Honor, Trust, and Selflessness: Supporting Someone with PTSD

Disclaimer: this article discusses and mentions topics such as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and sexual assault, which may be triggering for some.  

art print by kikicastel
art print by kiki castel

There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ way to love somebody, but there are common morals and responsibilities that we should bring into every friendship and relationship: trust, compassion, respect, and communication. When you love somebody who has been diagnosed with PTSD and gone through considerable trauma in his or her life (warfare, car accidents, assault, etc.), it can require even more patience and selflessness to establish a sense of safety and love between the two of you. More than anything else, it’s a reminder that it’s not all about you: it’s about keeping your partner safe and respecting their boundaries, their feelings, and of course, their trauma.

Another reminder I’d like to point out (and this applies to all types of relationships): is to remember that you are not your partner’s therapist, and they are not yours. Of course it is important (and frankly necessary) in any relationship to have a sense of open communication and unconditional support, but that does not mean you have to disregard your own emotional needs. Love is give and take!

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and with that in mind, I want to talk about why dedicating nurturing patience into these relationships is so important, and, from personal experience, what we can do to make our partners feel safe and protect their vulnerability.

When I refer to a survivor of sexual abuse as ‘vulnerable’, I do not mean it in a sense that they are weak or defenseless. What I do mean is this: PTSD entails a wide variety of devastating symptoms, including flashbacks, disturbing thoughts and feelings, mental distress, suicidal ideation, and increased fight-or-flight response. Survivors of repeated, prolonged abuse may exhibit ‘fawning’ symptoms, or a display of people-pleasing behavior to subside conflict. In a general sense, individuals with PTSD can feel an overwhelming desire to mirror the expectations and desires of other people, and neglect standing up for themselves. With all of that in mind, here are ways you can support your loved one with PTSD or a background in sexual trauma in a way that is encouraging, supportive, and gentle.

Perhaps one of the most important things to remember when approaching a friend or partner with trauma: respect their boundaries. While clear communication and honesty is extremely important in any friendship or relationship, that does not mean your partner is obligated to tell you every detail or answer every question you have about their trauma or incident. If he or she is visibly uncomfortable with the conversation and wishes not to speak about any subject, respect that and switch topics immediately. Additionally, if a conversation about trauma does come up, you should not be the one dictating that conversation – it is up to your friend or partner if they choose to start speaking about it. If your partner or friend struggles with anxiety or depression as a result of their PTSD, do not force or coax them into situations which may heighten these illnesses. Signs that someone may be uncomfortable with a situation or dealing with anxiety include sudden quietness, nervous ticks, or obvious discomfort from their body language. It is always important to establish your boundaries at the beginning of the relationship, and make sure your inner circle is aware of these boundaries as well to avoid uncomfortable situations. 

Arousal does not equal consent. Ask for clear, verbal consent before engaging in any sexual activities with your partner. If he or she expresses discomfort with any activity or expresses a need to stop, it is your responsibility and obligation to respect that. Your partner does not owe you an explanation for this! Their safety is more important than your satisfaction.

Offer emotional support, resources, and positive affirmations. Remind your partner that they are strong, valued, appreciated, and honored. Thank them for the little joys and favors they bring into your life. Text your partner or leave them notes reminding them how beautiful and important they are. It’s a small effort, but to someone who may be struggling with anxiety, depression, or negative body image, these small reminders can mean the world. Emphasize to your partner that there are resources available and countless people who love him/her, if he ever needs additional support.

Before making a decision together, double-check that your partner is okay with this choice and make sure their voice is heard. This ties back to the fawning behaviors and tendencies sometimes exhibited by individuals with PTSD. Your partner may be afraid to tell you how they really feel about a decision or admit that they don’t want to do something, because they are afraid of letting you down or not pleasing you enough. Remind your partner that his or her voice matters, and ensure as much as possible that they can say ‘no’ any time they feel uncomfortable with a decision or frankly just not up to it. 

Be wary of triggers. Like I said before, survivors of trauma may experience flashbacks or uncomfortable feelings when their memories or PTSD is triggered. If your partner has a negative body image, avoid talking about your weight or comparing your body to theirs. If your partner has attempted suicide, don’t make jokes that you’re ‘going to kill yourself’ when something goes wrong (For real, please don’t make jokes about that in general.) If you’re planning on seeing a movie or watching a show that may contain triggering content, make sure you and your partner are aware of this ahead of time, to the best of your ability. 

I hope this article is helpful and informative for all of you! I’m not an expert or a psychologist or anything like that, but like I said, I have been able to improve my relationships and maintain healthy communication with my loved ones through taking these actions. And like I said, most situations are not one-size-fits-all, so please be flexible and adaptable with your loved ones depending on their exact situation!

If you are a survivor of sexual assault or any debilitating trauma, please know that there are resources available for you! The national hotline for sexual assault (US) is 1-800-656-4673. Additionally, if you suffer from depression or suicidal thoughts, please do not go through this alone and reach out to an outlet or person you trust. The national suicide prevention hotline is 1-800-273-8255. Stay safe, everyone, and love each other! 

 

Keepin’ Busy: Date Ideas for Self-Quarantined Couples

So, it’s pretty indisputable that things suck right now. Several of us are finding ourselves trapped indoors without hobbies, tasks, and most crucially: socialization. I consider myself lucky to be introverted and happily a homebody, yet it’s rough being away from my friends and extended loved ones.

