Many of us have had our fair share of bad relationships, but some relationships are toxic enough to leave long-lasting scars - though not all of these are visible. Abusive relationships can cause a lot of damage to one’s emotional and mental health. It can feel distressing and heartbreaking, to say the least, when someone you love starts to lie, manipulate, and abuse you. In many cases, a partner’s toxic behavior is bad enough to where the person on the receiving end of the abuse develops relationship PTSD. Here’s a guide on post-traumatic relationship syndrome and how to recognize the signs.
What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
You’ve probably heard of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. This is a mental health disorder that develops in some people who have experienced or witnessed traumatic events, including the death of a loved one, a natural disaster, sexual assault, and more. While experiencing fear is natural during and after a traumatic situation, people with PTSD were never able to recover from the trauma and instead developed worse symptoms.
Those who continue to experience the lingering effects from the fight-or-flight response to trauma may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD experience stress or extreme fear when they come across particular triggers, reminders of the event, or similar situations to the event, even if they aren’t in danger.
Moreover, not everyone with PTSD has personally gone through a traumatic event. Even situations like the loss of a loved one can cause PTSD. Additionally, most but not all traumatized people experience short-term PTSD, and the majority don’t develop chronic PTSD. Again, this depends on the cause of their symptoms and whether they receive mental health treatment.
Symptoms of PTSD usually begin within 3 months of the traumatic event, but sometimes up to a year afterward. Symptoms must last more than a month for a person to be diagnosed with PTSD. While some people recover after 6 months, others develop this condition chronically. The recovery process all depends on whether the individual receives care, their support system at home, and more.
Can You Get PTSD From a Relationship?
Yes, you can get PTSD from a relationship. While the idea of getting PTSD from relationships is often the butt of many breakup jokes, many people have been severely mentally and emotionally scarred by toxic relationships to the point where they need professional care.
Otherwise known as post-traumatic relationship syndrome (PTRS), relationship PTSD refers to the response a person may have to one or more exposures to a traumatic event within the context of an intimate relationship with another person. The most common causes of PTSD in relationships are verbal, physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse.
PTSD from past relationships is a subcategory of post-traumatic stress disorder, where the main difference is the stressor or cause of PTSD and the emotional reaction to it. This means that people with relationship PTSD may not meet all the diagnostic criteria for a PTSD diagnosis, but they do meet enough of these criteria to be diagnosed with post-traumatic relationship syndrome.
Relationship PTSD Symptoms
PTRS does cause some PTSD symptoms, but symptoms are mostly linked to intensely emotional reactions that negatively affect social interactions. In the end, the relationship itself becomes the source of PTSD rather than a single event.
PTRS can lead to lower self-esteem, self-blame, insecurity, and more. It can break down a person’s mental and emotional health to the point where other areas of their lives are negatively impacted. Even so, people who experience PTRS during a relationship might not realize their symptoms until after the relationship ends.
PTSD from abusive relationships can also be difficult to recognize because it gradually grows over a long period rather than resulting from a single event. The relationship itself is the source of the trauma rather than one isolated incident. People with relationship PTSD often feel unsafe, out of control, ashamed, guilty, and often struggle with negative intrusive thoughts.
Typical PTSD-from-relationship symptoms include:
- Easily irritated with little or no provocation
- Hypervigilance or being “on guard” at all times, especially when reminded of the trauma
- Difficulty trusting others
- Difficulty maintaining healthy relationships with others
- Loneliness or isolation
- Quickly jumping into a new relationship
- Shame, guilt, or self-blame (also symptoms of trauma bonding)
- Sexual dysfunction or decreased libido
- Feeling that the world isn’t safe
People who have developed PTSD from a relationship may also struggle with intrusive symptoms like:
- Thoughts about the trauma or relationship that seem to come out of nowhere
- Flashbacks or feeling like you’re reliving the experience(s) in the form of mental images, intrusive thoughts, and nightmares
- Nightmares or dreams about the trauma
- Feeling extreme distress when reminded of the trauma either by the person or a reminder of the person from the relationship
- Emotional responses that are excessive considering the current emotional stressor
As we mentioned previously, common causes of relationship PTSD include verbal, physical, emotional, mental, and sexual abuse. But, unlike traditional PTSD, PTRS only occurs in someone within an intimate relationship with someone rather than witnessing or experiencing a single traumatic event outside of an intimate relationship.
With that said, if you’re in a potentially harmful relationship, don’t wait to get out of it. Below are some early warning signs of a toxic relationship to look out for:
- Controlling behavior
- Emotional abuse
- Punching, hitting, or any form of purposeful injury or attempts to cause harm to the other person
- Sexual abuse, including non-consensual sex and sexual coercion
Help for PTSD at Banyan
If anything you’ve read about PTRS sounds familiar to you and your experience, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Relationship PTSD can lead to a clinical PTSD diagnosis without professional care. Suicide, substance abuse, and self-harm are all risks of untreated PTRS, so it’s important to seek PTSD treatment as soon as you recognize any symptoms.
While no one’s experience with relationship PTSD is the same, you’re not alone in your experience. Reaching out to a therapist or mental health professional is a great way to heal from trauma and move forward. Several of our Banyan rehab locations offer mental health programs like PTSD treatment to help people recover from their disorders.
With the use of unique therapy programs like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), our specialists slowly guide patients through recovery and help them discover the source of their symptoms and develop healthy tactics to manage them. We’ve helped thousands, and we can help you, too.
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