Today’s guest post covers a topic that is not discussed often, especially within the PTSD community. Is PTSD contagious? Of course, in the common usage of the word “contagious,” it is not. PTSD is not a virus or a bacteria. You can’t get it from touching someone or breathing the same air as a trauma survivor. However, “witnessed PTSD” is a real phenomenon, one to which children are especially prone, but which anyone from any demographic can acquire.
This story is different even from that. Patricia Eden, or “PTSD Wifey,” as she prefers to be known, is a blogger and PTSD advocate who acquired PTSD after her husband experienced a direct trauma. Vicarious PTSD typically occurs when someone witnesses or hears about a highly disturbing trauma which someone close to them experienced. This wife claims, however, that she earned her diagnosis after a year of experiencing her husband’s PTSD symptoms. When I first heard this, I had a lot of questions. So I invited her to write this guest post.
The answer isn’t one that is easy for me to face. Earlier this week I explored the ways in which my mental health affects my family. My husband and I both have PTSD, and like anybody with PTSD, we both get triggered at times. My kids can share our air, our food, even our drinks without worry. But can they share our space when one of us gets triggered? When I read this essay, it made me realize all the more that we need more supports-not less-for parents with mental health conditions. We don’t deserve to have our children taken from us, but we do need reliefs and supports for our safety as well as our family’s.
Patricia Eden is the voice behind PTSDWifey. She is a mother of two beautiful daughters and a wife to an outstanding husband who is recovering from Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and she has Vicarious PTSD. As the author of a unique blog written from the supportive partner’s perspective; PTSDWifey hopes to be an inspiration and a beacon of light for others affected by PTSD. She is working on registering as a non-profit to provide previously unavailable resources to families and individuals suffering from non-combat related PTSD & CPTSD. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and learn more about our invisible disease and find support, remission, and recovery! For more articles like this visit www.ptsdwifey.com Don’t forget to say hello while you are there!
Traumatic Stress: Is PTSD Contagious?
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What if you were told that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is contagious? Would you believe it? Think about it for a minute. PTSD is not a bacterial or viral infection. By all means, it is not the common cold that we are talking about here. Surprisingly, PTSD isn’t even considered a “mental illness.” PTSD is known by professionals in the psychological industries as a psychological injury. Yet I caught PTSD. Read on to see how this happens and what you can do to prevent and treat it.
Is PTSD Contagious?
PTSD is not contagious, per say, but someone can definitely develop PTSD from on-going exposure to another person’s PTSD. Industry professionals consider this to be the psychological phenomenon known as ‘counter-transference.’ When this takes place it is called Vicarious PTSD. However, in the early 1980’s it was called “Secondary Trauma”. That explains it in itself: Traumatic stress resulting from being around someone who initially had PTSD. Spouses and children of PTSD sufferers are most at risk.
As the spouse of someone with PTSD, you may become traumatized by the aggressive or abusive behaviors of your significant other. Riding your spouse’s roller-coaster of symptoms with them is not easy. It can be damaging to a person’s self-esteem and may cause issues within the marriage. Children are also affected by exposure to PTSD.
Counter-Transference is not a new theory. It was coined by the well-known American Psychologist, Sigmund Freud. It was not until the Vietnam War that this greater danger was discovered. In effect, PTSD survivors could, unknowingly, plant lasting images of violence in the minds of people who hadn’t experienced the traumatic stress themselves. So, in theory, PTSD is contagious. You can’t ‘catch it’ the way you can a cold, but families facing PTSD in their home need to take cautionary action to ensure the health, stability, and harmony remain in tact. All things considered, how can someone who loves and lives with another person suffering from PTSD symptoms protect themselves?
Protection From Adverse Effects of PTSD
First and foremost, you need to take care of yourself. Your spouse has been diagnosed with PTSD and your whole world has changed. You may not realize it but you have taken on a new role as your partner’s Caregiver. One thing that is common amongst Caregivers is that while providing any level of care for another person they can unknowingly lose themselves in the process. This is due to wanting your loved one to heal. You’re doing all you can around the clock to meet their support needs. However, equally important is taking care of yourself. This way your own health is not at risk. In doing so, you will be able to provide a level of care and support that is healthy for both of you.
As you already observed, your loved one suffers a great deal, especially if they are not being treated for their symptoms. Your partner can, however, experience remission of their symptoms and enjoy a less troubled life. This means that you and your children can also experience less traumatic stress from exposure to Mom or Dad’s PTSD episodes.
In addition to professional treatment, a person with PTSD can also self-manage many symptoms on their own. He or she will need to learn tools and coping skills in order to manage all that comes with their brain injury. Protecting each member of your family through self-care is crucial for strong, happy, and stable relationships.
My Vicarious Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
I went on auto-pilot when my husband was diagnosed. We had known there was a problem manifesting, but we didn’t have a clue as to what was in store for us. In my home, PTSD episodes would last from 24 hours up to several days before they would stop. Then, residual PTSD symptoms would begin and go on for another couple of days. Now, when I say 24 hours, I really mean 24 hours around the clock. During all this, I was working to bring in an income for our family as the sole income provider. Caring for my husband and working full time came with new challenges.
