help. Just remember God never gives us more than we can handle, so He must think you’re really strong.  People with PTSD struggle with blaming God and they often lose their faith.  Comments like this are a quick ticket on the rocket train to outer darkness. They aren’t helpful.   PTSD please, share your ignorance some more Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  That’s a catchy song, and it’s a cute platitude of some use for, oh, bad days, broken appliances, jerks at the office, bronchitis.  But it’s not a universal truth.  Sometimes, what doesn’t kill you makes you a shattered pile of shards with no resemblance to your former self.  You should try these essential oils (which, coincidentally, I’m selling) My pain is not your marketing opportunity and if you can’t see this, you’re brainwashed by your company and if you are lucky, some day you will probably be embarrassed by this moment.  And also, you are not a doctor.  Right now, you are more like a pusher. You should try this special herbal formula (which, coincidentally, I’m selling)  See above. I am sure you’d feel better if you’d just start ________ (insert activity that the person is avoiding because it’s a trigger and they know perfectly well they will not only NOT feel better, they will feel much, much worse and will probably have a panic attack or some other melt down in the midst of said activity and if it’s a light episode, they will only have go to bed for two days afterward just to recover)   I think you’ll feel better if you just would _______________  (avoidance of certain activities is actually a symptom of PTSD, so basically you’re telling somebody with cancer ‘you’d feel better if you would just stop having tumours,’ or telling somebody with a cold they would feel better if they stopped sneezing.  We would if we could. We do not do these things for our own amusement)   Updated to add this from a FB comment: “I thought you were over that.” Because, you know, brain injuries are totally and completely curable with no such thing as additional triggering incidents, recurrence, etc.  and, honestly, sometimes what you thought looked like ‘over that’ was somebody faking it really, really hard in an attempt to fake it ’til you make it and make things easier for everybody, and they finally crashed and burned from the effort. Things that are probably safe to say, but only if you mean them and are willing to back them with meaningful action: I love you. I am so sorry. I love you. If there is anything I can do, could you let me know? I love you. Can I hug you? I love you. Can I hug you anyway? You are not a bad person. I love you. Want some chocolate? I love you. The world is a fallen place and I am so glad there are no tears in heaven. I love you. I’ve heard that sometimes people with PTSD struggle with faith issues, and I don’t know if that includes you or not, but I will be praying for you, seriously, sincerely, regularly.  Let me know if there’s something specific I should pray for, or if there is something else I can do. I love you. I’m so sorry.  Do you want to talk about it? I love you.  

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17 Comments

  1. Bev
    Posted August 6, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for this!

  2. teachergirl
    Posted August 6, 2014 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    This is a good list. It could also be a “things not to say to somebody with major depression.”
    Another one, which was said to me as a joke by someone very dear to me, and had a hugely negative impact: Are you better yet?

  3. Cate R.
    Posted August 6, 2014 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    I heart this. Don’t forget this one: you don’t really have a problem at all, it’s just sin. Your sinful and have a bad attitude. You need to “choose joy” (etc).

  4. Judy in Texas
    Posted August 6, 2014 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    Just read these over to see if I’d said any of these. I don’t *think* I have but if I did, please know lots of times my mouth is engaged without my brain. I DO love you!!

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted August 6, 2014 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

      Never. You are a model of the right things to say and do.

  5. Fatcat
    Posted August 7, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Well said. I hate that people are always throwing in that misquote of 1 Corinthians 10:13, to say that God never gives us more than we can handle, because He does. This is one of my pet peeves.

  6. Fatcat
    Posted August 7, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    you might think this is funny or just weird, but the one thing that traumatizes me about your blog is that there are pictures of dirty feet in the header. Ick. 😛

    The main thing that traumatized me about the Harry Potter movies was that one time in the fourth movie when they should Voldemort’s feet. Double ick.

    We all have our little weirdnesses.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted August 7, 2014 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      LOL- I don’t think it’s weird at all. I don’t like feet, either, but I don’t mind when they are my kids’ feet. You will appreciate know that Jenny has also complained about the feet in that header. I keep meaning to see about changing it, but I don’t remember how.

