• Posttraumatic stress disorder is a crippling disease that can have negative effects on one’s relationships.
  • Triggers may cause the affected individual to lash out at loved ones.
  • Avoidance symptoms may cause one to dissociate and neglect relationships.
  • Hypervigilance can lead to sleep and concentration problems, which then can negatively affect one’s relationships.
  • A false sense of reality can completely take over one’s life, including their relationships.

We’re often told to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Doing so enables us to adjust our mindset and better empathize with one’s situation or experience. But try as we might, we often struggle to do so when it comes to mental illness—because we just don’t know or understand all that comes with depression, anxiety, or the topic at hand: posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Fortunately, it’s never too late to educate ourselves and better grasp what those around us experience on a daily basis. Caleb Backe, health and wellness expert, wants to help progress this process and is here to paint the picture for you: “Imagine living out life constantly having to look over your shoulder. Feeling haunted and followed by the past. This is what PTSD is for many. Something they are not able to shake, despite their best efforts. It is a kind of stress which persists, at times even with no triggers. It is not something patients can turn on or off at will. It is simply there, taking up space in their psyche, affecting their everyday.”

The Ripple Effects of Trauma

Affecting their everyday. Think about the most important aspects of your life. Your job? Sure. Day-to-day living? Yes. Your relationships? Absolutely. Vinodha Joly, a licensed trauma-informed psychotherapist who specializes in working with adults diagnosed with PTSD, first explains the symptoms of PTSD and then goes into how the disease’s harmful effects can seep into one’s relationships: “The unresolved trauma in a person with PTSD is stored as fragments of physical sensations, emotions and images. PTSD is characterized by the following which can affect relationships in different ways…

  • Re-experiencing the trauma via intrusive images and/or thoughts whenever they are exposed to triggers that activate the unresolved trauma fragments
  • Avoidance of reminders of the trauma
  • Hypervigilance that may result in sleep disturbances and difficulty concentrating
  • Distorted perceptions and negative beliefs about self and others (such as ‘It was my fault,’ or, ‘I deserved it’)

1) Triggers
When a person is triggered and has a trauma response (e.g., lashes out in rage), they (and others) may not associate their reaction—rage in this case—with the unresolved trauma, but instead look at the current environment or people present to blame as the cause for their reaction. So, if the person with PTSD is not aware of their triggers and trauma response, they end up blaming their partner for their reactions.

2) Avoidance
The avoidance symptoms of PTSD can result in the person numbing themselves from feeling too much, and in extreme cases, can result in the person dissociating (that is, not feel connected in their body or feel that the environment is unreal). When such symptoms are activated, it is really difficult for the person to be present in the moment.

3) Hypervigilance
This symptom shows up as having to be constantly on edge and on guard, and having difficulty relaxing, which floods the body with stress hormones, causing physical health problems and difficulty sleeping and concentrating, which negatively affects their relationships as well.

4) False Sense of Reality
The trauma causes the person to view the world through a distorted lens and negative beliefs, such as ‘I can’t trust anyone,’ or, ‘I am unworthy.’ That could sabotage their relationships, with the negative beliefs serving as self-fulfilling prophesies.

Maintaining Healthy Relationships

“The first step to prevent PTSD from negatively affecting one’s relationships is to become self-aware of the PTSD symptoms and triggers and to then explain it to their partner (or friend or relative), so that they don’t take things personally when PTSD symptoms are triggered. They can then be a part of the person’s support system in helping to identify triggers and de-escalate a situation when the person with PTSD gets triggered.”

Additionally, it’s crucial that people who have (or may have) PTSD reach out to a mental health professional. Oftentimes, affected individuals try to manage the disease on their own, but it’s better to consult a psychiatrist or therapist, as talking openly about the traumatic experience—such as in therapy—is crucial to the healing process. Not to mention doing so gives individuals the opportunity to discuss and work on maintaining healthy relationships while they learn to navigate life post-trauma.