Having recently re-entered the battlefield that is dating in a big city, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about relationships and emotions and how one finds balance when dealing with a new person. Edit that. Saying that I’ve only just started dating again is a bit misleading — I’ve been dating with some consistency over the past year, but I only recently started seeing someone in whom I saw potential. The revelation of “holy shit, I want to spend more time with this person,” was followed almost immediately by “holy shit, what does this mean? Why isn’t he communicating like he used to? This is making me think of the time my ex did XYZ [breaths heavily into paper bag]…I need to get out!”
After several of these episodes, I decided to talk to a therapist to get a general idea of what was going on in my brain. I had mentioned previously that I’ve dealt with relationship drama in the past; having been in a series of unhealthy match ups wherein my significant other was emotionally or physically abusive, uncaring, and disloyal to the point of public humiliation. For instance, when my ex would disappear for days at a time without a word, only to find out later that he was holed up in a hotel with some girl he was cheating with—his coworkers and mutual friends, whom I saw almost daily, being aware all the while that I was the clueless optimist. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Needless to say, all this has affected me to the extent that I sometimes will experience something that triggers a days-long spiral of insomnia and I have panic attacks during situations that don’t necessarily warrant that level of anxiety.
After some contemplation, I was like, “oh my God, I have PTSD.” So, I decided to ask the psychologist if destructive relationships could actually lead to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
“From a clinical standpoint yes; if particular aspects of, or occurrences that took place within the relationship were suitably stressful (i.e. exposure to death, threat of death, sexual violence, etc.), then it is very possible for one to experience PTSD from a relationship or breakup,” says Dr. Richard Griffith, PhD.
According to Dr. Griffith, symptoms may vary, but hallmark PTSD symptomatology, following the exposure to traumatic stressor involve the following:
- Intrusive thoughts (repetitive re-experiencing of the trauma via memories, nightmares, etc.)
- Avoidance of trauma-related stimuli following the event
- Negative changes in thought patterns and/or mood
- Changes in physiological arousal or reactivity (i.e. hyper-vigilance, sleep disturbance, etc.)
- Persistence of symptoms for more than a month
- Significant distress or impairment in functional ability
- Symptoms not related to medication, substance use, or illness
So how exactly does one know if it is PTSD as opposed to a more ‘normal’ reaction to a situation? “When the reactions and symptoms become maladaptive (impairing one’s ability to function) or begin to limit a person’s ability to engage in typical life activities or behavior,” says Dr. Griffith. “If the above symptoms are frequent and persist beyond a month in duration. Normal emotional reactions tend to wax and wane in intensity as a person goes about their daily life. PTSD is debilitating.”
Talking to Dr. Griffith helped me lighten up and made me realize that maybe I don’t exactly have PTSD—just some serious trust issues that have taken me years to get a handle on, and, dare I say, paranoia?
So, how do I—and you—keep from carrying PTSD issues on to the next relationship? Dr. Griffith suggests engaging in couples therapy. He also suggests in reinforcing your personal desire to not have the condition affect your relationship as well as being open to discussing the impact of your symptoms on your partner. It’s all about communication. If that doesn’t work, engaging in couples therapy is also a viable strategy.
Now, how do I go about breaching that topic with my new beau? Stay tuned for my second installment next week!