In it Together: The Effects of PTSD on Families
By Alyson Monaco
It is a great feat to be able to fight for our country. Veterans of war have gone through intense training, both physically and mentally to be able to put themselves out on the front lines. These men and women are responsible for the lives of their peers as well as those they protect back home. That alone is more stress than most will experience in their lifetime.
When a soldier returns home, they will be exhausted, for their job is not just a nine to five, but a twenty-four seven position. During their time in the field they may have witnessed unthinkable violence and be dealing with the loss of both their peers and those casualties caused by their own hand.
How can any one person be expected to return to civilian life and put all of those memories behind them? It is impossible.
Families are always overjoyed to welcome their soldiers home, which is an amazing feeling, especially for those who have been separated for long periods of time. Everyone is eager to get into the swing of daily living. Unfortunately for many soldiers who suffer from PTSD, this transition can be rocky. While family members are excited to be reunited, it can be difficult to navigate a home dynamic when PTSD comes into play.
Here are a few behaviors you may be experiencing
There is a huge amount of focus required to become a soldier, and while usually they will be a part of a group, specific acts can be very solitary. Because of this, families may notice that their soldier stays away from situations within large groups. This can be for a handful of reasons ranging from getting used to being integrated into the family again or simply not wanting to be in a position to answer questions about their time in the service.
Lack of Emotion
A soldier sees a lot of terrible things. Being in the middle of a war is not a cheerful place, and they may have been surrounded by constant gunfire and unfortunate deaths. All the while, a soldier has a job to do and must keep moving forward, no matter what their personal feelings are within a situation. Soldiers must let these emotions stew deep within them, most times keeping them to themselves. When they return home, they finally have the time to really think back on how they were feeling. Many of those with PTSD try to hide these emotions from their family, by not seeming as effected as they are. Being stone-faced can tend to be standoffish in a family atmosphere, especially when children were used to a smiling parent when they originally left home.
Because of the nature of war, and because so many natural emotions must be contained while on the job, everything becomes bottled up and the pressure builds to let it all out, like a can of soda that has been shaken. Everyone experiences some type of event like this, but for someone with PTSD, the pressure is almost ten times as much. When it finally bursts, those who are in the closest radius as most likely to get caught in the crosshairs. This explosion of emotion can be in the form of both verbal or physical abuse.
Not all physical abuse is towards another person. Many times, it is towards the person themselves. A handful of those suffering with PTSD will turn to drugs and/or alcohol to ease their minds, which eventually turns into addiction. Those who go down this road are looking more a means of escape from the reality of their memories from war. Addiction may also culminate all of these behaviors: withdrawal, lack of emotion, and abuse.
PTSD has many other side effects and if you are a family member, it is important to familiarize yourself with these symptoms. You can read about some more of them HERE. If you are living with someone with PTSD, no matter the severity, know that you are not alone. There are many support groups available and it is comforting to know that others are experiencing similar challenges. Throughout daily life, be sure to talk to your family member who is battling PTSD. Like with most disorders, the more open and honest you and your loved one can be about the situation, the easier it will be to get to the root of the issues and come up with a treatment plan.
Luckily, there are a growing number of treatment options. Nowadays there are even some less-clinical methods available, such as Art Therapy. The creative arts have been proven over and over to be a fantastic outlet for those with PTSD from military service as well as from other traumas. Because emotions run high for all families working through PTSD symptoms, a creative pathway can actually be helpful for the entire household.
Throughout your family’s journey, please remember, your loved one with PTSD wants to live a normal life. They have seen hardships you cannot imagine and may not want to openly share the details. However, it is so important that you are there for them at all times, should they need to express their emotions.
The family is in it together and it is up to everyone to create the best support system possible. Love conquers all. Stick together and look ahead to a brighter future.
Alyson Monaco is a professional dancer by trade, performing, teaching, and choreographing out of her home base of New Jersey. A former dance major at the Boston Conservatory, her love of how the body moves lead her to become a Certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor through AFAA. She is currently pursuing her teaching certification in dance. Alyson loves working one on one with people of all ages and ability, and truly enjoys helping people find a better quality of life.