This past October 22, “Dear Abby” published a letter, to which I responded on uexpress.com/dearabby on October 29. She has not published my response or any response with a similar sentiment, which is sad, because it is some good free advice. Because it is well worth sharing with anyone who reads my web page, here goes:
I am writing in response to “Concerned in the Midwest” whose wife is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder resulting from abuse by her previous husband. You suggested counseling, and I agree. I am a mental health counselor in Ohio, so it’s pretty clear I would be in favor of counseling.
“Concerned” states that his wife flinches or panics if he brushes her hair from her face or makes a sudden movement; this is a typical PTSD reaction.
The bad news is, many (maybe most) people will not seek counseling no matter how badly they need it. The good news is, there are things a person can do without the aid of a counselor, that can help to de-sensitize them to whatever makes them flinch.
“Concerned” might, with his wife’s express permission, let her know he is about to brush her hair back from her face, then couple that with a hug, or a kind word…After doing this several times, always with his wife’s knowledge and full agreement, his wife is likely to not feel so threatened. This is based on the plasticity of the brain, the fact that the brain is continuously re-wiring itself, so that this woman’s beloved husband brushing the hair back from her face now is likely to be experienced as pleasant, and does not (or at least not as much) trigger the traumatic memories of her abusive ex. (If this instead makes matters worse, it is important to quit immediately, to do no harm.)
It’s worth a try. If this couple was in my office, I would surely be suggesting this.