“Social Support.” This is what mental health professionals call “friends” and researchers have shown over and again the importance of social support in treating PTSD. Our therapist is part of our support team, and we have to build on this foundation. Making friends is difficult, especially if we have PTSD. So, let’s talk about it...
Back in the day, making friends was easy. As a kid, we made friends in school or in our neighborhood, and in the military, we have our unit. Making friends gets harder as we get older. We realize that for guys, it’s weird to approach another dude and say, “want to hang out?” Women are different in this regard, but we also tend to isolate ourselves in the face of PTSD, saying things like, "I don't want to bother them with this. they have their own crap they're going through. My friends are just all so busy. I don't want them to think I'm a drama bomb."
Real talk: if you would drop everything for a friend that is going through what you are going through, then give them the same respect to come and help you.
Even when we know that making friends and building networks helps us recover from PTSD, it is an anxiety-inducing idea. Some people are natural extroverts (and yay for you), but normal people worry about making new friends, especially if our PTSD has poisoned our other relationships. It’s normal to worry. “What if new people learn about my PTSD and freak out? What if I have a melt-down, or if I hurt someone by accident? Maybe I’m better off protecting the world by keeping to myself because people have their own problems and they don’t need mine.”
We hear you, friend, and want to put this into perspective. Trying to make friends is a big risk. We can be rejected, others can judge us and be crappy, and we might be terrible at making new friends—but we also know that social support is a major determining factor in our recovery from PTSD. In other words, to get better, this is a risk we need to take.
Because this is important, we want to take you back to the Big Two questions:
(Q1) Do we believe it’s possible?
Do we believe it’s possible that we could get out of our comfort zone, break out of that Criterion C of avoidance, and connect with another person, either in-person or virtually? Is it possible that there is another person in this world who is not crappy? Is it possible that we can use this powerful—and proven—tool of social support to fight our PTSD symptoms? Is it possible that we deserve to be loved and cared for by others?
Moving on to...
(Q2) “Do we want to change?” (but rephrasing it differently)
The second question can’t be, “Do we want to make friends?” Because we already know the answer: NO. With PTSD, we want to avoid other people. This is good old criterion C: avoidance. It’s like asking, “do we want to go to therapy?” Big NO.
So, we need to look at the bigger picture of Q2. Do we want to do the work it will take to recover from PTSD? Do we want to lessen our symptoms? Do we want the people we love to know that we love them? Do we want to build, and possibly rebuild, relationships?
It’s okay to be on the struggle bus about this. Going to therapy and making connections is difficult when we have PTSD, but we have to do it if we are serious about getting our lives back.
“If you believe change is possible, you want to change, and you are willing to do the work, you absolutely CAN get your life back.”