Impact on families

Impact on families

Family members living with a person with PTSD often say that what they find the most difficult is:

  • the feeling of an emotional void
  • a sensation of living with a stranger
  • the lack of emotional responsiveness
  • the lack of his/her involvement in family activities

The consequence of emotional absence is a serious functional loss of a family member.

Family members sometimes feel the need to fill up that “emotional void” with their own feelings of guilt and some become overly functional while the affected member takes a passive role. Feeling of guilt, at the same time, is something that haunts the traumatized individual as well. People suffering from PTSD often experience the present as the endless source of demands and expectations that they do not feel capable of living up to and thus experience a strong feeling of guilt as they view themselves as if they have not given enough to the family. They view themselves as a burden to others and feel like they are hurting their family members and important ones with their behaviour. At the same time, the guilt is stopping them from leaving the family as they do not want to hurt and/or disappoint them once more.

Unfortunately, PTSD symptoms can lead to job loss, substance abuse, and other problems that affect the entire family.

Other important PTSD related issues that greatly affect the family are anger outbursts and violent destructive behaviours which can even become physical violence. Anger can also be a cover for feelings such as grief, helplessness, or guilt as anger can make one feel powerful instead of weak and vulnerable.

People suffering from PTSD due to their illness have difficulties regulating their emotions and impulses and are often sleep deprived. All of these makes them overreact to daily stressors and causes extreme irritability, moodiness, or explosions of rage.

The person for whom you care may try hard to repress their angry feelings but usually they erupt when least expected. The volatility of the outbursts leaves the family members fearful, hurt and angry and family atmosphere of tension, anxiety, and hypervigilance builds up.

Feelings are not expressed, and everyone feels like walking on eggshells.  Such atmosphere in turn can lead to depression, somatic complaints and destructive behaviour in the family.