7 Signs You’re Experiencing Post-Traumatic Relationship Syndrome

Please take care before you read on.

If you’ve experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse in an intimate relationship, you’ve experienced trauma. You may react significantly differently from those who’ve experienced other types of traumatic situations.

Some people shut out or numb the abusive memories, but you may continue to revisit them over and over. This type of retraumatization can become a barrier to your healing, progress, and the type of secure, healthy relationships you want.

If you are recovering from a relationship but still don’t quite feel like “yourself,” you might be suffering from a type of PTSD specific to relationships. 

Researchers have been exploring the concept of post-traumatic relationship syndrome (PTRS), which can include an initial response of terror, horror, and rage toward the abusive partner. It can consist of intrusive thoughts, arousal, and relational symptoms that begin after the abuse. Here are some signs you’re experiencing post-traumatic relationship syndrome.

1. You’re easily triggered

When triggered, you have an extreme emotional response, such as anger, fear, worry, sadness, numbness, or a sense of being out of control. Triggers are frequently associated with events that happened to you just before the painful event. You may hear, see, smell, or touch something that reminds you of the traumatic event. For example, you might see a car that reminds you of an ex and feel dread. You might feel anxious about going back to the original place you saw the car. Perhaps it’s a certain song, noise, or spot you and your ex often went together that causes your mood to change suddenly.

2. You want to jump back into another relationship

After leaving a toxic relationship, you might have a desire to look for another one soon after. If you haven’t taken the time to process all that’s happened to you-it might very well be another toxic relationship. Maybe you’re looking for an escape or a chance to prove that you’re lovable. According to Dr. Josh Klapow, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, rebounding is a common way to relieve pain or mask intense feelings of loneliness. Rebounding can be a symptom of relationship trauma, so it’s critical to recognize it and seek help if you’re feeling anxious or depressed.

3. You struggle with intrusive thoughts 

Naphtali Roberts, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, says that people with post-traumatic relationship disorder tend to struggle with intrusive thoughts following relationships. Intrusive thoughts seem to come out of nowhere. The thoughts and images that come to your head are unwanted and usually uncomfortable. These thoughts can be jolting or sexual at times. Or maybe you suddenly remember a past mistake and start to worry. You want to think about something else, but it feels like you have no control, so you can’t. While it’s okay to think about your ex occasionally, having repeated uncontrolled thoughts may signal you need support. CBT, a type of talk therapy that helps reframe thoughts, and a good self-care routine can help.

4. You withdraw from family and friends

After abuse, some people want to surround themselves with family and friends. In contrast, others want to be away from them. Hannah Guy, LCSW, a psychotherapist specializing in trauma recovery, notes that when you leave a relationship, you aren’t sure what a secure and safe relationship feels like anymore- and maybe you’ve never known. For this reason, you need to withdraw from family and friends to keep yourself safe.

5. Restlessness, irritability, and anger

These arousal symptoms arise from your body’s stress response or the sympathetic nervous response. You become someone who’s always on edge, looking for the next threat. Your heart races, your breathing is labored, and you can’t sleep properly. This continual heightened state of arousal creates the perfect environment for volatile moods. Your fear is conditioned, meaning you’ve linked it to negative experiences, which in this case are aspects of your relationship.

6. Extreme negative feelings toward yourself, such as shame, guilt, or self-blame

According to Dr. Holly Schiff, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist, being in a toxic relationship most likely means you were manipulated and made to feel that your feelings didn’t matter or that you were crazy. You tell yourself the breakup was your fault because you were too difficult, which isn’t true. These thoughts lead to overthinking. It causes you to seek out the same type of relationship to prove to yourself that you can do better and are worthy. 

7. You have trouble trusting yourself

You may have been a confident person before your relationship, but now you don’t recognize yourself. You have trouble trusting your thoughts and emotions. You assume you’re always wrong. Your whole identity was shattered because your partner chipped away at your self-esteem. During the relationship, your partner treated you kinder when you depended on them. The minute you started making your own decisions and expressing your thoughts, you were made to feel “crazy.” This roller coaster of emotions may have distorted your views on reality, making it hard to trust yourself.

You’ve been through a lot, and now it’s time to heal. The first steps to healing include…

Recognizing the symptoms in yourself. Coming from a place of compassion, knowing that it wasn’t your fault. Recognizing that your traumatic experience may be causing you to have behaviors you don’t recognise. They are a survival response, and not all of you. You can change those responses with help. Self-healing without support can, at times, leave you feeling defeated. You are not alone.

A robust support system and therapy can help you:

Overcome feelings of shame and guilt. Understand the abuse wasn’t your fault. Look at related mental health symptoms, including anxiety or depression, and process feelings of anger, worry, and fear. Work through remaining insecurity and trust issues. Work to develop a healthy support system

Self-Care can help you soothe how emotional responses show up in your body by practicing things like movement, deep breathing, and doing the things that make you feel safe.

You are still worthy, and you are not alone. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or unsure if you are. Please speak to a therapist.