What to Do When Someone With PTSD Pushes You Away
Surviving trauma in any form can have far-reaching and debilitating effects on life, often emerging as a condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The consequences, in turn, can hurt various aspects of life, including physical health, work, and relationships in particular. In the long run, this makes it highly challenging to thrive in personal relationships with family members, spouses, partners, and children.
Related: Does PTSD Go Away
The symptoms of PTSD have proven to hamper effective communication, cooperation, problem-solving, responsible assertiveness, emotional closeness, and trust. These traits can trigger partners without PTSD to react and respond in specific ways that the trauma survivors may perceive negatively. Hence, a circular pattern is established that jeopardizes the entire relationship. This very reason makes it crucial to understand what to do when someone with PTSD pushes you away.
Post-traumatic stress disorder has been regarded as an essential contributor to the global burden of disease. Affecting up to 4% of the world’s population, it usually persists for over a year in almost half of its cases, directly causing a substantial decline in healthy relationships and social life. PTSD, in general, is different for each victim, with a unique set of features. However, each of these symptoms has been found to exert a certain degree of disruption in terms of relationships. It is crucial to explore the connection between PTSD and romantic relationships to understand these disruptions in a better way,
During the initial months following a traumatic experience, it is common to feel sheer depression, anger, detachment and worries that mainly targets personal relationships. While most trauma survivors successfully get back to normal with their personal life, around five to ten percent never make a full recovery.
With time, such survivors grow distant from their closest relationships. The distant mindset is often punctured with feelings of numbness, permanently shutting off some emotions from their minds. Known as emotional avoidance, this mindset translates into multiple symptoms such as a reduced interest in social activities and sexual intimacy, increased negative feelings towards partners, hostility, and abuse.
To put it simply, the connection between PTSD and intimate relationships is emotional avoidance that affects the primary victim and their partners. This emotional avoidance sets forth multiple queries and worries in the partners’ minds, such as:
- My husband’s PTSD is draining me
- My girlfriend has PTSD and is pushing me away
- Why is my PTSD survivor partner not interested in me anymore?
It is essential to understand that recovery is possible despite the draining and prolonged effects of PTSD on relationships.
To dismantle the negative connection between PTSD and intimate relationships, one can consider the following strategies:
Need for PTSD Self-education for Caregivers
As an unaffected partner of someone fighting PTSD, self-education holds crucial importance because of the heightened risk of developing mental health difficulties, often mirroring the symptoms of their affected partners. It is also reasonably common for caregivers to feel responsible for controlling stressors that may worsen the victim’s symptoms.
To avoid these circumstances, caregivers can start self-educating themselves about PTSD, its symptoms, and how they affect people in general. This simple tip helps recognize triggers and manage them, making healing for both partners easier.
Role of Cognitive-based Combined Therapies for PTSD
Cognitive-based conjoint therapy (CBCT) is a type of couples therapy that aims to rejoin lost connections between a trauma survivor and their partner. The key is handling the situation in the presence of someone holding social significance in the survivor’s life. CBCT sessions are typically conducted twice per week, for a total of 15 sessions.
Phase One: Therapy begins by educating both partners about PTSD, its symptoms, potential harms, and strategies to cope with it.
Phase Two: The second phase teaches couples to switch from emotional avoidance to approach. Under the supervision of a therapist, a list is drafted by each partner, including things they actively shield from due to this disorder. This is followed by integrating all items on this list back into their lives at a steady pace.
Phase Three: In this conclusive phase, therapists focus on each partner’s problematic beliefs against the other. This phase helps address emotional closeness, control, physical intimacy, and trust issues.
So far, CBCT has proven to reduce the severity of emotional symptoms of PTSD by fifty percent, which seems promising.
Establishment of a Support System
Adopting a positive attitude towards a trauma survivor is highly suggested. At the same time, motivating them to develop a robust support system for positive coping with PTSD is equally substantial.
If you wonder what to do when someone with PTSD pushes you away, the following tips may help you.
Connect and Redirect
Whenever your partner is undergoing an emotional outburst, connecting and redirecting is the best way to proceed. First, connect with them by reflecting on their feelings and the factors triggering them without the intention of problem-solving. Once the partner is done expressing themselves, redirect by asking them if they need support.
Identify Reassuring/Calming Measures
The tip here is to always ask instead of assuming. First, inquire the partners about what they can and cannot tolerate. Then, once identified, use measures to show support and help when they are at their lowest.
