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20 Things Not to Say to Someone With PTSD

Imagine you are the survivor of a horrible car crash. One day, while you’re walking down the street, you hear a car horn followed by a screeching noise. Before you get a chance to look around and figure out what happened, you feel a sudden rush of adrenaline. Fear paralyzes you from head to toe, and your mind fills up with images of the accident in which you were involved not long ago. It may look like you’re overreacting from the outside, but from the inside, everything feels so ‘real’ and overwhelming. And so, you sit there shaking and waiting for something horrible to happen.

For someone with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the world no longer looks like a place worth exploring but rather a minefield where every step presents a risk.

As you can probably imagine, being hypervigilant and ‘on edge’ most of the day is exhausting. In time, and without proper help, you will eventually shut down because you don’t feel like there’s someone who can truly understand what you’re going through.

But part of the reason people who’ve been through traumatic events resort to social isolation is that society often fails to provide what people living with PTSD genuinely need.

And it’s not out of ignorance or ill-intention, not always, but merely a lack of understanding of the difficulties associated with this condition. This manifests in the public services offered to them, the reactions of their loves to their condition, and even in the way those around them communicate with them.

So, here is a list of things you SHOULDN’T say to someone with PTSD:

1. “You’ll get over it”

Whether someone is dealing with depression, burnout, or PTSD, telling them to simply “Get over it” will trivialize the severity of their condition and make them feel like they’re not strong enough.

Imagine you are dealing with something so painful that it almost seems unsolvable. At the same time, you keep hearing that it’s nothing and you should get over it. At some point, you begin to feel like you are the problem; you are the one who doesn’t have what it takes to overcome your condition.

2. “You’re just a bit shocked; that’s all”

A traumatic event can send shockwaves for months (even years) after the initial impact.

It’s like throwing a rock into a pond. Even though the waves are not as ‘loud’ as the initial splash, they’re still strong enough to disturb the surface of the water.

But the worst part is that if you find yourself in a triggering situation, your mind will (emotionally) reenact the trauma, which can be shocking enough to make you avoid specific contexts or experience intense anxiety if you have nowhere to run.

Long story short, people with PTSD are not “just a bit shocked.”

3. “I’m no expert, but I think you should…”

Stop!

Nobody, regardless of the problems they are dealing with, wants to hear unsolicited advice. In fact, there’s a good chance that someone who’s going through a rough patch might have already tried what you’re about to suggest.

For people with PTSD, an empathetic ear or a shoulder to cry on is significantly more valuable than any piece of ‘expert’ advice you might have picked off the Internet.

Just stop at “I’m no expert” because you’re definitely not. All you need to be is the person who can listen and understand.

4. “Maybe you need to do more and complain less”

Once again, we have a perfect example of an invalidating response resulting from a lack of empathy and understanding.

When you’re dealing with something as emotionally draining as PTSD, there’s little energy left for anything else. It’s not that you don’t want to do more; it’s just that every attempt to get past your traumatic experience feels like a herculean task.

Patience is a crucial factor during the recovery process, and just because someone is complaining doesn’t mean they don’t actively work on their problem.

5. “It’s not that bad”

Sometimes, people think that making a problem seem less severe will somehow take the burden off the sufferer’s shoulders, thus speeding recovery.

Although the intention is good, playing down the severity of the problem can backfire horribly. More specifically, you risk becoming yet another person who doesn’t understand the pain and difficulties associated with PTSD.

If you want to provide support to someone who’s been through a traumatic event, don’t evaluate the situation based on your criteria.

Listen, understand, and try to see the pain through his/her eyes.

6. “Others have it worse”

Comparing one sufferer to another can sometimes be useful as it sheds new light on the situation. The fact that life could have been far worse represents a glimmer of hope that paves the way for a better future.

But this perspective only works when the sufferer has already overcome helplessness and is making real steps towards recovery. 

Otherwise, it’s just another trigger for shame and guilt.

7. “Stop making a big fuss about it”

This reply screams frustration right off the bat.

It’s the kind of thing that tends to slip out of your mouth when, for some reason, you’re feeling emotionally unavailable, or perhaps you’ve grown tired of hearing the same complaints over and over again.

