There is a saying that often comes up in recovery support rooms. The saying has to do with the way in which we negatively treat and talk about ourselves. It says, “Would you treat anyone else the way you are treating yourself right now?” Of course, the answer most likely is no because we would never dare treat someone as poorly as we sometimes treat ourselves. For many of us, it would be unthinkable to do so to another human being. Yet we do it to ourselves all of the time. This also embodies the way we are affected by PPTSD, which is parental post-traumatic stress disorder.

A Better Understanding of PTSD

Now, before understanding PPTSD, it can be very helpful to get a better understanding of PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is defined by Doctors Bisson, Cosgrove, Lewis, and Roberts in their write-up, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. They write, “PTSD is a mental disorder that may develop after exposure to exceptionally threatening or horrifying events” and, “Many people show remarkable resilience and capacity to recover following exposure to trauma.” Also, “PTSD can occur after a single traumatic event or from prolonged exposure to trauma, such as sexual abuse in childhood.”

Now, generally, when people think of PTSD, they think of certain examples that are more prominent in the public conversation. These include the aforementioned childhood abuse, as well as combat exposure, going through a natural disaster, a violent encounter, or the loss of a loved one. However, there is no monopoly on trauma, and parents who have experienced their daughters’ issues of poor life choices and/or mental health certainly qualify for PTSD.

What Exactly Is PPTSD?

Now, PPTSD is PTSD, but it is solely specific to the PTSD experienced by parents. However, while PPTSD doesn’t have to manifest from a place of poor lifestyle choices or mental illness in the household, doing so is more common than many people may think.

The events that we as parents experience from seeing our child go through poor lifestyle choices or issues of mental health can certainly be traumatizing. Not knowing if they are safe or not knowing if they are going to get better can be traumatic. Also, not knowing the next steps to take can be very emotionally distressing. 

What Are Some of the Signs and Symptoms of PPTSD?

The fact of the matter is that parents who struggle with PPTSD often show the same signs and symptoms as people struggling with PTSD, though there tend to be some variations. The following are just a few of the signs and symptoms of a parent struggling with PPTSD:

  • Always being prepared or on guard for “the worst” in any situation
  • Making poor life choices (including nicotine) as a coping mechanism
  • Having trouble sleeping, such as sleeping too much or too little
  • Being irritable, aggressive, and/or having excessive angry outbursts
  • Feeling a constant sense of guilt or shame regarding their child’s issues
  • Having trouble concentrating, even on the most menial tasks
  • Being easily triggered by events in the news or things depicting childhood troubles in television, books, or film

Some Tips and Tools for Managing PPTSD

The good news is that there are many tips and tools that can help us when we are triggered and start experiencing the symptoms of PPTSD. Perhaps the easiest and most accessible method for managing PPTSD is the “P.A.U.S.E” method, which stands for “Postpone Action Until Serenity Enters.”

The pause method simply helps us to step back when we are triggered so we can take a moment to breathe and avoid overreacting or acting aggressively. The next helpful tip for managing PPTSD is to remember that we are not responsible for other people’s actions, even our children. Remembering that tidbit can help us focus less on self-blame and more on the action needed to resolve whatever issue is right in front of us.

Two other tools for managing PPTSD involve the help of others. One is reaching out to a therapist who can help get to the underlying issues of our PPTSD. The other is reaching out to other parents who also have experience with children who struggle with poor lifestyle choices and/or mental health. This network can be an invaluable resource when our PPTSD gets triggered.

Clearview Girls Academy: Helping Both Parent and Child Heal

Here at Clearview Girls Academy, we believe that to truly heal ourselves, we must also heal the ones around us. This is especially true when it comes to your parent/daughter relationship.

So, when issues of PPTSD arise, it is important to remember to be kind to yourself. When you do that, you ensure that a very important person in your life is taken care of: you. Because you matter, and you deserve love, too.

Parental post-traumatic stress disorder (PPTSD) is very real. Parenting a teen who engages in dangerous behaviors is difficult. It is inevitable that, at times, parents will become triggered. This is why it is important to help parents recognize that they, too, have emotions and will become triggered at times. Also, with this awareness will come responsibility. Helping parents understand what their triggers are can go a long way in helping them cope and heal. It is also important to create a plan that will help a parent better navigate triggering situations and better put words to their triggers. If you would like more information on PPTSD and how to help parents navigate it, call Clearview Girls Academy at (888) 796-5484.