Self-Care for Partners of Trauma… | Counseling | Therapy

Self-Care for Partners of Trauma Survivors

Alex Robboy , CAS, MSW, ACSW, LCSW — Founder & executive director

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Trauma Therapy in Philadelphia (267-324-9564)

Self-Care for Partners of Trauma Survivors tip focuses on the importance of self-care for partners of trauma survivors and offers some ideas about how to engage in self-care. It is always difficult to see a loved one suffering or struggling, and as a caring partner your likely response is to try to give more of your time and energy to help your partner. At The Center for Growth in Philadelphia, we believe your partner’s traumatic experience has impacted him/her and you have likely noticed changes in your relationship dynamic as well. Partners of trauma survivors need to be there for their partners in their time of need, but they also need to give themselves permission to prioritize and attend to your own experience of the situation as well.

Partners of trauma survivors often experience “secondary trauma” and might even experience some PTSD related symptoms as well. As a partner of a trauma survivor our therapy practice in Philadelphia believes you will also find yourself faced with a very different person than the one you initially fell in love with, as your partner’s PTSD symptoms are impacting your partner’s energy level, interests, style of communicating, ability to demonstrate his/her affection towards you, etc. Some partner’s jump through hoops, desperately trying to help their partner, only to feel alone, frustrated and incompetent when his/her partner does not respond as they would like. Without extra self-care, the partner of a trauma survivor might find him/herself feeling burned out in general, and burned out towards the relationship. To ensure your own mental health, and be able to best help your partner, is crucial that partners learn to take care of themselves.

Identify Your Triggers (in regards to partner’s trauma):

Based on what you know about your partner’s traumatic experience, and how you reacted towards hearing it, you will now likely find certain people, places or things upsetting or triggering (just like someone with PTSD). For instance, the wife of a combat veteran might find watching news coverage of the war anxiety provoking after she learned her husband was injured during an IED. Just like a trauma survivor, it is okay in the short term to limit your exposure to people, places or things that you find triggering. This will help you to preserve your emotional energy and can help you to better manage your feelings around what happened. Triggers cannot all be avoided. Be patient and understanding to yourself when you do have a reaction to a trigger.

Do NOT Invalidate Your Own Experience About What Happened:

Many partner’s of trauma survivors criticize themselves about their own reaction to their partner’s trauma. They feel like because they were not the one to live through the trauma that they should be not be having trouble dealing with it. This is idea is unrealistic. To some degree you will be impacted by your partner’s trauma and you need to acknowledge your own reaction to it to help you heal, and to best be able to support your partner.

Increase Your Social Support:

To cope with the trauma, or the PTSD symptoms, your partner might withdraw from others [hyperlink]. In your attempts to help your partner and deal with your own reaction to the trauma, you might find yourself also withdrawing from others. Be careful not to isolate yourself because you will need the support from understanding family members and friends to help you deal with the situation. In addition to support about the trauma, your friends and family can help you to try and maintain some normalcy in your life.

Create a Realistic Life Plan:

The trauma, and how each of you cope with the trauma will impact your short-term life plans, and depending on the severity, your long-term life plans. To be fair to yourself, your partner and the relationship you need to adjust your life plan given the new changes. You must decide what is negotiable and for how long. Only you can decide what you are willing to modify and change.

Set Appropriate Boundaries With Your Partner:

Your partner will likely need to depend on you more while they are dealing with the aftermath of the trauma. However, you also have needs and limitations. If you do not set boundaries with your partner about how you can help, you will find yourself burned out and responding in a passive aggressive way. If you over give, you will become resentful of your partner and feel angry. You need know what you can give, and then give it freely. The reality is that at the end of the day you will not be able to meet all of your partner’s needs and this is okay. They will still be disappointed that you cannot meet more of your needs but this is okay. If you set appropriately boundaries about what you are able to give, your partner will eventually learn to appreciate what you are able to give. You also need to give your partner the permission to be angry with you and you need to realize this is okay. Also remember that while you can help your partner heal, you are not responsible for your partner’s healing. Ultimately your partner is responsible for his/her own healing.

Be Realistic About Your Partner’s Healing:

It is unfair to your partner and to your relationship to have unrealistic expectations about what healing should look like and how fast it should occur. The reality is that the process looks different for every trauma survivor. Even once your partner no longer meets the criteria for full-blown PTSD, different life events and situations will always bring up some PTSD symptoms for him/her. The important part is for both you and your partner to communicate effectively when you have different ideas about how and what healing should look like. Assistance from a therapist could be helpful when conflict arises. This is why you have set boundaries so that if their healing is prolonged you can survive it.

Know When to Get Professional Help:

Just as your partner might need professional help to heal from the trauma, you might too! At The Center for Growth we can help partner’s of trauma survivors deal with their own reactions to the trauma. Just because you did not personally go through the trauma personally, does not mean you will not be impacted by the trauma. You will in some way be impacted by the trauma and at some point may need individual therapy to 1) deal with your own reaction to the trauma, 2) deal with your reaction about seeing your partner deal who is a survivor of trauma (PTSD), 3) cope with secondary trauma reactions which include symptoms similar to PTSD, 4) better understand PTSD and the process of healing from trauma and 5) make your own decisions about whether you can stay in the relationship or not.

In Summary…Partners of trauma survivors need to adjust to the new realities created by their partner’s trauma. Partners of trauma survivors need to engage in self-care and set appropriate boundaries with their partner in order to prevent burnout, and best help their partner. At The Center for Growth in Philadelphia, we can help partners of trauma survivors process and cope with the various problems they face.

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