7 steps to take when someone with PTSD pushes you away


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What do you do when you want to help someone close to you who has PTSD, but they keep pushing you away? It’s never easy, especially when you see them struggle with a mental health disorder like PTSD

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric disorder that can affect every person differently, depending on the type of triggering event they went through. It can come from experiences like war, sexual assault, abuse and accidents. Many people who have these experiences feel the effects for months, even years, after the event. 

Some of the signs that someone may have PTSD include: 

  • Recurring nightmares
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Intrusive negative thoughts
  • Reckless or self-destructive behavior
  • Verbal outbursts
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability

People with PTSD may push others away as part of avoidant behavior. Unfortunately, this behavior can make it difficult for those closest to them to provide help and support. Being emotionally pushed away by someone with PTSD can make you feel defeated and frustrated, but there are steps you can take to help.

How to be there for a loved one with PTSD when they push you away

An individual with PTSD may push you away because they believe you can’t understand what they’re feeling. While you may not have that trauma, there are still ways to be there for them without invalidating their experiences and emotions. Some of these ways include:

  • Listening — While it may seem obvious that lending an ear is a great first step, people with PTSD may not always be willing to open up, which is why it’s easier to push you away. But just sitting and letting them speak about their thoughts and feelings can make a huge difference in their coping process. Don’t pressure them to speak if they aren’t ready, and be patient with them.
  • Creating a judgment-free zone — We all have preconceived ideas about things we don’t understand. However, it’s important to help someone with PTSD understand that you aren’t judging them. PTSD is a disorder that requires a support system that makes the person feel heard and validated. While it may be difficult not to share your opinions about their experience, it’s important to do your best to keep your judgments out of it.
  • Respecting their boundaries — One of the reasons they may be pushing you away is because people with PTSD can have a variety of personal boundaries, like emotional boundaries, that stop them from opening up. But they may also have sexual and/or physical boundaries that need to be respected, as these could have a direct correlation to their traumatic experiences.
  • Knowing their triggers — Acknowledging what triggers a PTSD flashback, and the kind of signs to look out for, can play an essential part in helping to reduce someone’s harmful symptoms. Triggers can often include certain places or sounds that bring them back to what they were seeing and hearing during their experience.
  • Recognizing warning signs — Noticing when a person with PTSD is struggling with their symptoms can help you know when to check in on them and provide support, even when they try to push you away. These warning signs include exhibiting extreme mood shifts to negative emotions, such as irritability, anger, anxiety and sadness. You may also see changes in their energy level, like a lack of concentration.
  • Educating yourself — Did you know that an estimated 1 in 11 people are diagnosed with PTSD in their life? From the outside, you may never be able to fully understand the thoughts and feelings a person may have about their traumatic experiences, but educating yourself can make a difference. Taking the time to learn about the disorder can prove to them how much you truly care about their well-being and their mental health journey.
  • Discussing treatment options — Along with you being there for them, it’s important for someone with PTSD to know that there are mental health professionals ready to help. You can help them with this by discussing possible treatment options with your loved one. At our mental health treatment centers, we offer four programs to assist them with their journey: residential treatment, Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (vIOP), Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), and Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), also called our Day Treatment Program.

Taking the next step with Lightfully Behavioral Health

It can be hard to feel like you’re being pushed away by a loved one struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, especially when you just want to help. If you know someone with PTSD, there are ways to be there for them, even when you feel like they are keeping you at a distance. It’s important to let them know that you are there to listen in a judgment-free zone where they can talk freely, whenever they are ready to do so.

Change is possible. When your loved one is ready to take the first step, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward their fullest, brightest version of themselves.

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