“Until it happens to you, you don’t know how I feel” is a line from one of my favorite songs on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) written by the controversial pop-star Lady Gaga. It took me a while to listen to her music and be open-minded to actually enjoy it. It wasn’t until I heard this song that I felt like I could connect to anything she was talking about.
Maybe you are reading this and have no idea what PTSD is, what it’s symptoms are or how to cope with it. Maybe you are someone who knows someone who suffers from PTSD, or maybe you are a person who associates PTSD strictly with people who are coming back from war. No matter which category you fall into, PTSD looks differently from person to person, and can be developed after many perceptions of life-threatening events.
You may think that you can understand what it’s like to be through something difficult; however, PTSD is more complex than “going through something difficult”. PTSD can be developed directly after the life-threatening event and is determined on the person’s perception of what happened in the event. For example, the same event could happen to both me and you and only one of us could develop PTSD.
PTSD affects the chemicals in the brain and often times will manifest in physical symptoms like difficulty sleeping, always feeling “on edge”, becoming hypervigilant or jumpy, loss of appetite, nightmares, flashbacks, headaches or nausea. PTSD can make a person feel as if they are experiencing the traumatic event all over again simply by a small trigger, like a smell or the way someone looks at them.
Some of these symptoms can become very frustrating to the person experiencing PTSD and frustrating for the people who love this person. Do you know anyone suffering from PTSD? Are you struggling with figuring out how to be around this person or loving them? Do you feel like you’re walking on eggshells?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’re in the right place. Learning how to love someone who is in a constant state of hyperarousal or alertness can be exhausting, intimidating, and confusing. Because of these reasons, it’s best to not have to go through it alone. Here are some ways you can help your loved one.
1. Don’t assume you know what they’re going through.
Like Lady Gaga stated in her song, you really don’t know what this person is experiencing. Even if you have been through the same thing, remember that everyone perceives things differently, so your perception could elicit anger when your loved one’s perception elicited a fear-based response, which then later developed into PTSD.
If you can listen to your loved one with an open and curious mind versus an “I know what you’re going through” mindset, you will likely be providing more support, more encouragement and more understanding than if you did the latter.
2. Be patient.
Some days are hard. Some moments are even harder. Know that the person you love is trying and often times are even more frustrated with their symptoms than you are. Sometimes it becomes debilitating and the only thing they can do is take a nap or sit still for a few minutes to regain their composure. You can simply remind me them that they are safe right here in this moment and that you are there to listen if they need to talk about it.
3. Be there.
Some days are hard. Some moments are even harder. Know that the person you love is trying and often times are even more frustrated with their symptoms than you are. Sometimes it becomes debilitating and the only thing they can do is take a nap or sit still for a few minutes to regain their composure. You can simply remind them that they are safe right here in this moment and that you are there to listen if they need to talk about it.
4. Know when to seek professional help.
Whether you’re married to someone with PTSD, they are your parent or sibling, or
whether they are your friend, one of the most helpful things that you can do is to know that their recovery does not fall on your shoulders. You are there to help them, not to heal them. That is not your role. Sometimes we feel like we have to “fix” someone, or we need to love them and everything will be better. However, this doesn’t work and can leave you feeling empty, tired, and lonely.
Your loved one wants to be there for you and with you but often times does not know how when living a “normal” life seems so foreign. Encourage your loved one to seek professional support through therapy. You may even benefit from seeking therapy, coaching, or support groups for loved ones with PTSD so you know how to best help them and how you can come around others who know how you feel.
Loving someone with PTSD can be just as difficult as having PTSD in different ways. Have you ever ridden on an airplane? Do you remember what they tell you when discussing emergencies? You have to put on your own oxygen mask before you help the person sitting beside you no matter what. Let me repeat this. You have to put on your own oxygen mask before you help the person next to you. This is the same for any type of mental health disorder. If you are don’t have oxygen, you won’t be able to help anyone else. If you are feeling alone, empty, or frightened, you can’t help anyone because you’ll have nothing left to give.
Remember that it is ok to seek help and that this does not make you weak or incompetent or a bad supporter. This makes you human. You don’t have to go through this alone.
There will be days when you feel like giving up when you love someone who has PTSD. What you do is your choice, but know that your loved one has days where they feel like giving up too. It’s difficulty, and it’s messy, but I can honestly say that they need you now more than ever.
