November 18, 2008

What to Say to Your Soldier or Veteran Who Confess to You Their Sins of War

By listening without judgment and negativity you are giving your soldier something extremely valuable. It may seem insignificant, they are pouring out their soul to you and in doing so you can have a unique opportunity to help them reclaim what they lost on the battlefield.

Living through combat changes who we were. We may choose to remain in denial because if we can pretend to be who we were then we might not have to face who we have become.

Your soldier has chosen to look into their soul and share with you. When they delve into this abyss they experience it for the first time as well as you. In combat we have to compartmentalize all of the horrors of war due to our inability to process it, to do otherwise would get us killed.

By listening and giving them comfort they can begin to regain that part of the mind that has been ravaged by war. They are not proud of the things they will share with you. Do not tell them that you are proud of them in these moments for this is a judgment. Deep down they know it's not their fault, this to is a judgment.

They may blame themselves, guilt of surviving and leaving your battle buddy behind is a crippling cycle of incrimination and damnation.

Tell them soothing things that a mother would tell her son or daughter when he or she comes running home and crying. There, there. It's ok, it's ok. I am here for you. I love you. I am glad you made it home, etc. Also encouraging words or phrases; Uh huh, yeah, ok, go on, I'm listening, etc. can help encourage the veteran to go on. Silence can be an effective communicator of interest in listening.

Remember, this is more about the veteran. Let them lead the way and do not push them into talking when they would not be comfortable.

I hope this helped, if you want to understand why they do the things they do or what may be going on in their mind; browse my blog, I have poured my heart out in it and think that it closely resembles what many combat veterans think and feel.


  1. Thank you MR,

    It was in response to a question brought to me by a woman who was seeking advice on what to do when her significant other talked about his war experiences.

  2. Great post Scott. I talk to a great many Soldiers and Marines and often I find myself on the listening end of conversations such as you described. What I have found, is that often, they cannot share these things with their families or friends. They keep all the bad stuff locked inside so they can protect their loved ones from the horrors they have seen, much as they shield them from the physical horrors themselves by doing their jobs. I'm not someone they are deeply emotionally attached to, though there is enough of a bond that they do trust me. I know that its very important to them that when they do reach out, there is someone there who cares and gives them the unconditional support that they need. I have done just what you have suggested, listen, and told them it was ok, they were ok, as you said, the mom in me coming out, feeling every wound, every ounce of pain and wanting to take it away. Usually the talks are on yahoo, so I send a hug, I know its not real, but they get that I care. Thanks for sharing this for all of us who can benefit from your wisdom.

  3. Thank you Sue, the post came from a question a commenter left me, it took me a couple of days to respond because at first I did not know what to say. I wanted to say something profound and earth moving, I was over thinking it. So, I finally just tried to remember what it was that has helped me to talk and what I would want people to say, what would actually help. Thank to people like you and the commenter I get to share on a level I have never been able to before I began my life of recovery.

  4. We citizens who think that our soldiers have just voluntered, and so they didn't have to do that, must remember that these brave men and women have give their souls for our freedom. Think about the youth in America, the drugs, the laziness, the souless kids of this generation who will never know what our sons and daughters have given. God bless them and give them a special place in His Kingdom.

  5. I am beginning research into the effects of our recent wars on all soldiers. My initial reaction is one of horror at the problems these men and women are having in light of the Vietnam experience. I researched PTSD for a book finished in 1993 but never sold. My PTSD material could have been written today. Shame on you America.

  6. I am a sister, a daughter, a mother, a wife, a combat veteran. Its sad to say that after all this time the horror i have experienced in the war still haunts me. it is affecting my relationship with my children and my marriage to my husband of 10 years. i felt so alone sometimes...empty...mad...i can see my self changed after my service and i dont know how to fill the emptiness inside me. things around me in the civilian world still triggers my memmory. i want to forget everything and move on. I couldnt.... I found my self somtimes staring at a distance...screaming silently inside of me...tears would fall down my husband would ask.." whats you want to talk?" I always say nothing...I felt that I need to enlist in the service again just to feel whole again...I dont know what to do....

  7. PFC.Army2007, Welcome home. Some not reenlist...that will make your situation worse and you could possibly loose everything. Right now you feel like everything is wrong. Today you have been experiencing delayed reactions to the insanity of combat but did not have time to process during the threats to your life. If you would have felt what you feel today on the scale you experience today, while in combat, then you would of had a greater chance of getting killed.

    What you are experiencing is a normal reaction that happens when we leave the adrenaline driven world of combat and then transition to home in the "real world" (which to us seems to be a false reality). Our world view have been completely and permanently altered by what we witnessed. To describe "what I did" in combat usually leads to use of the word "witnessed." I can only reconcile my spiritual side by seeking the perspective of a witness; to never forget, to be vigilant in advocating for the mentally wounded and to find a personal purpose from the insanity of war. This was paramount for me to move past the position you reside in now.

  8. I ran into your site by accident. I am aimlessly searching for some answers to my questions and your site is a god send. I am the mom of a marine with ptsd(not diagnosed). I am at my wits end in trying to communicate with him. He has not spoken to me for almost two years and has not let me see the grandchildren. His fiance says the he feels I betrayed him. I started seeing changes about four years ago and have gotten worse. He has been out of the military for 6 years. I started to worry especially when his fiance would call crying and did not know what to do. I was asking friends and family members what changes have they seen. I got answers and I called the va and talked to some of the doctors who deal with ptsd to get an understanding of it. They suggested an intervention, but before i could he caught wind of it and has not talked to me since. He has allienated his sister, me, and his son from his life. His fiance no longer calls because she is afraid, althought she will let me see the children when he is away.(Contract work)Please tell me how to proceed, I am afraid but don't want to be.He is my son and a stranger at the same time whom I love deeply and i worry about his wellbeing. Please tell me how to reach him.

  9. I'm glad you found our blog. I don't have a definitive answer for you. I regret having done similar with my children and mother. I didn't tell her not to come around, but I didn't make her feel welcome. So she stayed away more than she wanted.

    My mother was smothering at times especially when I was not doing well mentally. I didn't know how to verbalize this so I directed my anger and contempt at her even though she didn't deserve it.

    I regret having done this, it deprived my kids of a grandmother and me of an extended family. My mother passed away at 58, to young. I never got to reconcile with my mother, to tell her how sorry I was for pushing her away when she needed us the most.

    My children do not come around to see me even though they are grown. I am estranged from my grandson. I taught my children this was how to cope and now I find myself on the outside.

    Family of a Vet is a national nonprofit run by veterans and caregivers. They are professionals in everything VA and benefits. But that's not why I'm telling you about them. They also offer online support and education on all things veterans, PTSD and TBI.

    Lastly, there is a web service from the VA called Coaching Into Care.

    Thank you for reading.


Please share your comments, stories and information. Thank you. ~ Scott Lee