We are hardwired as individuals to take protective action when we feel threatened. The flight or fight survival instinct can occur at the spur of the moment. Even after the traumatic experience is over, it’s common for survivors to overestimate their ability to have prevented the traumatic situation, or to regret not helping people in more constructive ways, to questioning choices they may have made (or been forced to make). The resulting self-blame is often inaccurate and unfair, but the intense shame often leads people to engage in perpetual self-condemnation for an experience where they were not at fault.
Not only do they blame themselves for the experiences they have gone through but many, with PTSD/C-PTSD, also blame themselves for how they cope, what they are unable to do, how they react, what they feel and how their PTSD affects them. Coping with PTSD and shame is difficult, and it isn’t uncommon for people to resort to unhealthy "survival" strategies or self-destructive behaviours ranging from substance misuse, to sabotaging relationships, to self harm etc. These ways of coping do enable people to get by, but they are a temporary distraction, which often only serves to make the situation worse, preventing Survivors from dealing with their experiences constructively and the behaviours often reinforce feelings of failure and worthlessness.
Guilt around having and coping with PTSD/C-PTSD may stem from feelings of being a burden to others, to their family, friends, or partner etc often feeling those who care about them would be better off with them around. Guilt may surface out of a belief that a survivor should be stronger or be coping better. Guilt may stem from lashing out at others during bad periods of their PTSD or indeed pushing people away.
The purpose of guilt isn’t to make an individual feel bad just for the sake of it. Sometimes, it could be that the feeling of guilt is trying to get the individuals attention, so that they can learn something from the experience, and for survivors of trauma, that perhaps they could do with some support to work through the feelings of guilt they are burdened with.
Living with PTSD/C-PTSD is tough. Sometimes the behaviours that Survivors engage in as their way of coping with what is happening to them, may make it difficult for those around them to fully comprehend or appreciate. And for the Survivor leaves them feeling even more burdened with guilt. We all make mistakes and many of us go down a path in our lives that can make us feel guilty for things said or done, which afterwards someone may regret bitterly. But the key, is to realize what’s happening, get some insight and understanding as to why and where needed to make the necessary changes which will result in the Survivor not carrying yet more guilt. It doesn’t help the trauma survivor to engage in days, weeks or months of self-blame or battering of their self esteem.
Many trauma survivors often feel guilty with regards to their PTSD/C-PTSD because so often they are told they should be over it, put it behind them, leave the past in the past etc. Trauma is hurtful and leaves devastating effects such as struggles with PTSD/C-PTSD that simply are not going to go away overnight.
No one asks to be left with coping with PTSD/C-PTSD. This is a reaction to the experiences Survivors had, and they are not doing this on purpose and should not be something they feel guilty about. Very often the issues that individuals face when they are coping with PTSD feel very much out of their control eg flashbacks, triggers. Life can feel very chaotic for someone with PTSD/C-PTSD and very frightening at times. The last thing a survivor needs is to be made to feel guilty for something they wish they didn’t have to deal with. Those who have suffered traumatic events, react differently and cope differently. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to respond. One of the worst things people can do, is to tell a Survivor what you feel they should be thinking, feeling, or doing/behaving.
For those with PTSD/C-PTSD
If you find yourselves lashing out at family members or friends, find time as soon as you can to talk to them about it. Let them know how you feel and what you are doing to cope with your reactions. Tell them what you need and what would help you.
When you can, take the time to let your loved ones know that you care. You can express your caring in little ways: write a card, leave a small gift, or phone someone and say hello.
Call someone you trust and tell them what is happening. Don’t be alone in coping with the PTSD/C-PTSD
Remind yourself that this is a common response after trauma.
Learn about PTSD. This knowledge can help you understand what you're feeling, and then you can develop coping strategies to help you respond effectively.
For those supporting people suffering with PTSD/C-PTSD
Learn about PTSD. This knowledge can help you understand what what your loved one may be going through and how best you can support them, and will enable you to develop strategies for yourself to cope with the thoughts and feelings this raises for you as a supporter. With more knowledge and a better understanding this will also mean you will learn how to respond effectively to your loved ones PTSD/C-PTSD issues.
Trauma changes people and it may seem as though the person you knew before the trauma has gone, has changed and is not who you remembered them to be. The person you love may seem like a different person than you knew before the trauma — angry and irritable, or withdrawn and depressed. PTSD/C-PTSD can significantly strain the emotional and mental health of loved ones and friends.
Hearing about the trauma that led to your loved one's PTSD/C-PTSD may be painful for you and even cause you to relive difficult events. You may find yourself avoiding his or her attempts to talk about the trauma or feeling hopeless that your loved one will get better. At the same time, you may feel guilty that you can't fix your loved one or hurry up the process of healing. Seek support for yourself when needed.
Both of you need support. Seek the support you need for yourselves, so you both feel you can someone safe you can turn to. Don’t bottle things up, reach out. If needed consult with professional help such as a counsellor, therapist, GP