Emotional And Psychological Trauma
When people think of trauma in a relationship, they may think of physical violence, but it can also involve emotional and psychological trauma. For instance, catching your partner in an affair, having a severe blow-up fight, or being humiliated by your partner can all create emotional and psychological symptoms.
This trauma can come from psychological abuse within a relationship. Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of some of the following behaviors in an abusive relationship:
- One partner purposely humiliating or embarrassing the other partner
- One partner making degrading comments about the victim, whether in public or private
- Abusive partner destroying the others self-esteem
- One partner attempting to convince the other that he/she is crazy
- One partner telling the other what he or she is or is not allowed to do
- One partner controlling household finances
- Constant criticism from a partner
- Threats of harm from the abuser
- One partner blaming the other for things that go wrong or making that partner feel guilty for things that are not his/her fault
Any of the above behaviors can cause traumatic relationships. Ultimately, the victim loses his or her sense of confidence and independence and even begins to question his or her sanity. The victim may be fearful of making a mistake and feel that it is impossible to make the abuser happy.
Choosing Another Unhealthy Partner
With weak self-esteem, you may come to believe that you are not worthy of a healthy relationship in which your partner considers your needs and treats you with respect. This can lead you to accept another partner who causes the trauma.
Sometimes, you may rush into a new relationship with an abusive partner because you are lonely and seeking to fill the void or to heal from the wounds of your last relationship. This can lead to a repeated cycle of trauma.
In the video below, Dr Treisman talks about the importance of forging good relationships and how adults also need relational healing:
Know When Its Time To Get Help
There is no shame in seeking help. Trauma can create confusing and debilitating dynamics within a relationship. Particularly in situations where both members of a couple have some trauma history, therapy can be essential. Couples therapy can be especially useful for helping you understand cycles that contribute to distress within the relationship. Engaging in individual therapy can also help you to gain awareness that may positively affect your relationship as well.
Trauma can feel like a disorienting, unwelcome presence in your relationship. At times, you may feel hopeless to resolve it. However, with a depth of compassion and intentional efforts towards growth, you can start to experience the best of both yourself and your partner.
Have you or your partner experienced trauma?
Check out our trauma services and connect with one of our therapists.
How have you and/or your partner navigated the impact of trauma on your relationship? Join the conversation in the comments below.
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What Causes Relationship Trauma
The direct cause of relationship trauma can be any kind of abuse in a romantic or intimate relationship. Some of the examples can be:
- Physical abuse, including direct physical harm
- Sexual abuse, including rape, sexual assault
- Emotional abuse, including gaslighting, manipulation
Relationship PTSD is a response to a lingering fear of abuse in any future relationship from a romantic partner.
Change Loss & Disappointment
Its common for the partner of a trauma survivor to feel disappointed, particularly if the trauma occurs during the course of your relationship and your partner changes. You may feel disappointed that your partner no longer seems to be fully themselves or that your relationship isnt turning out the way youd hoped.
Prolonged disappointment can often lead to resentment as well, doubling down on the difficult aftereffects of trauma in your relationship.5 The immense changes that occur in your partner as a result of trauma often feels like a loss to you loss of the person you loved and aspects of their personality that you loved about them.5
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Expressing Anger In A Safe Way
Some people feel hesitant about expressing anger. However, psychologist Dr. Howard Kassinove states that anger and aggression are not the same. While anger is a feeling and physiological state, aggression involves taking action on those feelings often in a way that causes harm.
It is possible to express anger in a safe way. For example, people can try:
- writing about their feelings on paper and then throwing it away
- expressing their feelings through art, music, or other creative hobbies
- engaging in exercise or sports, such as running
People with anger as a result of trauma or PTSD may benefit from additional trauma therapies.
Can You Get Ptsd From A Toxic Relationship
Yes. You can get PTSD from a toxic relationship.
Stephen Porges Polyvagal Theory shows us how the vagus nerve impacts emotion regulation, social connection and fear responses. You can think of your vagal nerve as a ladder with the ventral vagal complex at the top. When you are in ventral vagal, you have access to your social engagement system, all is well in the world, and you feel grounded and connected to yourself and others. In the face of threat, you may drop on that ladder to the sympathetic vagal complex of fight and flight or when you dont have hope you may drop lower to the dorsal vagal complex of freezing, shutting down, collapsing and disconnecting.
This theory shows us how significant attachment relationships are. When there is a loss of safety and security your experience of yourself and the world changes to one of protection. Your social engagement system goes offline. Your whole system gears up to fight or run, or shut down to keep you safe. Over time, this chronic threat to safety experienced in your autonomic nervous system can result in relationship PTSD.