If you don’t feel emotionally available, perhaps it would be wiser to take a step back for a moment instead of venting your frustration to someone who’s already in a dark place.

People with PTSD make a big fuss about it because the pain and anxiety can be truly unbearable at times.

8. “I have a friend who’s been through a similar situation, and he got over it”

Just like “Others have it worse,” telling someone with PTSD that they’ll get over it simply because you’ve seen others recovering from the same condition is a faulty comparison.

For starters, one person’s trauma is hardly comparable to another’s. People’s reaction to traumatic events varies depending on their personality, emotional resilience, coping mechanisms, and social support system.

9. “You’re completely irrational”

Given that the underlying emotions people with PTSD experience most of the time are fear and anticipatory anxiety, it’s no surprise that rational arguments prove entirely ineffective.

Additionally, telling people that they’re irrational will definitely not make them adopt a rational perspective. It will only deepen their sense of worthlessness and helplessness.

Often, a simple gesture of, “Help me understand why this situation is difficult for you” is far more helpful than saying, “Let’s look at your problem from a rational standpoint.”

10. “You have to face your fears”

Facing your fears or, as experts call it, exposure therapy is one of the most effective strategies in dealing with PTSD and other anxiety disorders.

Current evidence suggests that both intensive prolonged exposure and virtual-reality augmented exposure can help individuals overcome traumatic experiences.

But this process should only take place under the guidance and supervision of a licensed counselor or therapist.

For people with PTSD, facing their fears can be a huge endeavor requiring patience and careful planning.

11. “You must be really sensitive”

Given that people living with PTSD avoid contexts that could trigger them or behave ‘strangely’ when confronted with a situation that reminds them of their traumatic experience, it’s easy to label them as sensitive.

But this sensitivity isn’t a feature of their identity but a coping mechanism that shields them from further pain and suffering.

Remember that some of them are battle-hardened veterans who could do things that most of us wouldn’t even have the courage to try.

12. “Loosen up a bit; you’re too uptight”

Telling someone with PTSD to loosen up is like telling someone with depression to smile more often.

The reason why people who’ve been through traumatic events seem uptight is that they shield themselves from anything that might trigger that painful memory.

For them, loosening up means letting their guard down, something for which they might not feel ready yet.

13. “Are you a war veteran?”

Given that a significant proportion of people who struggle with PTSD are soldiers and war veterans, we can understand why this stereotype has taken root.

But PTSD can result from a wide range of traumatic events. From emotional and sexual abuse, domestic violence, and severe illness to car accidents, the death of a loved one, and natural disasters, any event that shakes you to the core can trigger the onset of PTSD.

The best thing you can do is ask before making any assumptions that could put the other person in an awkward position.

14. “Leave the past behind”

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy for the human mind to leave the past behind, especially when the past holds something that has shaken the very core of your personality.

When something traumatic happens, the brain registers the event to prevent it from happening again. That’s why some memories will stick and remain with us forever.

In short, the past isn’t something that we should forget or put behind, but understand, accept and integrate into our experience.

15. “Focus on the Positive”

We know that humans possess a diverse spectrum of emotions, some being pleasant, others less so. But each emotional experience has a purpose and a valuable message that we need to hear.

If we choose to focus on “positive vibes only” (and encourage others to do the same), all we are doing is running away from ourselves.

Unpleasant emotions are part of who we are just as much as pleasant ones are.

16. “Let’s talk about something else”

Although being close to people who’ve experienced a tragedy may feel ‘heavy’ at times, it’s vital to create a space where they can unburden their soul.

As long as ‘the wound is still fresh,’ trying to change the subject to something less tragic in hopes of lifting their mood will only result in disappointment.

There’s a good chance you’ll make them feel like a burden.

17. “Why didn’t you say anything at that time?”

Trauma survivors rarely talk about what they’ve been through, especially immediately after the event. It is usually when people notice changes in their behavior that they begin to share their struggles.

On top of that, it’s challenging to be open about something as painful as sexual abuse or domestic violence. Especially when you know that people might not understand what you’re going through, and the authorities might not always have the power to provide proper assistance.