Specifically, my husband’s PTSD symptoms often prevented me from sleeping. If he wasn’t sleeping, neither was I. On top of lacking sleep, I carried enormous levels of stress and was subject to unintentional abusive behavior. At the same time, I was his Caregiver and thought I had everything under control. Little did I know, I was completely wrong.
Essentially, I developed Vicarious PTSD because of the traumatic PTSD episodes that I lived through day after day. The difference between my PTSD and my husband’s is that his has multiple triggers. I only have one trigger. My trigger is his PTSD. When I see his symptoms surfacing and his mental state going into a whirlwind, it scares me because I know what’s in store for me and our children. Then my anxiety rises, and from there I’ll go into a full-blown PTSD episode of my own. Our situation became very toxic for each other and for our environment.
Both At Fault For Creating A Toxic Environment
My husband refused to get help at first. This put a huge burden on our marriage. Wouldn’t it be nice if when the Doctor handed you the PTSD diagnosis, they also gave you a handbook detailing what to expect and how to handle marriage and PTSD? Anyway, after a few months of suffering terribly he got himself into therapy with a professional trained in treating traumatic stress. Unfortunately, for the first nine months of his therapy he did not utilize the tools he was taught, nor did he practice self-help coping skills. You see, my husband expected everyone else to “fix him”. But no one else can fix another person. He needed to learn to help himself and walk on his own feet.
Taking charge of his recovery made him realize just how strong he is. Even better, he observed that he has a lot more control over his symptoms than he first thought. Once he owned his journey and embraced his therapy we began seeing immediate results. His PTSD went into remission for longer periods than just a couple of weeks! During the nine months when he had been neglecting his care, however, I had fallen into a very dark place. My PTSD surfaced, and I was devastated. Not only that; it turned our home into an unstable living nightmare.
Both Spouses With PTSD: Traumatic Stress Merry-Go-Round
My husband and I got to the point where we were very hostile and verbally abusive to one another. Granted this only took place during our horrific PTSD episodes, which encircled each other. First, the onset of his symptoms would induce my anxiety. Then, his symptoms would evolve into a full-blown PTSD episode. After approximately three hours of experiencing his episode I’d speed head-first into my own. This is due to the excessive arguing and rage that came from my husband’s episodes. Once mine kicked into high gear, I’d reciprocate and treat him horribly while verbally abusing him.
Despite attempts to do all the things that I learned through therapy, in hopes of preventing my PTSD from surfacing, they weren’t successful. My attempts included asking my husband several times for space or a time-out, only to have the opposite happen. See, when someone is in a PTSD episode, they are unable to reason very well. My hubby would continue to egg me on, aggressively instigating a verbal fight until I “gave in”. I did not just throw my hands up and go rounds with him. In all actuality, ‘giving in’ meant my PTSD monster took over my body and mind while I sank deep down within myself, unable to stop it.
Therapy Works If You Work The Therapy
Eventually something had to give or we were going to continue down a very dangerous and scary path. I started researching more about relationships that involved PTSD. I ended up coming across a book that changed everything for me. Specifically, this book is The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Relationship: How to Support Your Partner and Keep Your Relationship Healthy by Diane Englund. You can follow that affiliate link to purchase it on Amazon. Or, if you have a Kendall, you can download the book for free! Between my therapy and what the author shares, I was able to honestly assess, for the very first time, everything that was going on regarding my husband’s PTSD, my own PTSD, and all that I was doing wrong.
I was part of the problem, when I thought that I was part of the solution. I was enabling him, and in essence, preventing him from walking on his own two feet. The entire time, though, I desired so badly for my husband to show up. To believe in himself, and conquer this PTSD thing. If your family is in a similar situation, I urge you to get the book and get into therapy if you want significant changes in your life. You are accountable for your own decisions.
All in all, I was taught that I can only control myself. I cannot control my husband’s decisions to get well or to remain in the victim mindset. Nor can I change what has already taken place, but I do have full control over myself and what I decide to do if our situation doesn’t improve. For this reason, we have both worked extremely hard. We also have tried things that we never expected to help, but ended up helping so much in the long run. Because vicarious PTSD is very real, as real as the good ‘ol fashioned PTSD, if you’re in a relationship with someone who has experienced trauma, research, educate yourselves, and follow the advice of your therapists and psychiatric doctors.
As a result you will experience remission of your symptoms.
Thank you for sharing your story here on Betty’s Battleground, Mrs. PTSDWifey!
This post was part of a guest post exchange we did, so if you haven’t already, check out my post on her blog about PTSD and nightmares.
Do you live with someone who has PTSD? How has it affected you and your family? Do you have a message for Patricia and her family? Please leave it in the comments. As always, keep it respectful. Disagreement is OK. Rudeness is not.
Also, I have had to take a step back from promoting this blog to try to build up my freelance business. It would truly make my day if you could take thirty seconds out of yours to share this on a platform or two. Would you do that for me please?
Til next time.