  7. Kim L.
    Posted August 7, 2014 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Yes. “Helpful” things like your statements in red are why almost none of the people at my church knew I was depressed to the point of suicidal after my first child was born. He’s 7 now, and most still don’t know that I have ever had depression, let alone multiple occurrences. I’m familiar with faking it very hard.

    I hope that someday churches will be the least likely place to have salt rubbed into a wound. (Actually, that’s a terrible metaphor. Salt in a wound was intended to prevent infection and promote healing, even if it was painful. These statements are just painful to no purpose.) I hope more people will realize that “invisible illness” does not mean imaginary.

  8. Cate R.
    Posted August 7, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    You know, I would be interested to know somehow if people with ptsd, trauma from abuse, major depression and anxiety etc are less likely to be a part of the church (meaning the whole of the Christian church). I would believe that and it would explain some of how I feel and why I seem to not meet people who can relate to what I’m going through/ have been through.

    My own experience would demonstrate this correlation. I knew so many people with similar issues to me before I was a Christian, namely people I did drugs with , self medicating maybe… but I would be very interested in this.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted August 7, 2014 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      That would be an interesting study. I’d be curious about that, too. I haven’t seen any info about that, but I have seen that a lot of people with PTSD end up leaving their faith altogether.

  9. Posted August 8, 2014 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for writing this and your other posts on PTSD. I have PTSD and work hard to hide it from everyone, including my own family because of comments like this. I feels stupid for saying this since so many people have asthma and for most, it’s no big deal, but my PTSD is a result of having many severe asthma attacks that have almost killed me. When I was 6, I turned blue and stopped breathing completely and had to be airlifted to the hospital where I spent 5 days in a coma. I was conscious for a while before passing out and begged my dad to help me, but I have absolutely no memory of the event. Because I was so young, I blocked it out of my memory completely. I’ve had many other attacks since then, and have almost died 6 times, been intubated several times, and have been airlifted so many times that the pilots of the helicopter stopped in my hospital room one time and told me I should get frequent flyer miles. I have panic attacks when I see an ambulance with lights and sirens or when I see or hear a helicopter. Certain smells and sounds remind me of the hospital or the attacks and set off panic attacks as well. I was hesitant to get my drivers’ license because I was afraid I’d have a panic attack while driving if I saw an ambulance-I did one time and scared my mom to death because she thought I was going to kill us in a car accident. Since having kids, I’ve learned to cope better and to “distract” myself when presented with a trigger because their safety is at stake, but it’s still always there. Sorry this is so long, but this is the first time I’ve really ever told anyone the extent of this. Just writing about it is really hard.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

      I understand how hard it can be to write that stuff out, and I don’t think you have anything to be embarrassed about. Pain and trauma isn’t a contest (the only ‘winners’ would be dead and that’s not much of a win). I think nearly being killed by something totally outside your control more than ‘counts.’ Thanks for sharing.

  10. jules
    Posted August 11, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for all your posts about PTSD. It helps me to understand what my DH is going through and how/how not to help. I cried when I looked at your pinterest board. It all became so clear. Thank you again.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted August 11, 2014 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

      {{{{Hugs}}}}. Lots of times *I* cry when I look at my Pinterest board.

      I’m looking for more things to help family members of those dealing with PTSD, if you have any other suggestions, I’d welcome them- not just how to help the person with PTSD, but the families themselves usually do not come through unscathed.

  11. Posted June 7, 2015 at 3:24 am | Permalink

    wow…. I am in the middle of conversation with a friend, telling about my anxiety problem. It started develop when I was taking master degree and failed it successfully. Panic attack and anxiety contribute to this failure. And I still live with it. PSTD, depression, panic attack, anxiety is not commonly known and accepted in my country. So it is quite difficult to explain that to other people, family and friends.

    However, I start to write about this on my social media to let people know that there are people with depression around us and need help. This article is useful since those sentences mostly what people say when they try to cheer up, which is totally wrong.

    • Headmistress, zookeeper
      Posted June 7, 2015 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      I’m so sorry for what you’ve been enduring. I hope you can get the help you need, and that this will help.

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