Though some relationships have toxic or dysfunctional traits, relationship trauma can result from ongoing abuse. In the context of an intimate relationship, abuse can take many forms – physical, emotional, financial and sexual. Even when this does not cause bodily harm, it can still leave a mark on you.
Post-traumatic relationship syndrome – a subset of post-traumatic stress disorder – isn’t an official diagnosis in the DSM-5-TR, but research on the subject has identified it as a genuine mental health concern.
What Is Relationship PTSD?
Ending a harmful relationship can break the cycle of abuse, but it may not free you from your burden of emotional anguish. With relationship trauma, you may find yourself unable to avoid reminders of what happened to you, leaving you trapped in negativity.
When your experiences are so fresh in your mind, it can be challenging to process your trauma and find relief. Instead of avoiding your memories of the abuse, you might continue to revisit them. The resulting pain can be a barrier to healing and forming safe, healthy relationships with future partners.
PTSD vs. PTRS
PTRS shares several similarities with PTSD – including intrusive thoughts, moodiness, anxiety and depression. You may realize you have PTRS if you break up with someone and find yourself unable to get over the relationship because you blame yourself for the abuse, distrust other people or experience frequent flashbacks to times when your partner harmed you.
Abusive and harmful behaviors create a persistent fear of experiencing abuse in other relationships. Some ways in which an abusive partner can cause unhealthy and dangerous dynamics include:
- Insulting, coercing or bullying you
- Threatening to harm loved ones such as children or pets
- Isolating you from your friends
- Limiting your autonomy or self-agency
- Controlling your finances
- Destroying your belongings
- Preventing you from getting support
- Giving you the silent treatment
PTRS Symptoms and Treatment
Leading PTRS symptoms include anger, dread and fear toward the abusive partner. Because PTRS isn’t a formal diagnosis, a doctor or psychiatrist may diagnose you with PTSD instead, but that’s only because the two disorders are so similar. The primary difference is in the coping mechanisms survivors use. While avoidance tends to be the go-to strategy for people with PTSD, people with PTRS are more likely to confront their trauma with strategies like journaling and talk therapy.
It takes time to heal from trauma. Working with a mental health professional who specializes in trauma-informed care can help you process emotions such as guilt, shame or anger. A therapist or psychologist can encourage you to set healthy boundaries, practice self-care and expand your support system.
If you have PTRS, you may feel confused, scared, upset or trapped. All these emotions are typical responses to abuse. Still, no matter what others might say, you should never blame yourself for your partner’s abusive actions.
At Canyon Crossing, we provide a supportive haven where women help each other recover from trauma and co-occurring mental and behavioral health disorders like substance abuse. Contact us to learn more about women’s-only treatment in Arizona.