Hello, my name is Johanna, and I welcome you to the Johanna Draconis - The Deconstruction Of C-PTSD podcast.
Today we are going to talk about how to communicate PTSD with your family, may it be a rather distant family member or to explain it someone you are very close with.
First we are going to tackle it shortly for relatively strangers, as we have to say something, because often I heard people having issues, to find out what to say.
Then we talk about how to explain it to close family members, may it be by blood or not, as it is very hard to find the right words. Many fear sounding crazy or just don’t know what to say.
It is easy to overburden non-PTSD people with gruesome information, that is normal to you. That is also something I needed to learn.
So we try to find the right tone and harming our counterpart as little as possible, because for them often a whole world collapses.
A situation I often found myself in, in the last years, was, that I did small talk with people and then the typical questions came “what are you doing at the moment?” and “What do you do for work?” and the like.
When asked those question, I usually was not really keen on open up about all my personal information, but I also can’t lie. So what to say? Of course it varies a bit depending on your private situation.
Also in my country there is a strong stigma with mental illnesses, as it is a sign of weakness or not being right in your head. As no normal healthy human would ever develop a mental illness. Nonsense of course.
But the solution was pretty simple, what do people really want to know? They are not really interested in your personal situation, so you give them the information they really want.
Often it was for me enough to say, just recovering from a strong illness and I hope to return to work soon. I recommend at this point to look up soon TM.
Should there be a follow up question, what it was, I usually said “That is a really long story and not really relevant”… as it isn’t. Neither I nor you have to justify yourself in front of the world.
To be fair often the answer “I suffer from PTSD” was followed with sagely nod, but a confused face, as they didn’t want to admit, they had no idea what that was.
If they keep pushing and you feel like they are pushing too far, a simple “That information I don’t feel comfortable sharing” proved often really helpful.
The most important thing to remember is: you are not arrested by the police and this is not a murder investigation. You have the right to remain silent and don’t have to answer questions.
The second situation is way harder. Explaining it to the people close to us, which we often don’t do fully, because we do know how much it would hurt them or harm them.
Or we don’t want to admit it if it gotten worse or the like. As we see them worry and then often feel really bad, because they can’t really help us.
I will separate it into, breaking the news, explaining PTSD and how explain when something goes wrong, be a trigger, flashback or the like.
As this turned out to be way longer than I anticipated, I will separate it after breaking the news. So this episode is split in two.
Breaking the news
We start naturally with breaking the news. Though it is not just telling them you have PTSD, it's also about the questions afterwards that will pop up, that can be difficult.
How could that happen? Why? Are you sure didn’t try x or y z? Are you sure it happened? And so on. The first reaction to bad news is often denial.
I know it often hurts, to hear those questions, as they seem to doubting you in some way. But we reject information, that is not conforming to our current information status. Also known as cognitive dissonance.
Now, there will NEVER be the perfect moment, but there are a few things you should take into account. It should be a normal day, so new special event, no festivities, etc. You know… calm atmosphere.
As much as it is cliche, I really recommend having them sit down. It calms people down. Most likely you are going to shake up their world, so take it slowly.
I understand wanting to get it just finally out and done with it, but that is unwise. You also need to take them step by step with you, so they can easily follow your narrative.
Start with a question they can connect to, like “do you remember when x happened?” or “Remember when I told you about x?”.
From there say how it lead you to the diagnosis, was it by talking to your psychologist? Read up your symptoms? Use soft language. The information is important, not the details.
They care about what happened, not necessarily the details. It is really enough to say something like “something really bad happened to me” … or “horrible happened to me” or “something went horribly wrong”.
The details can be overbearing to your loved ones, try spoon feeding them or keep it broad. Then see what they can stomach, even if they say otherwise.
People who didn’t came in contact with the true darkness of life have no idea how deep and dark the abyss can get, so you have to be careful. Especially when they are older.
You don’t have to unpack all you might think you have to unpack. We often get so used and numb to the darkness, that we are often surprised by how little non PTSD people are shocked or convinced by.
Also your voice will help you a lot. They will hear the truth in your voice, people who know you for a very long time, know how you sound. There is also a form of truth speaking we recognize as human beings.
We just kind of know, when someone in front of us is truthful, the skillful might still be lying, but nonetheless. According to research we only convey 7% of what we say via words, the rest is body language, tone, etc.
They will want to know, when and where it happened. Where they were, if they could have done something. Often there is aggression, as they see a loved one was hurt, and they want to fight off who did it.
If you can it’s usually better, to use that energy to help you, than fighting the enemy. As it does little to you, except that enemy is still an active threat. It is more important to build you up again - as much as possible.
Afterwards the mood is usually down, I recommend given some perspective, like what you plan next or what the next step in the therapy is etc. They will need a goal, it will help them deal with it all.
I know the confession is often infused with shame, as it feels like a defeat. There is no need to be ashamed. You might have been a victim to what happened to you, but that does mean that you are bound to that.
Be careful, that the victim doesn’t become your main identity, as I have seen it so often. It is important to move on, it happened, nothing can be changed about that, but we need to keep on moving.
No matter how painful or hard it is. There is no standing still in this world. That doesn’t mean back to your everyday life, but moving past what happened and trying to get better.
When the family is… refusing
Then there is sometimes the case, that the family isn’t refusing the information as a first shock, but as a stance. They doubt you, keep interrogating you, countering you, etc.
They don’t seem to listen to what you have to say. Some even will say outright, that they can’t believe x did that or y happened to you. Some may even suggest you are lying to get attention, etc.
It is hard enough to accept what happened or even say it, especially if it is long in the past, that this behavior is harmful. You don’t deserve that.
Also check if someone is asking you, if you are OK and if they can help you. Or just check if they show ANY interest in your wellbeing. I had this happen to me too.
It was an eye opening experience, at one point I just stopped trying to explain, as it was obvious, they didn’t WANT to know the truth.
I checked if it was just the initial reaction, then I cut all contact to that part of the family. My life quality has improved greatly since then. I can only recommend that.
No one has the right to make you feel miserable, especially when you are already on the ground. People who have your best interest at heart, will try to help you. They might fail at it, but they will try.
You don’t own anyone anything. Gifts are given freely, otherwise they would be contracts. Go your own path and share your life with people, who genuinely care about you. You deserve that - as does everyone else.
Another few short personal Words.When my visit came, we also drove to IKEA to buy a few things - as I don’t dare to drive anymore at the moment because of my arms.
It took 5 (!) hours! To buy 10 items. This is insanity. Well including driving time and eating there. We left last minute, they turned off the lights as we left the tills. We didn’t expect it to take so long.
Still a lot to do regarding my new place, my to do list is hitting the floor at the moment. But now at least I have a dining table, no chairs, but a table. Also I got some plants and kitchen herbs.
I even cooked a few times, despite still only having half a kitchen. Unacceptable. But it is really nice to have plants again… especially orchids. Since my time in Singapore I have a special connection to them.
That was it for todays episode, I hope you liked it. I hope it wasn’t too short, but I had to make a choice and I prefer splitting episode, than it getting out of hand.
If I missed anything you wanted to know or if you have any questions or feedback and the like, please let me know at email@example.com.
More information and transcript you can find as usually under johannadraconis.com/Podcast and links are in the description.
I hope to see you next time. Watch yourselves and have a wonderful time.