Supporting a Loved One with PTSD or CPTSD: Strategies for Coping and Self-Care

In this article, we will explore the symptoms of PTSD and CPTSD and identify strategies to support your loved one in coping with their symptoms. We will also discuss how their symptoms can impact you and provide strategies for self-care.

Recognizing the Symptoms

People with PTSD or CPTSD may experience a range of symptoms, including withdrawal or isolation, avoidance of reminders, concentration difficulties, hyper vigilance, exhaustion, sleep difficulties, startle easily, negative attitude, emotional numbing, dysregulation, physical symptoms, impulsivity, intrusive thoughts, and a sense of helplessness. It's important to understand these symptoms and how they can manifest in your loved one's behavior.

Communicating and Supporting

When supporting a person with PTSD or CPTSD, it's crucial to communicate with them about their vulnerabilities, triggers, and solutions. Everyone's experience with trauma is different, so it's important to ask them what support and solutions work for them. Make a list of these strategies and consider creating a distress tolerance toolbox to help them cope with their symptoms.

Understanding Withdrawal and Isolation

Withdrawal and isolation are common coping mechanisms for individuals who have experienced trauma. They may isolate themselves because being around others reminds them of the trauma or because they feel overwhelmed and overstimulated. It's important to inquire about the function of their withdrawal and discuss ways to mitigate it, such as finding compromises or creating a safe environment.

Avoidance of Reminders

Avoidance of reminders is another common symptom of PTSD and CPTSD. Individuals may avoid certain places or activities that remind them of their trauma. It's important to respect their need to avoid triggers and discuss ways to help them feel safe and empowered in different situations.

Dealing with Inflexible Thinking

Inflexible thinking is a result of the fight or flight response triggered by trauma. When individuals are in fight or flight mode, their thinking becomes inflexible, making it difficult for them to consider alternative perspectives. It's important to help them feel safe and secure so they can engage in higher-order thinking and explore other options.

Managing Hyper Vigilance

Hyper vigilance is a common symptom of trauma and can make individuals constantly feel on edge and alert for potential threats. It's essential to understand their hyper vigilance and find ways to help them feel safe and relaxed. This may involve adjusting their environment or finding compromises that reduce potential triggers.

Addressing Sleep Difficulties

Sleep difficulties are often associated with PTSD and CPTSD, and it's crucial to recognize their impact on both your loved one and yourself. Poor quality sleep can worsen symptoms and hinder the healing process. Encourage your loved one to seek professional help if necessary and find ways to support their sleep hygiene.

Managing Startle Responses

Individuals with traumatic injury often have an exaggerated startle response, which can be triggered by sudden loud noises or unexpected events. It's important to provide warnings before potential triggers and create a safe environment that minimizes startling stimuli.

Supporting Positive Attitudes

People with PTSD or CPTSD may develop a more negative attitude due to their hyper vigilance and focus on potential threats. It's important to acknowledge their perceptions while also presenting alternative perspectives or positive experiences. Encourage them to focus on the good things in their life and support their efforts to reframe negative thinking patterns.

Dealing with Emotional Numbing and Dysregulation

Emotional numbing and dysregulation are common symptoms of trauma. Individuals may struggle to feel any emotions or experience intense emotional shifts. It's important to validate their feelings and provide a safe space for them to express themselves. Encourage them to seek therapy or other professional help to address these symptoms.

Recognizing Physical Symptoms

PTSD and CPTSD can manifest in physical symptoms such as muscle tension, upset stomach, and even autoimmune conditions. Understand that these physical symptoms are a result of their trauma and provide compassionate support. Encourage them to seek medical help if needed and explore holistic approaches to managing their physical well-being.

Addressing Impulsivity

Impulsivity is another symptom that individuals with PTSD or CPTSD may struggle with. They may engage in impulsive behaviors as a way to distract themselves from distress or as a reaction to perceived threats. It's important to understand the underlying reasons for their impulsivity and find healthier coping mechanisms together.

Managing Intrusive Thoughts and Flashbacks

Intrusive thoughts and flashbacks can be distressing for individuals with PTSD or CPTSD. While these symptoms may never completely go away, they can be managed with the right support. Encourage your loved one to seek therapy or trauma-focused interventions like EMDR. Help them develop strategies to cope with intrusive thoughts and flashbacks when they occur.

Empowering a Sense of Control

People who have experienced trauma often feel a sense of helplessness. It's important to empower them by helping them identify what a rich and meaningful life looks like for them and supporting their efforts to make positive changes. Encourage them to set goals, celebrate small victories, and provide a supportive environment for their healing journey.

Take Care of Yourself

Supporting a loved one with PTSD or CPTSD can be emotionally and physically draining. It's crucial to prioritize your own self-care and seek support for yourself. Take time to rest, engage in activities that bring you joy, and connect with a support network. Remember, you can't pour from an empty cup.


Supporting a loved one with PTSD or CPTSD requires understanding, empathy, and effective communication. By learning about their symptoms, vulnerabilities, and triggers, you can provide the support they need to cope with their trauma. Remember to prioritize your own well-being and seek professional help if necessary. Together, you can navigate the challenges of healing and create a safe and nurturing environment for both of you.

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