How to communicate with those who have returned from the front. Some important tips

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When I talked to Oksana (all names changed), the wife of a terrorist defense fighter, she told me that he had volunteered twice. He first joined the terrorist defense on February 25, and the second time after being wounded.

When her husband, Mykola, returned home after being wounded, the whole family was very happy to see him. But then the feeling of awkwardness began to grow. Oksana admitted that when he refused to be demobilized and asked to return to his unit, she felt better.

In our conversation, she complained that now the thought of her husband’s return home stresses her out; she worries about how they will be able to be together again in the future.

Getting to know each other anew

Any experience changes a person, and the experience of combat always changes a person very much. Combat experience is not a disease from which a person should or can be cured. This is what gives a person more knowledge about themselves and the world around them.

However, these changes need to be comprehended and understood by the individual, and people around them should remember that a stranger is returning home and needs to be reacquainted with them.

Recovery and adaptation

After being wounded, a person needs a period of recovery, and after moving, a period of adaptation. A person who has returned from the front line must undergo both recovery and adaptation.

Importantly, to cope with this, a person needs social connections and interactions, not time alone. They are the only ones who help a person to learn from their difficult experiences. But it is maintaining relationships during this period that is most difficult for her.

A person carries tension inside

During this period, a person overreacts to everything that adds stress. She is too tense inside.

All psychological problems are the consequences of an uncomprehended experience. This is an evolutionary mechanism. Those who felt anxious about the new experience were more likely to comprehend it and, as a result, more likely to survive.

This usually works well.

But when you have too much experience, you also have too much anxiety. This prevents a person from calming down, feeling safe, and reflecting on the experience.

The more unlearned experience a person has, the more internal anxiety and a sense of danger.

The stronger the sense of danger, the more pronounced the division into friends and foes. The more demands this person has on their own, the faster they label people as enemies.

The stronger the sense of danger, the less a person is able to take care of themselves, maintain relationships, do something for others and the common cause.

People instinctively hide changes

To talk to a person who has had a difficult experience, it is important to understand how they feel.

This experience changed her, she became different. And she is afraid that when people around her find out about it, they will reject her, won’t accept her as one of their own.

Therefore, a person hides changes and tries to appear to be the same as before.

A side effect of this behavior is a strong internal tension from constant self-control, which leads to outbursts of anger and irritation. Such aggressive behavior alienates family and friends. And a person quickly realizes that it is easier and safer to simply not communicate. However, strategically, such a decision is the first step on a dangerous path that ultimately leads to the loss of social ties, reduced stress resistance and motivation to act, and significantly increases the risk of developing PTSD and even suicide.

People are afraid of being rejected, so they feel vulnerable. In an effort to protect himself in battle, a person puts on armor and a helmet. The same thing is happening here.

A man comes home to his friends, but he comes wearing armor and a helmet. If you try to remove its protection, it may become even more frightened and start to resist.

If you want to help, your task is to create the conditions in which people will start taking off their armor on their own. And for this, they need to feel safe.

First, you need to understand what not to do.

What doesn’t work

It doesn’t work when someone suggests to another “talk to me” (“about what happened,” “about you,” “about us,” “tell me what happened,” etc.). It doesn’t work because it is a demand, and it creates danger, it is perceived as the beginning of an interrogation.

It also doesn’t work to argue, explain things, or say “how things really were.” It doesn’t work, because a person needs to tell their “story” and their experience not to you, they need to tell it to themselves. She does it in the way that is best and easiest for her.

And one more important point. It does not work to give a person time and leave them alone. Perhaps this is the most difficult thing – not to interfere, but to be there. However, this is the only way we can help and maintain relationships.

It’s important to understand that we feel the urge to leave because being around someone who is tense and anxious makes us feel tense and anxious. And leaving is a natural defense reaction that is needed to take care of yourself. Rate how difficult it is for you. If you are really struggling or tired, say so. Then the person won’t feel lonely when you take a break. And if you do, then you’ll need the next batch of recommendations.

What works

First, it works to allow a person to have their own view of what happened and what is happening, even if you don’t think that view is reasonable. You shouldn’t assume that this is how it was. Just remember: everyone has their own story.

A person has the right to look at his or her experience in the way that is most convenient for him or her to comprehend it.

All people who have faced traumatic experiences perceive their experiences inadequately, and this is normal. They exaggerate or understate, blame themselves or shift the blame to others. This is a natural course of learning new experiences. If you do not interfere, the amplitude of these manifestations will gradually decrease, and the person will understand everything.

Second, it is also very important to involve people in a common cause. However, it should be remembered that humans do not handle stress well, so you cannot demand too much from them. The simpler its task is at first, the better.

If a person can cope with it, it will strengthen them, give them a sense of their value and usefulness, and, in psychological terms, provide them with contact with reality so that they do not keep the same thoughts in their heads.

And thirdly, you need to familiarize people with how everything works now. You don’t notice it, but in fact you have changed a lot too. We all had an experience that changed us. Our plans, our relationships, our values, our attitudes towards work, life, and other people have changed.

The situation around us has also changed a lot. Social norms, rules of behavior, even greetings and farewells have changed. Also, the people around me and my relationships with them have changed.

People returning from the front line expect to return to the place they left behind, but find themselves in a new, unfamiliar territory. They need someone to reassure them, take care of their safety for the first period, and introduce them to the new environment. To do this, you need to tell stories. But do not talk about your troubles and experiences, but calmly and neutrally talk about the events that have already taken place, what you are doing now and what is happening around you. What are your plans for the near future and what should be expected from your environment.

It is necessary to tell without evaluations and emotions, only facts, because people have to draw their own conclusions. Only she can find her place in this new world. We can only help.


Our task is not to cure each other of the new experience; it is impossible. Our task is to accept each other as we have become, to get to know the people we have become and the people our loved ones have become, and to be open to help.

And to make it easier for us to cope with this later, when we return, we must already create a feeling for each other that we are close, that we are together.

Source: Dzerkalo Tyzhnia

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