Even though many of us are limited in the things we can do, that doesn’t mean you and your loved ones can’t keep things exciting and fresh (and let’s be realistic, there’s only so much sex you can have together in quarantine before you need some more activities.) These indoors date ideas are coming from my perspective of being in a relationship, but they would be perfect for friend-dates as well. Just remember to keep your social circle small, and don’t let weird people cough on you.


Pot some plants together.

three green assorted plants in white ceramic pots
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Potting plants is an inexpensive, interactive, and educational activity that you can do right from the comfort of your own home! Especially when you’re stuck at home in quarantine, having the responsibility of keeping a plant alive can be a great motivator to keep you going and give you something to look forward to. I recently just potted some basil, which I have grown before in the past, and I’m eagerly looking forward to watching it sprout and flourish every day. It’s easy, it’s wholesome, and it’s a great activity to do in the comfort of your house.


Take a nature walk.

flock of birds
Photo by Efdal YILDIZ on Pexels.com

If you’re really starting to feel the cabin fever hit, consider going for a nature walk together to get some fresh air and get your feet moving. Obviously, stay away from areas that are populated or full of people, because the point is that we want to stay distanced, but a little nature walk outside is actually recommended by professionals to keep your spirits up during these hard times. I’m lucky to live in New England, where there are tons of woodsy places to visit without people around. Depending on where you live, figure out what works best for your circumstances and lockdown regulations. 


Take a bubble bath. Preferably, a bath full of hand sanitizer, but that’s probably not possible in these trying times.

bathroom bathtub ceramic chrome
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Just kidding, please don’t waste hand sanitizer. But for real- bubble baths during these trying times is exactly what most of us need right now. Pour yourself a glass of wine, put on some music, chill out in the bath, and try to think about something besides coronavirus for awhile. If there was ever a time for pampering and self-love, it’s now. 


Read books in bed together.

photo of a book on white textile
Photo by Dina Nasyrova on Pexels.com

As the poster child for introversion, reading books in bed is one of my favorite things to do, especially with someone next to me. It’s a sweet, tranquil way to bond and be near each other, but it doesn’t require any conversation (incredible, right?). Currently, I’m rotating between Memoirs of a Geisha, Slaughterhouse Five, and Disappearing Earth to pass the time. Napping together also falls into this category. 


Have a wine-tasting/cocktail-making shindig. 

close up photo of wine glasses
Photo by Татьяна Танатова on Pexels.com

No, you shouldn’t be going out to any liquor stores right now, but the good news is you can still buy booze online! Regardless of if you’re with your family, your partner, or even just by yourself, consider hosting your very own wine-tasting/cocktail-making party at home. Come up with some new alcoholic concoctions that you’d never thought about trying before. For bonus points, consider watching something cheesy like America’s Next Top Model or The Bachelor to complete the suburban mom aesthetic. 


Watch Jeopardy! and other feel-good shows. 

photo of cup near flat screen television
Photo by John-Mark Smith on Pexels.com

This weekend, I learned that my boyfriend is an actual certifiable Jeopardy! legend. Dear God, we probably watched about six hours of that show total over the course of 2 and a half days. That’s probably not everybody’s cup of tea, but for us, trivia shows actually proved to be a great way to pass the time and share some laughs. If Jeopardy! And Family Feud aren’t your thing, switch it up with a binge-worthy show you can both get behind. For fans of thrillers, I highly recommend watching The Keepers or Bates Motel for some thought-provoking discussions together. If you like baking shows, I cannot recommend Sugar Rush and Food Network enough.


Teach each other a new skill or hobby.

assorted puzzle game
Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. Lately, my very small circle and I have shared a lot of hobbies and skills amongst each other, including knitting, puzzles, and cooking. Most of us have endless time right now, so why not pick up a new skill or talent to keep yourselves occupied? If you want to spend 3-5 being fully immersed and frustrated in a new task, I highly suggest trying to learn how to knit. It’s the perfect combination of mental pain and fascination. Another idea is to sign up for an online class together, so that you can both learn a new skill at the same time!


Bake something together.

person holding dough on her hands
Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

Keeping with the trend of being extremely wholesome, baking something with your loved one is always a great way to spend quality time together and create something awesome with your hands. I’ve been really into baking muffins right now, but I’m also interested in getting into baking bread. It sort of goes back to the learn-a-new-skill thing; if you’re not very good at baking or cooking, use this time to learn some new, wonderful dishes with your partner.


Last but not least, have a luxurious spa night at home. 

lavender and massage oils
Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

I guess this kind of relates to the bubble bath idea, but why not take it up a notch and have a full-out spa night? You can make face masks, give each other massages, listen to royalty-free spa music, paint your nails, etc, etc. I personally have about a thousand hair and skin products sitting in my bathroom at the moment, so I’m trying to take this self-quarantine time to catch up on self love and beauty. Also, take this opportunity to catch up on rest! Beauty sleep has never been more important. More than anything else, remember to take care of yourself and the vulnerable people around you. If we all practice adequate social distancing and self-quarantining, I think this will all be over sooner than we think. Even moreso, spending more time together indoors while still branching out could be a great bonding experience for you both, and bring you closer than ever.