How to take care of yourself by still being supportive of a trauma survivor.

When a partner, friend, or family member has complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) it can affect their loved ones. CPTSD isn’t easy to live with and it can take a heavy toll on relationships and family life.

You may be hurt by your loved one’s distance or struggling to understand their behavior.

You may feel like you’re walking on eggshells or even living with a stranger. You may also have to take on a bigger share of household tasks and deal with the frustration of a loved one who won’t open up.

It is even harder when a caregiver is living with some who has CPTSD.  It’s burdensome not to take the symptoms of CPTSD personally. Your loved one’s nervous system is stuck in the fog, in a state of constant alert, making them continually feel vulnerable and unsafe, or have to relive the traumatic experience over and over. This can lead to anger, irritability, depression, mistrust, and other CPTSD symptoms that your loved one can’t simply choose to turn off.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

I’ve asked Dr. Jamie, an advisory board member who has built his innovative 30-year career on the premise that “Necessity is the Mother of Invention” what are his thoughts on caregiving.

Dr. Jamie has launched a demo nationwide project that focuses on trauma healing in cooperation with the well-respected Polyvagal Institute where he sits on the advisory board along with Gabor Maté M.D. He is WellMed’s Chief Compassion Officer, tasked with moderating physician burnout to name a few. Dr. Jamie co-hosts a regular radio podcast entitled “Caregiver SOS” and is here to support everyone in need.

“With the right support from you and other family and friends, though, your loved one’s nervous system can improve. It’s important to provide social support as it’s common for people with CPTSD to withdraw from family and friends. They may feel ashamed. Knowing how to best demonstrate your love and support for someone with CPTSD isn’t always easy. You can’t force your loved one to get better, but you can play a major role in the healing process by simply spending time together. Always start where the other person is at, not where you would wish them to be.”- says Dr. Jamie.

“If you can let your loved one take the lead, rather than telling them what to do. Everyone with CPTSD is different but most people instinctively know what makes them feel calm and safe,”  adds Dr. Jamie.

It is difficult to see a loved one suffering or struggling, and as a caring partner, your likely response is to try to give more of your time and energy to help your partner.

Partner’s traumatic experience can impact him/her and the carer will likely notice changes in their relationship dynamic as well.

Partners of trauma survivors

Dr. Jamie emphasizes the importance of partners of trauma survivors need to be there for their partners in time of need, but they also must prioritize and attend to their own needs.

“Partners of trauma survivors often experience secondary trauma and might even experience some CPTSD-related symptoms as well. Without extra self-care, the partner of a trauma survivor might find him/herself feeling burned out and burned out towards the relationship. To ensure their own mental health, and be able to best help their partners, it is crucial that partners learn to take care of themselves.”

“What can you do to manage your stress?” – I’ve asked Dr. Jamie.

“First, the calmer, relaxed, and focused you are, the better you’ll be able to help your loved one. Recovery is a process that takes time and often involves setbacks. Secondly, the important thing is to stay positive and maintain support for your loved one and educate yourself about CPTSD, Trauma, and Co-Dependency. The more you know about the symptoms, effects, and treatment options, the better equipped you’ll be to help your loved one, understand what they are going through, and keep things in perspective.

Accept and expect mixed feelings

Accept and expect mixed feelings. As you go through the emotional rollercoaster, be prepared for a complicated mix of feelings—some of which you’ll never want to admit.

Your partner will likely depend on you more while they are dealing with the aftermath of the trauma. However, you also have needs and limitations. If you do not set boundaries with your partner about how you can help, you will find yourself responding in a passive-aggressive way. If you over-give, you will resent your partner and feel angry.

It is unfair to your partner and to your relationship to have unrealistic expectations about what healing should look like and how fast it should occur. The reality is that the process looks different for every trauma survivor and their caregiver.”

There are many affordable resources such as CODA meets and group works where you can speak with other caregivers. CPTSD Foundation has launched a Trauma-Informed Partners Program that would provide you with tools on how to care for yourself while caring for others.

“Partners of trauma survivors need to engage in self-care and set appropriate boundaries with their partner to prevent burnout, and best help their partner, themselves, and their families. Trauma is a fact of life. But it doesn’t, however, have to be a life sentence.” – concludes Dr. Jamie.


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