The beginning of a relationship is a stage that should be very fun and exciting.
However, if you experienced trauma or abuse in a previous relationship it could affect how you navigate dating/intimacy when you are starting something with a new partner.
Post-Traumatic Relationship Stress (PTRS) is newly proposed mental health syndrome that occurs subsequent to the experience of trauma in an intimate relationship. It includes the intrusive and arousal symptoms of PTSD; however, it lacks the avoidance symptoms required for a diagnosis of PTSD due to a very different mode of coping with the traumatized state from that which is characteristic of individuals with PTSD.
I had never experienced anything like PTRS until after I left a narcissistic and abusive relationship a few years ago. There was a rage within me that I had never felt before, and I realized that this wasn’t just a normal breakup.
Instead, the feelings that followed me were ones that I was not able to just shake and heal from immediately because it ran so deeply.
Here are the signs that you may be suffering from PTRS.
#1. You relive past experiences from the traumatic relationship
Last year my new partner and I went to an engagement party. Before we arrived, I flashed back to my narcissistic ex and how he would always ignore me at events and leave me completely alone.
By the time we got to the event, I was starting to feel a meltdown building up.
After we got there, I quickly ran outside to call a close friend, was unable to explain why I was so upset, and then found a random room in the house to break down privately.
“Sexual, physical or severe emotional abuse (e.g., abandonment, betrayal, malevolent intent, or repeated victimization) often has devastating effects on the recipient. These effects can be long-lasting and broad-ranging.”
Even though the experience was completely different and my new partner didn’t leave me alone in social settings, I felt myself reliving the feeling of being completely alone and abandoned in the past.
#2 You have anxiety and depression that won’t let up
I had never struggled with anxiety and depression to the extent I did until several years following my toxic/abusive relationship.
Negative thoughts came in a constant flurry, my insecurities following the trauma lingered, and there was a point where I hit rock bottom.
It is completely normal to be depressed after a break-up but if you didn’t struggle with your moods before and things are bad for years following an abusive relationship it’s time to seek out help.
I finally realized I couldn’t handle everything on my own and after hitting rock bottom I found an amazing therapist.
#3. You are extremely sensitive/defensive/easily angered
In the past, I’ve always been able to have rational conversations in my relationships. My ability to have healthy and constructive conversations went out of the window post-trauma.
Instead, I found that I struggled to have a conversation without having the feeling that I was being gaslighted, or invalidated.
“The current partner may be completely different than a problematic ex, yet any interaction that remotely resembles an experience with an ex may produce panic and ignite insecurities.”
Although my new partner was doing/saying nothing wrong, I found that I was constantly on the defense and that I suddenly had insecurities that had never been present in prior relationships.
#4. You struggle to open up/trust someone again
When I was in the beginning phases of my new relationship, everything was completely fine. It wasn’t until a few months in that I began to struggle. I had never had a problem opening up/trusting someone in the past but for some reason, I felt terrified. I felt a heaviness on me that I couldn’t understand nor really put in words.
Later I realized that I was subconsciously terrified to open up and I was on the defense after my previous abusive relationship.
My partner knew that I had gone through past trauma because I was honest about my past early on in our relationship. He was extremely understanding and patient with me through it all from day one.
However, even with his patience and understanding, it was extremely difficult to navigate the first year of our relationship because my emotions were so out of whack.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel…
The reality is that when we go through trauma, there are going to be residual effects.
If you are experiencing similar feelings to what I’ve outlined above, the first thing I want to tell you is that you are not alone and that what you are going through is actually normal.
You can work through these feelings but I would be lying if I said that it was easy to work through the trauma.
It’s not completely gone. There are still bad days. There are still moments when I spiral and forget how much I have to offer my partner and that my trauma doesn’t define who I am.
However, I don’t even want to imagine where I would be today if I tried to handle it all of the overwhelming feelings on my own.
If you are going through this, please talk to someone. What you went through is valid, it was real, and it is important to feel and acknowledge the pain.
It is also important to ask for help because some burdens weren’t meant to be carried alone.