Imagine living every day of your life in fear to the point of never feeling safe, even in your own home. This is the reality for many people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To them, the world can feel like a scary and dangerous place.
They can spend their days feeling “on edge” or looking out for danger even when there is no cause for alarm. This can be mentally and physically exhausting.
It is natural to want to help or offer support to someone you care about who is going through such a tough time. But saying the wrong thing – even with good intentions, can send them into a downward spiral of negative thoughts and feelings.
It can also lead to low self-esteem, social isolation, and depression, all of which can exacerbate PTSD symptoms. Here are some things you should avoid saying to someone with PTSD:
“It’s all in your head.”
This is probably one of the worst things you can say to someone with PTSD. It implies that their symptoms are not real and that they are making them up. It minimizes their experience and invalidates their feelings. It is also not helpful in any way.
“It’s not that bad.”
This is another invalidating statement. It suggests that the person with PTSD is overreacting or exaggerating their experience. It downplays what they are going through and can make them feel like they are not being taken seriously.
Telling someone with PTSD to relax is like telling a person with a broken leg to walk it off. PTSD is a potentially crippling mental illness that requires professional treatment – it is not something you can just relax your way through.
“You should be over it by now.”
This statement implies that the patient is not “working hard enough” at recovery or they are not strong enough. It puts unnecessary pressure on them and can make them feel like a failure.
“You’re just looking for attention.”
This is an incredibly hurtful and insulting thing to say to someone with PTSD. It suggests that their symptoms are not genuine or they are acting up to get attention, which could not be further from the truth.
“Get over it” or “Just snap out of it.”
This is another ignorant statement that can be exceedingly hurtful to someone with PTSD. It implies that the person with PTSD is choosing to remain ill and that recovery is simply a matter of willpower.
“People have been through worse.”
This phrase is often used in an attempt to make the person feel better by comparison, but it can have the opposite effect. It can make the person feel like their experience is not valid or important. But the truth is that people react to trauma in different ways. Just because someone has been through a supposedly worse situation does not make other people’s experiences any less valid.
“I know how you feel.”
You may use this phrase in an attempt to be empathetic. But in most cases, it may come across as insincere or even arrogant. Even if you have experienced a similar trauma yourself, it is impossible to know precisely how the other person feels. So it’s best to avoid this phrase altogether.
“You’re too sensitive.”
People with PTSD tend to be very sensitive to things or situations that remind them of their trauma. To an outside observer, this might seem like overreacting. But it is important to remember that the person with PTSD is reacting in a completely normal way for someone in their situation.
“You’re just being paranoid.”
PTSD can cause people to feel like they are in danger even when they are not. This can lead to feelings of paranoia and anxiety. Telling the person that they are “just being paranoid” is not only unhelpful but also a show of ignorance towards PTSD and other similar mental illnesses.
The Bottom Line
If you know someone who is dealing with PTSD, the best thing you can do is to be supportive and understanding. Avoid making any judgmental or hurtful comments. If you are unsure what to say, simply listening and being there for your loved one speaks volumes.