Author: Claudia M. Elsig, MD
After experiencing a traumatic event, some people develop a disorder that affects their social life and interpersonal relationships. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), if left untreated, can disrupt any relationship, no matter how strong it was before the disorder. A condition described by the ancient Greeks as reentering battle in one’s sleep and by soldiers after WWI as shell shock1, post-traumatic stress disorder has been around for centuries, but has only come to be understood well in the recent decades.
In a marriage or a relationship, it is of utmost important for those who suffer from PTSD or those who have loved ones with PTSD to understand the symptoms of the condition, as well as how it affects your relationship. A therapeutic approach is often helpful to improve the quality of life for the person with PTSD, and for their family.
Usually, if PTSD lasts for three months or more, it is considered chronic. It can have delayed onset, as the person begins to exhibit symptoms months or years following the traumatic event, such as an abusive relationship. There have even been cases of PTSD appearing suddenly in WWII survivors decades after the war. And it can also come with a variety of symptoms. Recognizing the symptoms is the first step to addressing the condition.
What is PTSD and how is it diagnosed?
A person who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder has experienced a traumatic event in the past, and continues to experience it in a number of ways2, including:
- Recollections of the event and thoughts about the event that are persistent and distressing
- Recurring dreams about the event
- Distress when there are cues, internally or externally, that symbolize the event or resemble some aspect of it
- Intense physiological reactivity to such cues
- Experiencing the event as if it’s happening again
For a person with PTSD, something as inconsequential as a phrase, a thought, a sound, or an image that relates to some small or tangential part of the traumatic event can trigger a physiological reaction, potentially even flashbacks. This is because the memory of the event is shattered, and stored in the limbic system, the part of our brain that is responsible for the “fight-or-flight” response and other behavioral responses we initially needed for survival.
If your loved one suffers from PTSD, they are also likely having a hard time sleeping (either falling asleep or staying asleep), concentrating, and may exhibit outbursts of anger or irritability. They may also become hypervigilant and startle more easily than most. Symptoms may also vary depending on the type of trauma: for example, women who have undergone sexual victimization may experience a feeling of dirtiness3.
What types of traumatic event(s) trigger PTSD?
Usually, there are two components to a traumatic event. The person who suffers from PTSD experienced or witnessed the event first-hand, and it involved actual or perceived threat of death or injury. At the time of the traumatic event, the person’s physiological reaction involved a feeling of helplessness, horror, or intense fear.
Some examples of traumatic events4 that can later cause PTSD include:
- War and conflict
- Sexual, physical, or psychological abuse (including childhood abuse)
- Sexual or physical assault
- Serious accidents
- Natural disasters
- Losing a loved one (including losing a child at birth)
Any event that profoundly disturbs the individual, forcing them into the “fight or flight” mode of heightened responsiveness, may later trigger PTSD. However, not everyone who has experienced trauma develops the disorder: your genetic predisposition5 and life experiences may also be factors in whether or not you develop it. Approximately 30% of people who have undergone the same trauma will not develop PTSD.
How is PTSD affecting your relationship?
PTSD can intrude into different areas6 of a person’s life, including their work and their interpersonal relationships. It is not uncommon for a person who suffers from PTSD to engage in significant avoidance – of both thoughts, feelings and conversations about the trauma with their loved ones, as well avoiding activities, places, and people who might remind them of the trauma. A person with PTSD may appear or feel detached, with diminished interest in participating in social or sexual activities. It may seem that they are unable to have loving feelings.
For some people with the disorder, PTSD may cause them to become irritable and jumpy7. Some may not be able to resume the level of closeness with loved ones that existed before the trauma. Others may have issues with trust and feel angry. The sleeping problems in people with PTSD may also affect their partner in affecting their partner’s quality of sleep.
How can you help a loved one with PTSD?
The most important action you can take to support a loved one is to find a professional who can help. You can also begin by educating yourself of the topic, as well as:
- Listening when they need to talk, without pressuring them into talking
- Understanding that a person may need to recall the traumatic event multiple times
- Encouraging them to engage in social activities that will bring them joy
- Managing your own stress: the calmer you are, the more you can help
- Accepting that PTSD can be a journey, but there is help available
How the CALDA Clinic can help
At the CALDA Clinic, we take an integrative approach that is tailored to you. At the core of our approach is treating the problem itself, not the symptoms with which you present. We incorporate both the scientific, field-tested methods with holistic treatments to achieve the optimal results. Our time and our expertise are dedicated exclusively to one person: you. By creating a program that is carefully tailored to address your trauma, we believe that you have the highest chances of success.
We work with people who have experienced traumatic events such as rape, childhood abuse, mental or physical abuse, relationships with destructive or paranoids narcissists, loss of loved ones, accidents and more.
At the clinic, we look not only at your trauma, but at other disorders you may have developed as a result of that trauma (eating disorders are common, as is OCD, the obsessive-compulsive disorder8). Some of these comorbid conditions, such as depression, borderline personality disorder, and addiction, can also cause distress in your relationship, which is why we take the comprehensive route.
We use trauma techniques and processing core trauma to build the fragments of the event into a whole memory, so it can be stored as an explicit memory and processed appropriately. We also use hypnosis and EMDR, as well as enactive trauma therapy. Our holistic approach adds the components of nutrition, lifestyle coaching, equine-assisted therapy, dance therapy and more.
While time is an essential component to healing, we believe that at the CALDA Clinic, we can improve your quality of life significantly in a short period of time. For you, your loved ones, and your personal relationships, it’s the kind of difference that’s priceless.
- Crocq, M A, and L Crocq. “From Shell Shock and War Neurosis to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A History of Psychotraumatology.” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, Les Laboratoires Servier, Mar. 2000, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181586/.
- Forman-Hoffman, Valerie L. “DSM-IV Definition of PTSD – CBHSQ Data Review – NCBI Bookshelf.” CBHSQ Data Review., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2022, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK390285/table/Data-Review_SR-3.t1.1/.
- Tipsword, Jordyn M., et al. “Mental Contamination, PTSD Symptoms, and Coping Following Sexual Trauma: Results from a Daily Monitoring Study.” Journal of Anxiety Disorders, Pergamon, 24 Dec. 2021, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S088761852100164X.
- National Health Service (UK): “Causes – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/causes/.
- Huckins, Laura M., et al. “Analysis of Genetically Regulated Gene Expression Identifies a Prefrontal PTSD Gene, SNRNP35, Specific to Military Cohorts.” Cell Reports, Cell Press, 2 June 2020, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211124720306938.
- American Psychiatric Association: “What Is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder?” https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd#:~:text=Posttraumatic%20stress%20disorder%20(PTSD)%20is,sexual%20violence%20or%20serious%20injury
- US Department of Veterans Affairs: “Relationships,” PTSD: National Center for PTSD. https://www.ptsd.va.gov/family/effect_relationships.asp#:~:text=Trauma%20survivors%20with%20PTSD%20may,the%20survivor%20acts%20with%20others
- Pinciotti, Caitlin M., et al. “Does a Unique Co-Occurring OCD and PTSD Factor Structure Exist?: Examination of Overlapping OCD and PTSD Symptom Clusters.” Journal of Anxiety Disorders, Pergamon, 8 Dec. 2021, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0887618521001584.