Relationship events that can trigger PTSD include
- Dismissing, devaluing, denying your reality
- Controlling, stonewalling, criticizing, defending, taking your autonomy away
- Being treated aggressively, abuse, and more
Having your emotional, physical or sexual boundaries chronically violated can create deep mistrust. If there is a history of trauma you will be more susceptible
Can PTSD go away on its own?
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You Want To Jump Back Into Another Relationship
That said, you might find that you immediately jump into a different relationship usually one that is equally toxic or that you feel the need to bury tough feelings by dating lots of new people at once. Rebounding is a common way to ease the pain and/or cover up intense feelings of loneliness, Klapow says, but its important to recognize it may be a sign of relationship trauma.
Again, its understandable why youd want to start over and look for company, but give yourself time to heal before trying to move on. If you can, look into low-cost or free care facilities that could help you address what you went through. Not examining these issues not dealing with the trauma positions you to walk right back into it again, he says.
Common Ptsd Triggers In Relationships
PTSD triggers may vary from person to person, however there are some common triggers to be aware of while in a relationship with an individual who has PTSD, such as:
- Sensitivity to large crowds
- Fear and anxiety around the source of the traumatic event
- Becoming emotionally overstimulated
- Panic attacks during times of conflict
- Certain phrases and communication styles
- Situational triggers: how conflict is handled, tone of voice, volume of voice
- Non-verbal communication
- Intimacy at certain times or differences in intimacy expectations
- Lack of boundaries
Dr. Lee encourages, If a partner is sharing something about their trauma or symptoms, the most important thing is to provide some positive comments about their sharing with you. Sometimes it may seem like a burden to solve a problem than can be chronic. You dont have to solve it yourself, because PTSD is complicated and even trained professionals have to work pretty hard with their clients. By providing some positive feedback about the act of sharing, such as thanking the person for their trust, that helps assuage feelings of guilt that come up with PTSD.
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Helping A Loved One Deal With Trauma
When a loved one has suffered trauma, your support can play a crucial role in their recovery.
Be patient and understanding. Healing from trauma takes time. Be patient with the pace of recovery and remember that everyones response to trauma is different. Dont judge your loved ones reaction against your own response or anyone elses.
Offer practical support to help your loved one get back into a normal routine. That may mean helping with collecting groceries or doing housework, for example, or simply being available to talk or listen.
Dont pressure your loved one into talking but be available if they want to talk. Some trauma survivors find it difficult to talk about what happened. Dont force your loved one to open up but let them know you are there to listen if they want to talk, or available to just hang out if they dont.
Help your loved one to socialize and relax. Encourage them to participate in physical exercise, seek out friends, and pursue hobbies and other activities that bring them pleasure. Take a fitness class together or set a regular lunch date with friends.
Dont take the trauma symptoms personally. Your loved one may become angry, irritable, withdrawn, or emotionally distant. Remember that this is a result of the trauma and may not have anything to do with you or your relationship.
How children react to emotional and psychological trauma
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What is Psychological Trauma? Includes the causes, symptoms, treatments, and effects.
What Does Relationship Ptsd Mean Exactly
You probably know its possible to develop lingering symptoms of fear and distress after a single traumatic event. When flashbacks, avoidance, and other symptoms persist after the trauma has ended, mental health professionals may diagnose PTSD.
An abusive relationship is trauma of a different kind. Leaving the relationship can put a stop to repeated emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, but it may not necessarily free you from their effects.
In an effort to better recognize and address this specific type of trauma, experts have introduced the concept of post-traumatic relationship syndrome .
People who experience physical, sexual, or emotional abuse in an intimate relationship may have a very different response to trauma than people who experience other traumatic events.
Instead of blocking out and avoiding your memories of the abuse or numbing yourself to them, you might continue to revisit them, experiencing them again and again.
The pain of this retraumatization can get in the way of healing, moving forward, and eventually building safe, healthy relationships with future partners.
Traumatic stress after an abusive relationship can look a little different from typical PTSD.
A diagnosis of PTSD requires symptoms in
- arousal and reactivity
- cognition and mood
PTRS doesnt involve the same avoidance that characterizes PTSD.
PTRS differs from PTSD in a few other key ways:
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How Does Relationship Ptsd Look Like
Relationship trauma is a real response to the aftermath of abuse or manipulation in a romantic, intimate relationship. However, it is still unrecognized in the DSM-5.
Some experts conclude that symptoms of relationship trauma may include:
- Terror, fright, or anger toward the abusive partner
- Intrusive, arousal, and relational symptoms after abuse
Intrusive symptoms are anything that causes you to re-experience the trauma. This can include:
- Flashbacks, or re-experiencing the abuse
- Intrusive thoughts or ruminating thoughts
- Emotional distress when thinking about the abuse
- Sensations such as pounding heart, shaking, or sweating palms
PTSD triggers in relationships can include hearing a nickname that your abusive partner used before, visiting places you once did with your partner, etc.