If you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD and are ready to seek help, please contact James at 913.735.0577 or Robin at 785.408.7529 to set up a counseling appointment. James is certified in EMDR, a specialized type of training that helps ease the symptoms and reprocess the memories of the trauma. Robin is experienced in working with preverbal trauma and PTSD and children. If you are in immediate danger, please dial *911.
For more on PTSD and mental health issues, please see Robin’s website at www.myrisestory.com. For more articles written by mental health therapists in the KC Metro, see kcresolve.com/blog.
Robin Helget, LMSW, CPT
Resolve - Counseling & Wellness
Prairie Village, KS
We all experience what we call “internal dialogue”, also known as having a conversation in our head or thinking. This can range from what we want to eat for dinner, tasks that we need to complete, assumptions about situations, observations, what we think others think about us, how we feel about our self in a situation, and the list goes on. For some, these thoughts tend to be more negative than positive and can snowball out of control causing a change in their perception of reality. These negative thoughts can lead to self-destructive behaviors, dangerous situations, relationship changes, and overall awareness of self. They can result in feelings of sadness, guilt, shame, resentment, anxiety, inadequacy, and hopelessness. These negative thoughts are called COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS – they negatively distort a person’s perception of reality. Some of the more common negative thinking patterns include:
PERSONALIZATION: This is exactly what it says, taking things personally. People often blame themselves for something that is completely out of their control or has nothing to do with them. For example, assuming your friend is mad at you personally when they cancel plans you’ve made. Could it possibly be that they were busy? They forgot? They didn’t have the time or money to devote? The goal in reframing is to consider external factors that may have resulted in this decision.
CATASTROPHIZING: Assuming the worst possible outcome or thinking that it is far worse than it actually is. For example, you might get a bad grade on a test or assignment and you immediately think that you’ve failed the entire class. You get a consequence and suddenly feel like it’s “the end of the world”. The goal in reframing is to consider other outcomes and weigh whether it’s just not desired or truly catastrophic.
OVERGENERALIZING: This focuses around key words such as “always”, “never”, “every”, or “all. People make conclusions based on a single piece of evidence, and often in a negative way. For example, believing bad things always happen to you, nothing ever goes the way you want it to, or you’ll never get better. The goal in reframing is to focus on the cost and benefits of having this thought. Regardless of what may happen, we choose our attitude towards it and how it in turn affects our actions. Is it worth it to think that way?
BLACK & WHITE THINKING: Going from extremes and not considering the gray area. For example, nothing will work, so why try? People become frustrated that their medication isn’t working and therapy isn’t being effective and they lose hope. Nothing is truly ever black-and-white or all-or-nothing. Medications don’t just work or not work, therapy isn’t just productive or nonproductive, things aren’t just good or bad, right or wrong, succeed or fail. The goal in reframing is to look closer to find the gray and how that can be a positive.
DISCOUNTING THE POSITIVES: Similar to black & white, a person discounts the positive parts about an situation and only sees the negative parts. They have a tendency to not accept compliments or positivity they receive because they don’t personally believe them to be true. For example, making comments such as “that doesn’t count” or “it was just easy”. You might get several compliments on your art or talent and one criticism but then obsess over the negative and ignore all the positive. The goal in reframing is to be more accepting of yourself through positive self-talk so that you learn to believe it to be true.
When dealing with these negative thoughts, therapy assists to revive hope, gain personal power, and help one to better problem solve on their own. Many therapists utilize a form of therapy called CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, to guide a person in changing their automatic negative thoughts which might be influencing their emotions and behaviors. There are a variety of techniques to help in reframing these automatic thoughts such as: recognize the pattern of negative thinking, identify the distortion, examine the evidence, consider alternative factors, think about what others might think or say if they knew you were thinking that, and replace the negative with more positive thought.
For someone experiencing depression or anxiety, these distorted thoughts become reality to them and it can be difficult for them to consider alternative perspectives or more realistic reasoning. There becomes a pattern in their thought process that they might not even realize and because it’s automatic, they struggle to change. This is when professional guidance can be helpful in recognizing and reframing.
Allison Kidd, LMSW, LAC
Resolve - Counseling & Wellness
Prairie Village, KS 66206
Have you ever held resentment toward yourself, others, or a situation causing a knot in your stomach, tightness in your heart or tension in your body?