18. “Let’s do something fun”

When you’re having a hard time adjusting to everyday life, fun is the last thing on your mind.

Even if you try to do something to take your mind off the problems you face, there’s always that profound sense of imminent threat that’s keeping you from enjoying a fun activity.

Instead of suggesting something fun, try to create a safe space where they can experience a sense of comfort and calm.

19. “Didn’t this happen a long time ago?”

Asking this question is like saying, “You should have been over it by now.”

It’s definitely something you don’t want to say to someone who’s already having a hard time going about his/her daily life.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it takes 6 to 12 weeks of psychotherapy for someone with PTSD to achieve recovery. But keep in mind this is just a rough estimate.

20. “It will only get better and better from now on”

As an outside observer, it’s easy to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But when you’re dealing with something as debilitating as PTSD, all you can see are miles and miles of tunnel.

Being Helpful

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a complicated condition with numerous emotional, psychological, and behavioral factors that affect one’s ability to perceive a better future. So instead of desperately pointing towards the light, try helping those suffering from PTSD navigate through the tunnel until they find their own way out.

For tips on what you should do, check out our article Supporting Someone with PTSD.

Written by Alexander Draghici, MS, LCPC
In collaboration with E-Counseling.com

Eating Disorders and Sexual Violence

There is a strong link between sexual violence and eating disorders. After someone experiences a traumatic event, it is common for there to be an emotional response such as anxiety, PTSD, and depression. Finding healthy ways to cope with the effects of sexual violence can be extremely challenging, especially if you don’t have a strong support system. In order to feel fulfilled as a human, ensuring that your safety needs are met is crucial. When someone experiences sexual violence, their safety becomes jeopardized, which is why many survivors develop eating disorders as a subconscious coping mechanism for the trauma they encountered.

Of course, there are also many other factors that can contribute or cause an eating disorder. This includes genetics, environmental factors such as bullying, body shaming and the media, as well as certain mental health disorders like PTSD and body dysmorphia. Sometimes, an eating disorder is a cry for help, a way for those around you to understand that something is seriously wrong. It’s not easy to communicate how you feel with words, and a disorder that can physically show itself can act as a harmful form of expression. 

During the pandemic, there has been a major increase in eating disorders. This is because there is so little distraction and people are beginning to hyper-fixate on their bodies, using eating as a way to avoid certain emotions, thoughts and feelings. It’s a distraction that for many is easy to develop. For survivors of sexual violence, it can be extremely difficult to manage the effects of an assault during “normal” times, so you can imagine how challenging it can be during isolation.

Below are reasons why eating disorders and sexual violence are so closely related.

1. You want to feel control

As humans, we like to feel control in most aspects of our lives. When someone is sexually violated they experience a loss of control over their bodies, and their safety and security needs are put at risk. Sometimes, an eating disorder subconsciously acts as a way to gain that control back. This is because eating disorders dictate what you eat, how much you eat, as well as your physical appearance. Disorders such as anorexia nervosa are based on restriction, the constant surveillance of the food you consume, and in some cases over-exercising. It can give many people a feeling of power, and satisfaction to have a strong influence on how their body looks and feels, even if it’s dangerous for their physical and mental health. 

2. Temporary release of dopamine

For many people, food acts as a coping mechanism during times of stress, sadness, guilt and anxiety. Food can be comforting, and bring relief when one experiences negative emotions. Both binge eating disorder and bulimia involve eating large quantities of food, but those with bulimia purge after consumption. The act of binging actually releases dopamine, a chemical in our brain that allows us to feel pleasure and happiness. During an episode of binging, it is similar to a high which is why so many people do it, and oftentimes in secret. It’s a way to release those upsetting feelings, and distract yourself from the realities our minds have been facing. However, when the binging is over the feelings of negativity, and guilt from eating these extreme amounts of food wash over our brains. This is when many individuals are inclined to purge as they feel regretful after that consumption. For sexual violence survivors, binging can be a way to release pleasure chemicals which they may be struggling to feel. It is essentially a temporary switch in emotions. 