Arousal symptoms are what stems from your fear response. This can include:
- Insomnia and other sleep problems
- Being on edge and having trouble concentrating
- Restlessness, crankiness, and anger
- Feelings of panic or anxiety
- Remaining vigilant to any possible threat
Relational symptoms are anything that causes you to feel stressed in your other relationships. This can include:
Signs And Symptoms Of Ptsd
If you or a loved one has just gone through a breakup with a narcissist, watch out for these signs of PTSD:
- Episodes of panic and fear that come out of nowhere
- Extreme reactionsphysical or emotionalto traumatic reminders
- Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
- Nightmares, flashbacks, and intrusive thoughts
- Hyper-awareness, vigilance, anger, and irritability
- Misplaced sense of blame, low self-worth
- Avoidance of certain situations or people or a sense of detachment
- Uncertainty about ones self and others
Though not a complete list, these symptoms are common in trauma victims. Panicky, absent, or avoidant behavior are strong signs of PTSD.
If you are experiencing any of these, it is vital to seek help from a specialized trauma therapist.
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Take The Time To Be Introspective
Don’t take your relationship at face value. Be willing to look at what issues from your past may have made you vulnerable to the bad behavior of your partner. Take a look at what behavior of yours might have contributed to a negative cycle in the relationship. We all make mistakes in relationships but it’s important to learn from them. Be willing to take a fearless inventory of your own behavior and where you may have gone wrong. This is an important step in making better choices for the future.
Relationship Ptsd: Signs Causes And How To Start Healing
Moving on from an abusive or toxic relationship can be tricky. If youre in a toxic relationship, the trauma can have immediate and lasting effects on your emotional well-being. In some cases, people in these types of relationships develop relationship post-traumatic stress disorder, or relationship PTSD.
If you feel traumatized from a relationship, it’s essential to seek help and support from people and organizations you can trust. Learning about relationship PTSD can empower you to start healing and steer you in the right direction as you build your support network.
Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder ?
We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Post-traumatic stress disorder , and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available – and be a part of finding a cure.
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Frequently Asked Questions Continued
Can a man with PTSD fall in love?
Yes, a man with PTSD can fall in love and be in a relationship. PTSD does present its own set of challenges, such as the man feeling like he is unlovable, but if two dedicated partners work hard enough, they can conquer those emotions.
What does PTSD do to relationships?
PTSD can affect many important parts of a relationship. Here are a few examples of how relationships with people with PTSD can be affected.
- Trust. Someone with PTSD may have a hard time trusting their partner, even if they’ve been together for a while.
- Communication. A person with PTSD may have a hard time communicating their emotions.
- Affection. Someone with PTSD may have a hard time being intimate with their partner.
These are just a few examples of what a traumatic stress disorder can do to a relationship. While a person with PTSD can be in a relationship, it’s important that both parties work hard to make that relationship last despite the trauma from the past.
How does trauma affect intimate relationships?
Trauma, be it PTSD, childhood trauma, or any other form of trauma, can have an impact on certain intimate relationships. While someone who has past trauma can have fruitful relationships, here are some ways that the trauma can change the relationship for people with PTSD.
How do you date someone with PTSD?
When you date someone with traumatic stress, it’s important to follow these guidelines.
Can PTSD cause personality changes?
What are common PTSD symptoms?
What Is Relationship Ptsd
Abuse leads to trauma. If a trauma response persists for several months, it can develop into PTSD.
Relationship PTSD also called post-traumatic relationship syndrome , is a type of PTSD related to domestic abuse from an intimate partnership.
PTSD is an anxiety-based condition that can develop after someone experiences or witnesses a distressing situation or a series of traumatic, dangerous, or life-threatening events. Relationship PTSD, in particular, can manifest when those triggering events or situations stem from an abusive relationship with a spouse or significant other.
It isnt just physical abuse that leads to relationship PTSD. Quite often, a person with relationship PTSD has experienced more than one type of abuse or mistreatment.
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What To Do When Someone With Ptsd Pushes You Away
You let them be on their own.
Keep your calm and come back later to discuss the issue with them.
However, at the end of the day, also remember to not remain in a toxic situation if things cant be helped.
You deserve to be in a healthy environment, so take active steps to enable that.
Lastly, building a relationship takes emotional maturity and trust in equal parts.
PTSD from past relationships or traumatic experiences can ruin both. Thats exactly why it has to be addressed on time to foster healthy situations in the future.