This disconnection or disharmony is not a comfortable place. It doesn’t ‘feel right’, because it is not a natural state of Being. And yet, it is a familiar experience for many of us. The stress caused by this habit of ‘holding on’ to bitterness or unresolved pain affects our quality of living.
Ho’opono Pono, the ancient Hawaiian practice of ‘setting things right,’ is the art of returning to Pono, our innate harmony with Self, Spirit, others and all of creation. Having lived in the grace of this Hawaiian way for twenty years provided me a fresh, Pacific perspective on forgiveness.
Crucial for the practice of Ho’opono Pono is the native Hawaiian wisdom of Aloha, Pono, and the Bowl of Light.
Aloha Spirit is the essence of everything Hawaiian. Aloha is the key element to Ho’opono Pono or ‘setting things right’. To live Aloha is to live knowing that we are the light and love of Spirit expressing through physical form.
Queen Lili’uokalani, (1883-1917) the last monarch and only queen of the Kingdom of Hawai’i, provides an intimate look at the sacred essence of the greeting of Aloha.
“Aloha was a recognition of life in another. If there was life there was mana (life-energy), goodness and wisdom, and if there was goodness and wisdom there was a god-quality. One had to recognize the ‘god of life’ in another before saying ‘Aloha,’ but this was easy. Life was everywhere…. Aloha had its own mana. It never left the giver but flowed freely and continuously between giver and receiver. ‘Aloha’ could not be thoughtlessly or indiscriminately spoken, for it carried its own power. No Hawaiian could greet another with ‘Aloha’ unless he felt it in his own heart. If he felt anger or hate in his heart he had to cleanse himself before he said ‘Aloha’.”
To live Aloha:
Pono, literally means right or righteousness. “According to actor Jason Scott Lee, who grew up in Hawai’i, living pono means living with a conscious decision to do the right thing in terms of self, others, and the environment.”
Pono is being at one with everything, knowing that all life flows from the same source. There is a deep sense of alignment and harmony in the state of pono. The ancient Hawaiians were attuned to the world of natural signs - the stars, ocean, wind, birds, fish. This pono awareness is how they navigated thousands of miles in the vast Pacific to reach the shores of Hawai’i around 242AD.
To live Pono:
Bowl of Light – In early Hawaiian times, there was a custom that before a child was born a family member would carve them a bowl. The bowl was presented to the child and during their childhood the following ancient Hawaiian story would be shared:
Each child has, at birth, a bowl of perfect light. If he tends to his light, it will grow in strength and he can do all things - swim with sharks, fly with the birds, know and understand all things.
If however, he becomes envious, jealous, angry, or fearful, he drops a stone into his bowl of light and some of the light goes out. Light and the stone cannot hold the same space.
If he continues to put stones in the bowl, the light will go out and he will become a stone himself. A stone does not grow, nor does it move.
If at any time he tires of being a stone, all he needs to do is turn the bowl upside down and the stones will fall away and the light will grow once more.
Tales from the Night Rainbow
Pali Lee & Koko Willis, 1987
To tend your Bowl of Light:
Each person is responsible for the caring and clearing of their own bowl. Daily living often pulls us out of alignment with ourselves, others and our world and we end up with more stones in our bowl. According to Mahealani Kuamo’o-Henry from the Big Island of Hawai’i, the practice of Ho’opono Pono is “about recognizing how best we can respond to life in order to navigate ourselves through the moment to moment adventures…”
The literal meaning of Ho’opono Pono is: ho’o - ‘to set’; pono – ‘right’ twice. The 1st ‘setting right’ is with our self, the 2nd ‘setting right’ is with another or a situation. Once we return to personal harmony, our self-respect is activated, our boundaries become clear, and life-giving choices are obvious.
Forgiveness the Hawaiian way:
Presence of Aloha – Absence of Judgment
Pono – Being right with Self, Others, all of Creation
Honor your ‘Bowl of Light’ and release resentments
Right Action flows from being in Harmony with Self
If you would like to ‘set things right’ with yourself, others or any aspect of your life, we are available in person, online or over the phone.
ILENE KIMSEY, PhD
Wholistic Life Coach
Resolve – Counseling and Wellness