PTSD: Why It’s so Hard to Talk To Your Loved Ones

One of the worst things about PTSD is how it cuts you off from those who want to be there for you: your spouse, and closest friends and family.

When you’re suffering, your loved ones want to help. They might ask what’s wrong. You know they’re trying to help… Only, you feel like you can’t talk to them.

Your loved ones can’t understand why you won’t talk about it. They might feel shut out and rejected; their feelings might be hurt that you won’t let them be there for you. And that might make you feel guilty, which doesn’t help: now you’re feeling guilty on top of suffering, and your loved one is feeling rejected and helpless. Yikes!

…If this scenario sounds familiar to you, then I invite you to read this post, and then share it with your loved one. Hopefully, it’ll help both of you understand what’s going on and why. And it’ll help both of you feel better.

A big piece of PTSD is avoidance. Basically, that means even thinking about “that stuff” is about as easy as staring directly into the sun without squinting: just like the glare of the sun, the glare of your feelings around the trauma is too intense. It’s not that you’re trying to shut out your loved one; first and foremost you’re trying to shut yourself out, because thinking about your trauma just feels so awful.

Now, add to the pain of thinking about the trauma, the idea of sharing it with your loved one. That takes it to a whole new level: it feels like taking your most horrible, painful thoughts and feelings, and inflicting them on someone you care about. You can’t bring yourself to do it because you can’t bear to even think about that stuff, can’t bear to hurt them, and can’t bear to watch how it hurts them to know what happened to you.

It’s not a choice, it’s a symptom. So, stop beating up on yourself about it – the shame and guilt just makes you feel worse for something you can’t control right now. Instead tell your loved one something like, “Thank you for caring about me. Your support means a lot. I wish I could talk to you about it, but right now I just can’t. Even thinking about it to myself is too much.”

If you’re the loved one on the other end of this, understand that it can be too painful for the person with PTSD to talk about their trauma. It’s not a choice; it’s not a reflection of how much they trust you, so please don’t make it a test of your relationship. Know that if they could, they would tell you. Let them know that you support them, and ask how you can be helpful. Realize that sometimes, being helpful might mean backing off, or helping them distract from their feelings.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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10 thoughts on “PTSD: Why It’s so Hard to Talk To Your Loved Ones

  1. I suffer from it. But the one thing missing in this article is that in most cases we don’t know why. I don’t have a specific trauma therefore it give a whole new level of complication.

    • Hi Max!

      You’re right, it is a whole new level of complication; and if you don’t have a specific trauma history, then it may just be that at some point along the way, you learned that it’s not safe to share your feelings – perhaps you grew up in a household where feelings weren’t discussed; maybe you had experiences where you were unsupported or humiliated as a result of sharing your emotions. Lots of people just don’t have the tools necessary for sharing their inner experience with others. It doesn’t have to stay that way – with the right help, you can learn to overcome this!

    • Hi JR!

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment. Unfortunately – I don’t have a quick, simple, easy answer for you. I shared one idea above, in terms of what to say to each other.

      Part of the answer, for both the person with PTSD and the loved one, is to get as much information as you can; I try to share some of that information here on this blog, and you’ll notice right under my picture at the top of this blog, there’s a button called “start here”, and another one for partners and loved ones. Having as much information as you can is one place to start.

      Another is therapy: both for the person with PTSD, and often, some supportive counselling for the partner/spouse as well.

      I know that doesn’t give you the solution you were asking for – but, I hope at least it gives you a starting point…

  2. I’m suffering from PTSD, I serve almost 20 years in the Army, from 1985 to 2004.
    I’ve been asked too often, “what’s wrong” and most of the time, I don’t know what’s wrong, that’s a hard question for me to answer: “what’s wrong”, it can be alot of things at the moment when the question is ask. But I just dont want to talk about it, because most of the time I dont know what’s wrong, or I am trying to avoid discussion of what is wrong.
    I also find that its not just the trauma that I don’t want to talk about, I just dont want to talk or answer any questions about what’s wrong, I feel that my trauma make me dont want to talk about how I feel on things and other problems of life.
    I feel that my Trauma make me avoid any confrontation about anything not only about talking about my Trauma but about anything. If any questions is ask to me, I dont even know what to answer most of the time or what to say… So I shut my mouth and dont talk and this is hard in a relationship…
    thanks for your post..

  3. I cried reading this. I have many of the same symptoms as others. Yes I’m humiliated and devastated every time I’m asked to repeat or write down I cried reading this. I have many of the same symptoms as others. Yes I’m humiliated and devastated every time I’m asked to repeat or write down my feelings and what I’m going through. The people that put me through this every year our veterans affairs in the disability insurance. my feelings and what I’m going through. The people that put me through this every year our veterans affairs in the disability insurance. They don’t seem to understand or care how hard it is for me to fill out all those papers they keep sending and that’s just for me to get some financial support. And it’s very little support but I need it

  4. hello i don’t know if i am considered PTSD but i did have trauma done according to my doc so i am like the last post when i do try to talk about it now after the damage has been done damage to my marriage and my family and me …trying to save my marriage but something has changed …i don’t talk to people about this because when i do i get weird looks and well told i am not sick or to plainly shut up that’s by my family my spouse was military as well.. and well its gets really complicated at that point and mine is still blowing up any advice would help

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