Navigating Around the PTSD STARTLE RESPONSE

Ever feel like you can’t move, talk, come home, wake them, or enter a room without triggering your PTSD survivor? Welcome to the world of PTSD! Unfortunately, there is no magic solution that will erase the original trauma or eradicate the ensuing perpetual survival mode. Originally a life-saving defense mechanism, the involuntary exaggerated startle response is now just one of many symptoms that continues to plague those with post-traumatic stress.

Since PTSD deeply and profoundly impacts all those close to the PTSD survivor, how do loved ones best deal with this startle response so as not to trigger them? Here are 5 things that might help:

1. Remember it is not something they can control. They probably dislike it just as much as we loved ones do.

2. Keep in mind that it is an involuntary survival response to trauma. They will never totally get over the life-threatening experience(s) that catapulted them into emergency survival mode…24/7.

3. Do your best to give gentle notices that you are home or entering the room. Before coming near them try speaking softly, or wearing a jingly bell or chain, or perhaps humming a song, or turning on the lights, or spraying their favorite fragrance.

4. Avoid any loud sudden noises (door slamming, dishes banging, etc.). And if there are kids around, teach them to do their best to not do anything that may be a trigger.

5. Talk with them about how you can help avoid startling them. Communicating when everyone is calm is the key.


Learn about each other, remembering that the world of PTSD is a two-way street. We as loved ones are also part of the fallout, and we need to be aware of our needs as well. Don’t be surprised if we too find ourselves easily startled! Stay connected with good peer support so you know you are not alone. Celebrate the small victories, and hang in there! It will never be perfect, but as a work in progress it can be good. 🙂


Welby O’Brien is crazy about her Veteran husband, and together they face the daily challenges of PTSD. Holding a Master’s Degree in counseling from Portland State University and a teaching degree from Biola University, based on her own life journey she has authored LOVE OUR VETS: Restoring Hope for Families of Veterans with PTSD (, Good-bye for Now (grief support), and Formerly A Wife (divorce support). She is also a contributing author to Chicken Soup for the Soul: Divorce and Recovery, Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America, as well as Shepherding Women in Pain. Welby initiated and continues to facilitate the spouse and family support network known as Love Our Vets – PTSD Family Support, LLC. Join Welby and thousands of others on Facebook: Love Our Vets – PTSD Family Support, LLC on Facebook.




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