At VESTA, we understand how scary it can be to reach out for help, but already, reading this article is a great first step. An eating disorder isn’t something you should manage on your own. You deserve to be supported and given the necessary help and resources in order to thrive and heal. Below we have listed free helplines that specialize in eating disorders, and articles that go more into depth. There is also a link to a private, online counseling service that is affordable and easily accessible. Finally, it’s crucial that you speak with your primary care provider, as an eating disorder is not only a psychological issue, but a physical issue as well. They can guide you on getting professional help, and ensure the necessary steps to maintain healthy living. 

Written by: Taryn Herlich

Helpful Resources

National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC): Toll Free Hotline 
https://nedic.ca/contact/

ANAD Eating Disorders Helpline 
https://anad.org/get-help/eating-disorders-helpline/

BetterHelp Affordable Counseling
https://www.betterhelp.com/helpme/?utm_source=AdWords&utm_medium=Search_PPC_c&utm_term=eating+disorder_p&utm_content=117234358070&network=g&placement=&target=&matchtype=p&utm_campaign=384715690&ad_type=text&adposition=&gclid=CjwKCAiA9bmABhBbEiwASb35V3dVia6xavFv5hD73PT8uVOj1ax-IBzUSJlLS5ofPIWeaFM-dotbqBoCsskQAvD_BwE&not_found=1&gor=helpme

Eating Disorder Facts and Information
https://cmha.ca/mental-health/understanding-mental-illness/eating-disorders 
https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/eating-disorders

Sources

Protecting Yourself Against Smartphone Domestic Abuse

If you or someone you know is in danger please contact 911 or the hotline below to seek help. 

Assaulted Women’s Helpline: https://www.awhl.org/about-us 

Services safety plans, referrals to services and immediate counseling run throughout Ontario.


How Are Smart Devices Linked to Domestic Violence?

We live in an era of technology which has its many pros and cons. While we can access information at fast rates and connect with family and friends, there is also a harmful side. A common pattern within many domestic violence cases is the use of control through social media and smart devices connected to one’s home. Continuing to hold the power in these relationships is the main goal of the abuser and these forms of technology have made it easier to intimidate survivors. Thankfully, there are many ways you can still protect yourself. 

But first, let’s understand what you should look for if you feel a spouse, ex partner or current partner is using technology in an abusive manner. Remember, everyone has their own unique experience and even if not all these ideas resonate with you, the steps to protect yourself can still be beneficial. Sometimes, the signs are discreet while others are more overt.  

Signs may include:

This information is in no way meant to make you scared. We just want you to understand the signs. The next steps in this article will better teach you how to protect yourself against these types of scenarios. Here are some steps to take in order to keep your privacy safe. 

Use Two Factor Authentication

Two factor authentication is an app you can download on your cell phone that will connect with whichever social media sites you want it to. For example, if you want your Facebook account to be better protected, then you can connect it to two factor authentication. Any time a new user tries to log into your account they would have to use the code that’s shown in the two factor authentication app, or texted to your chosen number. This in turn makes it harder for hackers to access your private accounts. 

Turn Off Default Geo Tracking 

Geo-tracking is a feature on our cellphones that many people are unaware of. This setting collects location data that can tell details about private places one may have visited. When we post a picture on social media, our geo-location can sometimes tag the location of where that photo was taken without us realizing it. Don’t put pictures that update followers on your whereabouts or make your location obvious. This can make it easier for your abuser to know when you’re out, and where you spend your free time. Access your cellphone’s system settings and disable the geo-tracking icon. If you have an iPhone or Android, the links provided below will guide you on how to manage this feature and turn it off. 

iPhone: https://support.apple.com/en-ca/HT207092 
Android: https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/3467281?hl=en 

 If you’re a Snapchat user, check the app to ensure your location isn’t being shared with your followers. Disable this feature by clicking the location icon that leads you to the Snapchat world map. The location icon can be found on the bottom left corner, when you open the Snapchat camera, homepage, and conversations. Then access your settings which are located in the top right corner of the map. Once you’re in settings, you will have a feature called “ghost mode” and there you can easily disable others from viewing your location. 

