THREE WAYS TO SHOW UP
1. Learn to hold space for someone who is suffering: be empathetic, not sympathetic.
To be empathetic is to care for the other person's experiences and feelings, whatever they are, and to find a place in yourself that can identify with what they're going through. If someone you know is going through a hard time, it is important for them to know that you acknowledge their pain and care for them in it. Do not try to make it go away. Do not try to change the subject. Do not try to encourage them to think of all the good things in life. Do not offer them a beer. Sit back, let them talk, listen well, and do not try to be the hero and pull them out of the trench. Instead, be a comrade, by getting down into the trench with them.
If someone says, "I am so tired of being afraid (or sad, or lonely)," (I don't know how many times I have uttered these words myself), an empathetic response would be, "I'm here for you. It's so hard to experience [fill in the blank] and it's okay to feel [blank]. If the person breaks into tears, you don't need to say anything at all. A supportive presence is usually worth far more than any words could say.
Sympathy, on the other hand, is compassion or even pity for the person's experiences. So, if we take the previous example, a sympathetic response would be, "I'm sorry you feel [blank], but it is going to get better. I know it sucks experiencing [blank], but just hang in there. Think of all you've overcome! Come on, let's go distract ourselves from these difficulties!" A response like this is what I'm used to hearing from most of the folks I know. While it sounds really encouraging, this is exactly the type of response that prevents people from getting better, because it keeps them from experiencing the difficult emotions they NEED to feel if they are to process the difficult things they have been through. Processing our emotions is a vital part of the human healing process, and sympathetic responses often shut that process down." CONTINUE READING
By Adam Magers, MGS, Founder and Director of Programs for Warriors' Ascent. He is a US Army Veteran who served in Iraq and the Battle of Sadr City. He is currently studying Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute and training to be a psychotherapist.
2. Understand that post-traumatic stress can MANIFEST differently for different people.
PTSD has nothing to do with being crazy. Alex is not crazy, he’s just a very injured person. It’s hard for him to regulate thoughts, feelings and behaviors. People are the sum total of all their experiences. If his childhood was not stable, he could be lacking inner-regulatory skills and positive coping devices. The body keeps a score of all negative contents stored on a cellular level and it reacts without the person understanding what’s going on at the moment. One of the main reasons that veterans have self-destructed is repressed memory. They had to stuff it down and keep moving. With no opportunity to release it, eruptions occur. It could be weeks, months or years later.
We want our veterans to come back and feel satisfied with the good home-cooked food, with the affection, with the new baby; we wonder if they’re better yet? But healing is not linear. It’s not recovery…they’ll always be recovering. Jessica knows this about Alex and places few cognitive demands on him, following his lead and creating a safe environment in which he’ll succeed. It’s a recovering process. For some it never goes away, but they learn how to cope. The part of him that regulates to the extent that we can see now is because of the environment produced by Jessica. She diffuses some of that intensity with her manner of receiving Alex’s story without judgment, without qualifying or defying it, just simply listening. Our [society’s] judgment only worsens situations like Alex’s; veterans don’t come to talk to us because of that judgment.
Excerpts from a conversation with Beverly Kyer, Author of Surviving Compassion Fatigue: Help For Those Who Help Others
The National Center for PTSD has a brief and excellent overview of symptoms and debunks several misconceptions.
3. KNOW THAT MILITARY caregivers need your support as well
Caring for a loved one is a demanding task. More than 2.5 million U.S. service members have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. Their wartime experiences have led to a sharp increase in the number of veterans living with disabilities. Many veterans of these and earlier conflicts rely for their day-to-day needs on care provided by family or friends. These informal caregivers, whom we term military caregivers, provide a range of indispensable services, saving the nation millions of dollars in health and long-term care costs.
- Pre-9/11 caregivers resemble civilian caregivers: They are typically older adults caring for an aging parent or a spouse caring for an aging partner. By contrast, post-9/11 military caregivers present a different profile. They are younger, more likely to be the spouse or friend of the care recipient, perform different caregiving duties, and are more likely to juggle work and caregiving commitments. Because they care for younger individuals who often have behavioral health issues, many more help their care recipient cope with emotional and behavioral challenges.
- 33 percent of post-9/11 military caregivers lack health care coverage.
- All military caregivers face elevated risks of poor health outcomes, strained family relationships, and financial losses from missed work; these risks are higher among post-9/11 military caregivers.
- Few caregiver support programs provide respite care, health care coverage, and financial support to offset income loss, though these may be the areas of greatest need.
- 25 percent of post-9/11 caregivers rely on their parents who are aging and who, starting in 15 years, will no longer be able to provide support.
If you know a caregiver, military, or otherwise, think of a way to offer a respite. Bring them a meal, watch the kids or share a coffee and some conversation.
If you don't know a caregiver, chances are you're probably not thinking hard enough. Either way, consider making a donation to a non-profit that is focused on providing them support and advocacy: for example Hidden Heroes sponsored the RAND Corp. study cited above. It's the only nationally representative survey of military caregivers to date.