Love, the best thing a family could ever possibly do is to love their soldier unconditionally. No one can truly live without love, yes one could survive physically, but without love you would die emotionally and become bitter and angry, slowly withering away into a black abyss. Worse yet, without love you feel so incredibly alone in this world and feeling alone amongst the people you should feel love from is one of the worst feelings I have ever felt.
Next up, understanding. As a family member you need to be understanding of the fact that your soldier has gone through some extreme sh*# and experienced some very traumatic events, but he or she doesn’t need you to baby them. You will never fully understand what they have been through, and you know what? You don’t need to. The understanding that you need to embrace is not of the events that transpired, but of the impact they have had on your soldier’s life. Your soldier is going to act differently than before, they may be withdrawn, depressed, angry, anxious, paranoid or a host of other various emotions. It is possible that they may act completely different than before. This ties into realization, you have to realize your soldier is NOT the boy or girl you raised or grew up with. They have changed and they will never be who they were, you need to let go of that perception of how you believe they should act. The baseline behavior you used to know is no longer valid.
Acceptance, accept who they are and embrace them. They don’t need someone to try to tell them what they should be doing or how they should be acting, they need to be accepted for who they currently are so they can feel the love and support they need.
Learn about PTSD, do research and find out what triggers are, how to manage symptoms, how to cope with PTSD, BUT do NOT try to preach to your soldier about how they should deal with their situations. It is not your job to save or heal them, only they can heal themselves. Learning about PTSD isn’t so you can try to diagnose or teach your soldier about it, that will probably just piss them off and push them away. Learning about PTSD is so YOU are aware of what is going on. The more you know about triggers, reactions, and symptoms will allow you to realize what is happening when your soldier gets triggered as well as what triggered him or her. If you know these things and have researched how to manage the symptoms, you could nonchalantly steer them into a more positive direction or distract them with something so the trigger doesn’t send them over the edge. Remember too, you are not dealing with a fragile human being, if you walk on eggshells around them or try to baby them it will be like a slap in the face to them and very insulting. For a quick synapses on PTSD, check out my articles “Combat PTSD: Triggers” and “Combat PTSD: Managing Your Symptoms“, they have good information for family members to know.
Communicate, communicate, communicate! Lets be clear, this does not mean pressure your soldier to talk about everything they went through, when they are ready they will talk. The best thing you can do is to create a safe and comfortable place for when they are ready to talk. Be a good listener, don’t argue or interrupt. None of what they need to say is about you, so just shut your mouth and listen for a while, but if something is unclear or you have a question go ahead and ask it. Be clear and express your feelings, your soldier may not know what you are feeling and needs you to express it clearly. When you talk, be clear, direct, and to the point, beating around the bush is a waste of time. Lastly, don’t start spouting out advice unless you are asked for it.
This may seem like common sense, but I feel the need to say it, SPEND TIME WITH YOUR SOLDIER! Plan family activities, go to the movies together, go to dinner, go out and do things as a family. Take a walk, go on bike rides, go hiking, do physical activities together. Physical activities help clear the mind and feels great on the body. Encourage your soldier to hang out with friends and other family members. At the same time, remember to respect their personal space and the time they wish to have to themselves.
My last words on this topic, just love unconditionally and don’t be pushy, it will get you so much further than anything else. Your soldier is going through an extremely rough time and needs you, do yourself a favor and learn about what is happening so you don’t push him or her away.