Here’s what you should consider doing to ensure your online safety…

Here’s what you shouldn’t do…

Written by: Taryn Herlich

Young woman standing outdoors late at night by a lake looking anxiously at smartphone

Sources

The Emotional Tie Between Valentine’s Day and Abuse

Valentine’s Day can be difficult  for survivors of domestic violence. Our society has marketed this day towards happy, healthy couples and for individuals who have faced abuse, it can make this day feel rather disheartening. Social media is often full of unrealistic presentations of happy couples and this can create feelings of unworthiness, provoking individuals to ponder their own decisions.

On the other hand, many survivors who do leave an abusive relationship, may face what’s known as Stockholm syndrome after abuse. This is essentially when you feel compassion for your abuser and struggle to get over the break-up as you still miss being with them. On Valentine’s Day, it can be extremely easy to fall into a cycle of reminiscing on the positive times you had with this person, because let’s face it, even an abusive relationship can have good days. That’s essentially what keeps survivors holding on. They hope one day this person will change, and focus on the fond memories they may have had at the beginning of the relationship. During a pandemic, it can be especially challenging, as there is little distraction to help dissipate these thoughts and in some cases, triggers. 

So, let’s find ways that Valentine’s Day can be a day full of self-love rather than sorrow. This day should be about admiring your inner strength, and celebrating you as a wonderful individual deserving of recognition. 


1. Write a love letter to yourself 

A personal love letter is a great way to reflect on life, and recognize all the qualities that make you special and unique. It’s similar to telling yourself positive affirmations which help re-frame negative self-talk. The more you tell yourself that you are worthy, kind, smart, and a good human being, the more your mind will believe it. One of the first steps to healing is self-love and a love letter to yourself is a great way to begin or continue the process. This article on Glamour has some amazing examples of letters survivors wrote to themselves.

2. Participate in self care 

Why not make Valentine’s Day about treating yourself! Relax and do what makes you feel good. Self care can be as small as doing your makeup (something many people actually find therapeutic) to colouring, writing, taking a bath, going for a walk, speaking with your therapist, or even unplugging from social media. 

3. Be around those you love 

We’re in difficult times as the pandemic is still present. However, if you live with friends or family that you like, try initiating a movie or dinner night, and have a fun day of celebrating the ones you love! This day isn’t only for celebrating romantic relationships. If possible, go on a socially distant outdoor walk with a friend to switch things up. 

4. Take advantage of the day full of chocolate and bake something delicious

Baking is another act of self care and for many, is extremely relaxing and a great way to unwind and relieve stress. Not only are you creating something delicious but baking actually allows you to express creativity. 

5. Call a helpline if you begin to have upsetting thoughts and feelings

There is no shame in calling a helpline on Valentine’s Day. If you need that extra bit of support right now, you should absolutely reach out and get it. Sometimes having someone who doesn’t know you, listen to your problems can be a great relief. 

6. Be gentle with yourself

Remember, it’s okay if you feel certain upsetting emotions on Valentine’s Day. Your feelings are valid, and normal so don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re only human and quite frankly doing the best you can. In fact, just reading this article is such a wonderful step. You are loved, and so worthy.


If you are currently in an abusive relationship, we recognize how challenging this day can be and how it can be even more difficult to leave on the days leading up to it. There is a pressure that Valentine’s Day will solve certain issues, and that with flowers, chocolate, perhaps a necklace, this day can be special and peaceful. We recognize that you may be holding onto those grand gestures, those moments of kindness, and that on this day your heart yearns for some form of love. The pressure of any holiday can make it harder to leave, especially the ones that are based on love. Know that you are worthy of kindness and respect. This is not your fault, you are not alone, and you are appreciated and loved. Please, seek support by involving a trusted family member or friend, and contact a hotline that can help guide you in leaving (we will have them listed below).  If you’re in immediate danger call 911. 

Written by: Taryn Herlich

Resource Link For Helplines In Canada 
https://www.dawncanada.net/issues/crisis-hotlines/

Sources
https://www.allure.com/story/valentines-day-guide-for-domestic-violence-survivors