What Not To Say to Someone with Complex PTSD

What Not To Say to Someone with Complex PTSD

Complex PTSD is a type of post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) that can occur after someone has been through prolonged or repeated trauma. This may include ongoing domestic violence, childhood abuse, or being held captive.

The key difference between “regular” PTSD and complex PTSD is the duration and severity of the trauma. With complex PTSD, the trauma is usually chronic and extends over a long period of time. This can make it much harder for someone to recover from complex PTSD than regular PTSD.

People with complex PTSD often have a hard time trusting people, feeling close to others, and managing their emotions. Other symptoms may include excessive anger and feeling hopeless, helpless, and ashamed.

What Not to Say to Someone with Complex PTSD

Complex PTSD is a difficult diagnosis to live with, both for the person who has it and their loved ones. It can be hard to know how to interact with someone struggling with PTSD, especially if you don’t have firsthand experience with the condition.

For instance, some things you say can invalidate their experiences and make them feel misunderstood. Remember that everyone deals with trauma differently, and it may take years to recover. As such, it’s important to be mindful of what you say to someone with complex PTSD to avoid causing them further emotional turmoil.

Here are things you should avoid saying to people suffering from complex PTSD:

“It’s all in your head”

This statement invalidates their experiences and makes them feel like their trauma is not “real.” It also suggests that they are making up their symptoms or overreacting.

“Just let it go”

This statement suggests that the person with complex PTSD should be able to just forget about their trauma and move on. Forgetting that complex PTSD is a deep-seated psychological disorder that takes years of treatment to manage effectively.

“Just snap out of it”

This implies that the person with complex PTSD is choosing to feel this way and that they could stop if they wanted to. It discounts the very real pain and suffering that they are going through.

“That was long ago”

This suggests that the person with complex PTSD should have healed by now. Unfortunately, complex PTSD is often a lifelong struggle. Just because time has passed does not mean that the person has healed.

“It’s not that bad” or “You’re overreacting” or “You’re too sensitive”

These statements minimize the person’s experiences and imply their trauma is not a big deal. It also implies that they should just toughen up and deal with their trauma.

“Others have it worse”

While it may be true that other people may “have it worse”, this statement invalidates the person’s experiences. It can affect a person’s self-esteem and make them feel like their trauma is as serious or as important compared to others.

“You’re just being paranoid”

This statement suggests that the person with complex PTSD is overthinking things or making mountains out of molehills. It can make the person second-guess their instincts and doubt their own experiences.

“I know how you feel.”

Even if you have gone through a similar experience, everyone experiences trauma differently. It’s important to respect that and not try to compare or downplay someone’s feelings.

“Someone went through the same thing, and they’re fine now.”

This may be true, but it’s not helpful to compare the person’s trauma to someone else’s. Everyone deals with trauma differently and at their own pace.

What to Say Instead

If you’re not sure what to say, it’s okay to just offer a simple statement of support. Something like “I’m here for you” or “Thank you for sharing” can go a long way in making the person feel validated and understood.

You can also ask them how they’re doing and if there’s anything you can do to help. Just showing that you care and are willing to listen can make a big difference.

It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to say anything at all. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just be there for the person. Just your presence can be a source of comfort and support.

The Bottom Line

Complex PTSD, as with many other mental illnesses, is a serious condition that can have devastating effects on a person’s life. What you say to that person can encourage their recovery journey or send them on a downward spiral of emotional and psychological suffering. It’s advisable to avoid any language that may invalidate their feelings and emotions and focus on being supportive and understanding. 

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