Among the most difficult pieces of news a family can hear is from within. To discover that a close relative you've understood all your life, a member of your family, has abused another, is disastrous. I know because I 've been on either side of that coin, both recieving the news and declaring it to my own relatives. For the PTSD sufferer it's among the bravest but most ambitious steps towards recovery. By unveiling the secret, breaking the quiet and putting your experiences and your spirit out in the open for those you love to question and hopefully understand, you are treating. The choice to tell family members that you just have PTSD - and maybe more significantly, what the trauma which caused it was - is one that many sufferers agonize over.
Imagine if they donât believe me? I will create a rift in the family. I'm upsetting the apple cart. So thereâs no point causing all this heartbreak itâs in days gone by -- these are just the beginnings of various trains of thought a sufferer will probably go through when debating whether to tell not or â. It's hard enough when the perpetrator isn't a member of the family, a friend, maybe, in the case of sexual abuse. However, if the abuser and the victim share the same family, it becomes a whole lot more messy. Once the naming and shaming of the abuser is out there, and everyone understands what you as a survivor of abuse have been through, thereâs no going back.
So, what if youâre the family member whoâs merely been sat in a front room, having made a pot of tea, simply to have the get-together blasted into smithereens by son, granddaughter, your daughter, neice or nephew? Theyâve not slept for weeks (PTSD plus the do-I, donât-I argument), and now theyâre quietly sitting with the teacup still shaking on its saucer, anxiously anticipating your reply.
First, engage your brain before you speak. Your emotions are high, you donât know what to believe, and the image of the man in front of you and the man who mistreated them has been shattered like glass on concrete. Blurting out âI donât believe youâ will ostricize the sufferer, potentially activate an emotional flashback, cause them to question themselves and their memories and make you the target of frustration, anger and damage. Perhaps you canât reconcile the picture of the accused with the accusation, but that doesn't mean it didnât happen. So, think before you speak and do nât undermine the courage it took for the sufferer to tell you.
Second, please, don't go and start a fight with the accused. It helps nobody, least of all the sufferer. Going over there and having it outside will lead to everything being denied by the abuser, retaliating, perhaps attacking yourself or the first casualty. If there is evidence that could be used in legal proceedings should they follow, the sufferer has lost it.
Third, remember that âoutingâ an they'll be exhausted, and an abuser is a very courageous decision for the sufferer. A match of 20 questions is not suitable right now! To have been trusted enough to discover they have suffered from abuse and developed PTSD because of it puts you in a privileged position. Remember that, and try to refrain from asking about all the details of the maltreatment, the duration, if anyone else was involved, or the dreaded "why didnât you tell us earlier?â Some of the responses wonât be clear to the sufferer (hint: specially the last one), and some of them hurt too much to talk about. Where you learn the facts of the injury and the impact on the suffererâs life since the time will come. Now is nât it.
Enough of the don'tâs. What should you do? Listening is important; taking time to hear the sufferer is the greatest gift you'll be able to give them and being there. Perhaps the relief of having someone in the family know will bring about an outpouring of despair confidential information and emotion. Be there for them, and let them understand that you are available to speak with, if and when they want. Offer support and give them the safe space they'venât had to vent how they feel. On the flipside, the individual with PTSD might totally freak out and not want to say another word. Listening is still important, even in the quiet. Make the man you love feel safe and supported and free to speak, or not talk, ask for help, or not.
Do things that are normal with this person. Them having PTSD will not define them nor should it define your future relationship with them. Take them out, encourage them to meet-ups (without the abuser present) and appreciate them for who they are. As with lots of mental illnesses, sometimes socializing seems not easy, but even if you get discounted or rejected, continue while also letting them know it's okay for them not to join encouraging them. Empathy and patience is the name of the game.
Additionally, look after yourself. Odds are the news has come as a jolt, and you are now fighting with conflicting emotions regarding the abuser, especially if you understood them and are close to them. It really is understandable to be bewildered and upset, so take a little time to process the info. Often it is helpful to speak with someone you know, about your feelings, for example counsellor or a friend. Getting an outside perspective from someone who doesnât understand the abuser or the PTSD sufferer can be useful. It's easy to feel like anything you do or say will be wrong, but seriously, you know the folks involved and how exactly to talk to them. Trust instinct and that knowledge.
I am only able to speak from personal experience, but hopefully thereâs a nugget or two of advice in this piece to allow you to discover about the abuse that can happen within.