Relationship PTSD Is A Real Thing—Here's What You Need To Know
Published in Oct 2018 / Updated in Oct 2021
Bad experiences during military service, rape and other incidents of sexual abuse, years of childhood abuse, a tragic accident, or being physically assaulted; These are but some of the few experiences that quickly come to mind at the mention of post-traumatic stress disorder, otherwise known as PTSD.
Did you know PTSD is a reality for people who have been physically, emotionally and/or sexually abused and traumatized within a toxic relationship? Here is what else you need to know.
1. It's called Post –Traumatic Relationship Syndrome (PTRS)
PTSD is a generic term for post-traumatic illness. This post-traumatic syndrome is a result of physical, psychological and sexual abuse within a relationship, PTRS more often is used to describe the disorder.
2. Why PTRS and not just PTSD?
First, the traumatic stressors in the former, unlike the latter, come exclusively from an intimate relationship. Secondly, when it comes to coping mechanisms and treatment approaches, PTSD sufferers focus on avoidance coping. This primarily involves repressing all memory associated with the specific traumatic event responsible for their anxiety. On the other hand, PTRS sufferers use emotion-focused coping, where they focus too much on the trauma and end up having to relive it.
These distinct differences inform the clinical approach adopted in treating both of these trauma syndromes.
3. PTRS symptoms
They are plain awful and have a profound effect on the daily life of the victim. Among these broad-ranging symptoms includes anxiety attacks, trouble sleeping, difficulty focusing and concentrating, and in the long-run, a complete distrust of others.
Because the trauma dominates their thoughts and emotions, every day is a constant battle. The experience is made worse when the person responsible for causing the trauma is in close proximity.
4. The effect on future relationships
As mentioned, one of the longer-lasting effects of PTRS is a distrust for other people. Without trust, it becomes very difficult, and even nearly impossible to build a healthy relationship in the future. People with PTRS are mistrusting and will often question the intentions of new partners. Low self-esteem is also common, as they are left broken and can't trust their own judgment. Emotional and sexual intimacy issues are also very common.
5. It can happen to anyone
The tragic truth is that abusive relationships are very common today. The physical, sexual and psychological abuse in a relationship can happen to anyone. Sadly, most people don't even realize they are being abused until it's too late. It usually starts out small, an unkind word here and there, and before long, it quickly escalates into full-blown abuse.
6. There is healing for the hurt
The journey to recovery following PTRS is not without its challenges, but it can be done. Working with a therapist who will employ several approaches, including desensitization techniques, can make you come out a winner.
After an abusive 10-year-long marriage to an emotionally and physically abusive man, my friend had to deal with PTRS. For her own sake, and that of her three boys, she sought the help of a counselor. It was a step of courage, after more than a year of just wallowing around, being unproductive, and affected by the trauma. Today, she's stronger, and always looks forward to her weekly sessions with the good doctor.
Post-traumatic relationship syndrome, with all its devastating effects, can be overcome. It takes time, and it's definitely not easy, but well worth it. Being informed can help you avoid PTRS, or help you deal better with the syndrome.