How Not to Respond When a Friend Comes out with Their PTSD
It all starts when your close friend (who’s called you to dinner to talk about “something important”) says, “BTW, been seeing a therapist for the last two years, have PTSD, mainly because of a childhood sexual abuse incident, okay, cool, back to this pizza!”
You’re paused mid-bite. What the hell was that? They might’ve gotten the bulk of it out, but they haven’t gone into detail. Here’s what not to do–
Whatever you do, don’t let them finish.
Instead say, “Hey, remember that time you had a date with Steve, and you made me make the lasagna and I swapped the sugar with the salt, and Steve didn’t let you cook anything for the first two months you dated? God that must’ve been so embarrassing!”
No one minds being cut off when they work up the nerve to share something big, even if it’s after three, um, five, okay, six martinis. No siree, you go ahead and interrupt the hell out of them, even if it is an anxious tick that’s helping you process everything.
Ugh, okay, so they weaseled their way back into the conversation and expanded on everything in detail. What now?
There’s a reason they say “Ignorance is bliss,” after all.
You don’t want to be mistaken for someone who actually cares about their friend, so don’t bother reading up on PTSD online, it might give off the wrong vibe. (Aside: If you already know what PTSD stands for, it might be too late.)
Still, ask your friend how they can have PTSD in the first place. Say something like, “Isn’t that just for soldiers?”
Compare experiences to something entirely irrelevant.
Amend that last bit–soldiers and you.
Tell your friend how you developed PTSD from accidentally running over a rogue chimpanzee last week, which ended up being a Beanie Baby. Everyone loves having their experiences and vulnerabilities compared. Remember the time Kim Kardashian compared herself to Hemingway? Yeah, that was awkward. You know what would’ve made it less cringey? If someone else had done the comparing for her, in which case they would’ve said either said, “You’ve got nothing in common,” or tried finding the similarities between a Pulitzer Prize and an award for–wait, what does she do?
Gift them a lottery ticket!
Did you know the odds of winning the Powerball are 1 in 175 million? When your friend tells you about a childhood sexual abuse incident that led to their PTSD, tell them what their odds are of being a victim in the first place: 1 in 10.
And again, don’t forget to compare what they’ve told you to that movie you watched on Lifetime last weekend (which is, incidentally, where you got your stats from).
Tell ‘em to get over it.
Aren’t they glad to have Captain Way Too Obvious as a friend? They’d never have thought of getting over it, silly them! Forget the hours they spent in therapy, their therapist hadn’t even thought of giving them that advice.
Ask invasive questions.
Ignore them if they stop midway, and say they’ll tell you the rest when they’re ready. Prod them with questions till you’re at the bottom of the barrel. You have a right to know, after all.
Provide a solution.
Some people enjoy gardening and watercolors, others enjoy fixing things which aren’t broken in the first place. So once you know everything you weren’t meant to know until your friend was ready (but like, ain’t nobody got time for that–amirite?), provide a solution to their “problem.” Not helpful ones, like “We can go see a therapist together, too, if you’d like.” Think more, along the lines of how Napoleon fixed Waterloo–oh, wait.
Don’t respond: Make like a millennial dude, and ghost on them.
Once you part ways, make sure you’re not in touch with them for days. Don’t call them, text them, or respond to their frantic messages.
Meh, so, what if they’re feeling vulnerable after sharing something that big? Ghosting is your defense mechanism–own it.
Uh-oh, they’ve made like a millennial dude and ghosted on you. Now what?
Um, Drama Queen much? What sort of friend are they if they ghost on you in your time of need? Say, “It’s not like you’re actually hurt!” Remind them that physical and emotional pain aren’t the same thing, even if one (potentially) hurts more than the other. And no, you don’t care if research says that they both activate similar brain regions. This is not about research, this is about you. Besides, research also says that ghosting hurts, and it’s hurting you.
Here’s the deal: Personally, I know that the way I handled my truth wasn’t ideal for anyone whom I told it to. And I know that my friends didn’t mean to respond the way they did.
The reality of it all, is that there is no how-to bible to refer to, and, for that matter, perhaps anything they’d said or hadn’t said wouldn’t have been the “right” thing. They’re not bad people for not being able to mind read my mental state, or read past my jokey, happy-go-lucky nature, and it wasn’t fair of me to expect them to be.
At the end of the day, I’m still friends with everyone I chose to share this with, and they’ve all come to support me in their own way. As a cynical, superficially happy person what’s made most of my hold-you-at-an-arm’s-length friendships real is the fact my friends fought past the uncomfortable silence after I ghosted, and fought their way back into my life, because they cared.