Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the Family


What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder?

PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological disorder categorized as an anxiety disorder where bad memories of the traumatic event assault the person’s mind at any time. Traumatic experiences such as the consequences of illness, natural disasters, catastrophes or the physical damage suffered are causes of strong emotional stress. Flashbacks, disinterest, generalized anxiety disorder, or guilt are some of the effects of post-traumatic stress.

PTSD and the Family

The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other reactions to trauma can change the way the surviving victim feels and acts, traumatic experiences that occur in one family member can affect the rest of the family as well. When reactions to trauma are severe and prolonged over time, without treatment, they can lead to major problems in families.

No wonder family members react to the fact that a loved one has suffered a trauma. And it is no wonder that people react to the way in which the family member who has suffered the trauma experiences their feelings and actions. The symptoms of trauma can cause the sufferer to suffer in loneliness and move away from others. It can be difficult to adapt to these changes. Just as people react differently to traumatic experiences, so do families. A family may experience many of the following reactions, or just a few. However, all of these are common among families facing trauma, such as the aftermath of a terrorist bomb attack.


One of the first reactions of many family members is sympathy for their loved one. People feel a great deal of concern when someone has to care for someone who has had a terrible experience. And they are still worried if the person continues to have PTSD symptoms. It is often helpful for the victim to know that his family sympathizes with him, particularly after the disaster.

Sympathy from family members can also have a negative effect. When this sympathy leads to caring for the victim as a child and having little expectation of recovery, it can be a message that the family does not believe the victim is strong enough to recover. This can lead to a loss of confidence and hope in the victim’s ability to resume life independently.


One source of depression for family members can be the catastrophic event itself. All traumas involve events where people are suddenly in great danger. When this happens in a situation or place that was previously believed to be safe, just until the disaster has occurred, it can cause people to lose faith in the safety and predictability of life. It can also be very depressing the catastrophic event that attacks the ideals that the victim has about the world and humanity.

Depression is also common among family members when the victim acts in a way that produces feelings of fear and bewilderment. The victim may feel great anxiety about doing things they used to do with their family; they may be unable to even work because of PTSD symptoms. If PTSD should linger, members of the family are likely to start losing hope that the victim and family will “return to normal”.

Fear and Concern

Knowing that something terrible can happen anytime and anywhere can make people very fearful. This is particularly true when a family member does not feel safe and often reminds others of potential dangers. All too often, survivors feel “on the edge of the cliff” and become concerned about trying to stay safe. When one family member is very concerned about safety, it can make the rest of the family feel unsafe too.

Family members may also experience fear when the surviving victim becomes angry and aggressive, automatically, when they believe they are in danger when they are frustrated because they have symptoms of PTSD or because they have learned that aggression is a form of self-protection.


Just as a victim is afraid to face what has happened to her, family members are often afraid to examine the traumatic event itself. They can avoid talking about the experience or problems related to everyone, hoping that if they don’t talk about it, it will eventually disappear, or because they think others won’t understand them or be judging them.

Family members are likely to steer clear of the things avoided by the surviving victim because they are afraid of their reactions or they want to avoid more pain.

Guilt and Shame

Family members are likely to feel shame or guilt after a catastrophic event for some reasons. For believing themselves responsible for the trauma, for believing that they could have done more, for believing that they could have warned, for surviving, etc.


Anger is a very common problem in families who have survived a trauma, who feel anger against the catastrophe and its effects on their lives, against those responsible for the catastrophe, against the survivors, against God, etc.

Negative Feelings

At times, members of the family are surprisingly negative about the family member in trauma. They are likely to believe that the traumatized person does no longer show the qualities they once had which they admired about such person. On top of that, they may end up responding negatively to the post-disaster behavior of the victim.

Alcohol and Drug Abuse

Alcohol and drug abuse can become a major problem in the families of disaster survivors. Both the victim and family members can try to escape bad feelings through alcohol or drugs.

Sleep Disturbance

Sleep disturbances: difficulty falling asleep, falling asleep later, insomnia, fear and worry, nightmares, etc., make it difficult for the whole family to sleep.

Health Problems

Relatives of victims may also develop health problems for a number of reasons. Bad habits such as drinking, smoking, and not exercising can get worse as a result of having to deal with the victim’s attitude to the trauma. In addition, stress can lead to a number of illnesses, particularly if it lasts for a long time. The constant anxiety, worry, anger or depression, facilitate the development of gastric and intestinal problems, headaches, muscle aches, among others.


Post-traumatic stress disorder is not a simple mental disorder but a serious problem caused by one or more bad experiences in the past that attack and come to the human mind when least expected.

Natural disasters, threats, robberies, serious illnesses, bad news, physical damage… these experiences are the cause of strong emotional stress.