January 15, 2013

Communicate with PTSD Veteran

By Scott Lee circa 1991
Last year I was diagnosed with paranoia features to go along with PTSD. The significance resounds in the impact it has on my relationships and self imposed isolation. I fight unreasonable and persistent thoughts of not being able to trust anyone, especially those in authority and closest in proximity. My imagination has convinced me that buying an electronic bug sweeper to rid my apartment of the mics and cameras everywhere is a good idea. Try having intrusive thoughts and the feeling that you can't trust your inner circle because they don't get it, whatever it is. Or while in therapy fight the yelling in your head that your therapist is trying to get you locked up.

When I can't stop the impulsive thinking things can escalate quickly if the situation is misread and turns stressful. All of this informs that I must be wary of what I say depending on the audience in attendance. Not that this plan always works. If people could step back and take it as a learning and healing opportunity, it would break down barriers between us. My difficulties in communicating could be seen as a manifestation of my condition; a psychological wound. It's time to take a look at how we communicate with our veterans, before to many more of us pull the final trigger.

It's never easy to receive a direct verbal assault of judgement or righteous indignation from your veteran, which can happen when loved ones fail to listen or discern underlying issues.

Living through combat or operational experiences fundamentally changes the way we think, feel and see the world. Our survivors perspective has etched our psyche altering consciousness and our connections with people whom we were once close. It may seem as though we have disowned one another, but for the veteran we are locked in our minds most of the time. Fighting our trauma takes an incredible amount of mental energy manifesting as the external battle you see. Just as we would lend an arm in support of the physically disabled, so should we begin the journey of understanding the mentally wounded and offering a emotional shoulder.

We no longer feel the comfortable sameness with one another back at home, the relational arena has changed.

In combat we develop the most intense bonds through blood and survival in unimaginable situations in epic tales. When a squad emerges having survived, it burns away the facades we fake. We become genuine in our thinking, feeling and expression. Whether we direct this new energy in a downward spiral or we hone it as a skill set. Either can have a huge impact on our lives. Civilian life is full of complex rules of etiquette and expected social mores. All very troublesome for the paranoid, delusional and dissociative mind looking for the reason to avoid, avoid, avoid.

If we are unaware of these developments; our skill sets, the dissociative symptoms and the civilian rules, then it can become problematic for our triggers. Alarms signaling hidden agendas, putting us on guard our defensive mechanisms begin to turn. We may project our anxiety onto you, again fouling up the opportunity to reach a relational arena. We may feel disowned or out of touch, but what we have lost is the place in which to relate again. The altered relational parameters will take time to work out, give it and us time.

Communication starts when we loose the desire to speak and be heard, it begins when we open up to receive and act authentically.

Listening is a powerful tool, it can make your veteran feel as though you are in our corner. Caught up in our constant and silent mental crisis, our perceptions may be skewed. The delusions may have greater command over our judgement and thus our reactions. Hence the confusion and misunderstandings between veterans and loved ones. Armed with the right information and the ability to listen, the support member could use these moments to offer an empathetic hand. We need to share our burdens but fear your rejection if we tell you it all. Expect to be open minded, we may share soul tearing information. Guard your reaction, please don't pull away during these moments.

Let the stunned silence rain, communion begins when we open our spirits to one another.

We need direct communication, don't worry we probably will not be phased by 'what you say.' It is in the delivery that we need to take great care, with skill and finesse in, how we speak to one another until we can bridge the gap of confusion. We have been emotionally crippled by witnessing or participating in mass death and destruction on a scale unimaginable. If our wounds were visible we would get respect, admiration, and compassion. We have no scars to prove our fight was just and that we gave it our all. We have Invisible Wounds that manifest as behavioral issues and social awkwardness.


  1. I think the worst thing I have heard is, "I thought you needed space so I didn't approach you."

    That may be true of civilians who have experienced trauma and even some veterans. The best course of action is to ask to approach. Assuming we need space leaves us lonely and isolated and thinking no one wants to be near the crazy veteran.

  2. The worst I have received is being excluded from my grandsons life, I've actually considered moving. A geographical move would imply that was the reason grandpa never visited.

    Unresolved trauma causes us to emote our emotions often leading to misread intentions. Our inner battle when discerned usually leads to people leaving us alone. We isolate for self preservation and the overwhelming amount of energy coping costs. The inner battle displayed through microexpressions often becomes the source of misread social cues. They think our sign says, "Nope, don't come over here." When brazenly it says, "Uh, sure I'll talk to you. But, trust in you, I do not."

    That bit of silent communication in social circles would exclude many from approaching. Survivors challenge people and that my friend is the major reason most don't stick around. It's a defensive mechanism that serves to protect us. Our minds scream to tell us that we'll be hurt again if we put ourselves out there.

    Part of my personal mission is to work on including people in my life.

  3. Good thing to work on!I think alto of us put up walls when we come home!

  4. I was talking to my step daughter the other day about communication and how part of it is listening. That one of the most important bits of communication is being able to paraphrase. This avoids much confusion if the parameters are set up first. Such as discussing how we talk and listen to one another. It's most important when we are stressed and during boundary overstepping.

    The walls we have up were there during deployment, we begin to notice this high state of alertness when we come home. It either dissipates or remains. If it remains and begins to get worse then it's time to seek help.

  5. Scott, thank you so much for saying this. It helps me to understand my loved one much better. It's verification. It's knowing that I CAN trust what I'm feeling about how he's acting. You've made my day. Again, thank you so much.

  6. Colleen, you are welcome. You made my day too, I appreciate taking the time to let me know I made an impact.

  7. I just stumbled across this and, WOW!!! What courage you have to share all this and with such eloquence. I am a wife of a PTSD and TBI Vet and I want to say thank you. Your words have given me some more insight into my husbands brain today, which means more to me than I could ever express. Please don't ever stop writing, you are helping many, I'm sure.

  8. Mr. Lee, your post was amazing find. I'm in school right now to become a counselor for those who are living with PTSD. You have definitely given me another view that can be used to help people.

  9. Unresolved trauma causes us to emote our emotions often leading to misread intentions"
    I loved that you spoke about micro expressions Scott. One of the programs I had designed presented this as a huge issues for veterans with PTSD- being misread and misreading emotions which creates a cascading effect of misreading intentions and our intentions being misread.
    It's a precarious tight rope walk with emotions PRSD an perception. I really relate with your writing even though my PTSD diagnosis is from military sexual trauma. Thanks for writing

  10. I think the worst experiences we have had with so called PTSD therapists are they refuse to believe. My son is a combat veteran. He led over 158 missions with contact and casualties. At one time his so called VA therapist told him he could not have done or seen what he had seen. So he printed out his medical file with his multiple injuries, and pictures he was required to take of the wounded and dead. over 100 individuals. He then slambed them on her desk. So much for those stupid therapists. it is not all the incoming, the alerts, the bullets winging by that he has a problem with, it is knowing his men died in his arms for NOTHING. They were missing parts that identified them as MEN, and then killed themselves because they could not live with what they were ordered to do against everything we believe in.. what they had to do under orders or threats of a bullet in the brain from other us officers that really bugs him. I am so sick of hearing about all those programs that help combat veterans. I have applied to over 25 and all they want is my money and not help my veteran. mil mom I am fighting for him and his rights to appropriate care and treatment for brain damage, as well as other injuries that need surgeries.


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