PTSD and Its Unique Challenges for Military Families

PTSD and Its Connection to Soldiers

In the minds of many, PTSD is strongly connected to people who have suffered major trauma, such as a car accident or physical and sexual abuse. It was not associated with soldiers until the Vietnam war.

Before studies were conducted on returning troops, little was known about how war affected a combat veteran’s emotional health. Now, psychologists have a much better understanding of what happens to them.

In essence, PTSD in soldiers is a result of the brain’s struggle to cope with the trauma of war unsuccessfully. Subsequently, the veteran does not just recall specific incidences of the combat but also re-experiences them so vividly that they think the situation is real. 

Frequently, those memories reappear during sleep, but strong hallucinations can happen while the soldier is awake. Furthermore, they may be especially intense when the sufferer is drunk or under the influence of drugs.

Aside from recalling their trauma, combat veterans are often very reluctant to be in crowds. Large gatherings of people, loud noises that are reminiscent of bombings or gunfire, or unfamiliar places can induce panic. Sufferers are on high alert 24/7, literally watching their backs all the time, expecting something bad to happen.

As you can imagine, that level of persistent anxiety and stress can have devastating effects on a person’s physical, mental, and emotional health.

But the challenges PTSD bring for soldiers also affects military families. How so?

The Effects of Soldiers’ PTSD on Military Families

When you start to understand the distress a soldier experiences during combat, you can begin to fathom why they’re not the same as before the war. In fact, veterans suffering from PTSD can be extremely hard to live with.

Their emotional struggle can take a heavy toll on even the most loving members of military families.

Consider some examples:

Family members may feel angry over the injustice

It just seems so unfair. After all, a combat veteran has already gone through so much during war, it’s completely unjust that they would have to continue suffering even afterward.

As they notice how their loved one avoids certain trauma reminders, members of military families may live with constant worries about unexpected or erratic reactions.

Family members may feel their love and empathy diminishes

It’s not hard to imagine that changes in the veteran’s personality and behavior—persistent irritability or irrational actions—can make it harder for members of military families to feel patience, compassion, or even love for them.

Add to that the disappointment over their loved one’s inability to hold a job or interact well with their family, and you can see a veteran’s loved one’s frustration may grow.

Family members may feel hurt and alienated

Forming, rebuilding, or maintaining a close bond with anyone can be nearly impossible for soldiers with PTSD. Often, this is due to their near-death experiences and fear of losing someone tragically or unexpectedly.

That is why many veterans never marry or have children. This is also why the connection between returning soldiers and their existing military families frequently deteriorates as time goes on.

Often, the worse the PTSD symptoms, the worse the family situation becomes. Marital distress, family violence, children with behavior problems—it all goes back to the loss of connection.

Family members may forgo living their own lives

All too often, a family member may feel so sorry for the PTSD sufferer that they devote their whole life to care for them. In the process, they neglect their own needs and wants. They may also experience feelings of guilt and feel responsible for the happiness of their loved one.

While they mean well, it can cause the veteran to feel like a disabled person and make the situation worse.

Family members may suffer ill health effects

When PTSD lasts a long time, family members could begin losing hope that their loved one will ever recover. That negative thinking, in turn, can lead to more worrying and eventually even depression.

As a result, some members of military families may experience new health issues or the worsening of existing health problems as result of their loved one’s PTSD.

How can PTSD have such negative effects, not only on the soldier but also their family?

In war, a soldier has to deny their own emotions to survive. They block how it feels to see friends get injured or killed or to kill another human being. They block what it feels like to risk being killed themselves.

When they come home, veterans often have a very hard time opening up emotionally again. As long as they deny themselves their feelings, they believe they may be safe. However, shutting down on an emotional level usually causes harm to close family relationships built on emotional connections.

Clearly, a soldier sacrifices much to do their duty. So do military families!

Is your family struggling? 

To recover, the help of an experienced therapist will be the lifeline you need. Start the path toward finding peace and love as a family again. Reach out for help today.