Practice Consent in Intimacy and Beyond
“My girlfriend has PTSD and is pushing me away” is a common complaint likely to arise from a caregiver of a trauma survivor. It is crucial to understand the concept of safety and consent to resolve complaints like these.
Safety is an utmost concern for someone who has been through a major trauma. One way to help such people establish a sense of safety is by practicing consent. Consent can be a powerful vessel against PTSD and intimate relationships problems. So always ask, not only before making any personal advances but before doing anything that relates to your partner.
Remember and respect boundaries.
Always remember to identify and respect the boundaries in an intimate relationship. For example, if your partner is struggling with anxiety and depression, fixing it is beyond the boundaries. However, you can most certainly encourage them to seek help from a therapist. The concept of this rule is to validate a partner’s suffering while acknowledging that you do not possess the power to fix everything.
Don’t Take it Personally
People who suffer from PTSD have been through a lot. So if they have an inevitable reaction to something their partners say or do, it has less likely to do with them and more to do with what they are relating it to. So don’t take it personally; take a deep breath in, and remind yourself that it’s just a struggling phase. Consider such incidents an opportunity to identify the partner’s trigger and use them in the future in a more meaningful way
Such measures are critical in making trauma survivors realize that they are not alone and are well. Pointing them in the right direction also minimizes the risk of drifting towards harmful coping mechanisms, like drugs and alcohol.
Significance of Self-care as an Unaffected Partner
As a caretaker of a relationship with a trauma survivor, it’s possible to neglect self-care. Such behaviors often stem from feelings of guilt arising from personal enjoyment and fulfillment. As a result, the unaffected partners get sucked into an unhealthy cycle that restrains them from not accomplishing anything individually. Consequently, their own mental health goes downhill to an extremely unhealthy point.
To avoid falling into this trap, the partner of a PTSD fighter needs to stay strong and mentally healthy. Make conscious efforts to take time for self-care, and don’t be afraid to take therapy for a sound state of mind.
Follow the tips mentioned below to reduce the risk of secondary traumatization as you take care of your partner.
Look after your physical needs: Make sure to get six to eight hours of sleep every day. Exercise regularly and focus on healthy eating habits. If any, do not ignore your own medical problems and practice consistency in taking all steps to manage them.
Cultivate a support system: It is not uncommon for caregivers to seek support from others. Lean on trusted friends, ask for help from family members, or consider joining a support group or faith community. Be proactive and take help from whatever suits your individual needs and avail yourself of every opportunity to talk about your feelings for catharsis.
Make time for yourself: Taking care of a partner with PTSD can be extremely challenging, tiring, and time-consuming. Do not let this get in the way of taking out time for yourself. Continue practicing hobbies you love, socialize with friends, and plan things that bring joy. All these activities can positively affect the mind and provide something to look forward to.
Divide and Conquer: Things can quickly get overwhelming for someone single-handedly taking care of a trauma survivor. However, asking for help when going gets tough can prove to be beneficial for both partners. Don’t be afraid to involve friends, family members, and even social services if the need arises.
Define your boundaries: Be realistic in planning a care plan for a partner with PTSD. Identify and mark your limits and be clear about what you are in a position of giving and how much help you can comfortably offer. It is easy to get dragged into the situation to a point where things can start hindering your personal life. Be quick to catch these patterns and respond timely before it starts affecting your mental health.
Finding a PTSD Treatment Together
While emotionally supporting a PTSD fighter is important, don’t forget to encourage them to seek medical help. Multiple trauma-focused therapies are currently available with sufficient evidence to back their benefits. If a partner is not willing or too afraid to seek help, encourage them to choose one of the following three therapies for faster and better recovery:
Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing Therapy
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy or EMDR is an excellent way to process trauma. It targets to ease intense reactions to individual triggers. The therapy is conducted every week with a total of six to twelve sessions, each lasting for up to ninety minutes.
Cognitive Processing Therapy
Cognitive Processing Therapy or CPT helps patients identify negative thoughts triggered by past traumatic experiences. These sessions focus on challenging these thoughts and replacing them with positive and healthier ones.
Prolonged Exposure Therapy
This therapy primarily deals with avoidance behavior and can particularly sort all problems in the realms of PTSD and romantic relationships. It focuses on encouraging victims to face the traumatic experiences head-on instead of avoiding them altogether. Prolonged Exposure therapy aims to desensitize against all triggers and stressors to regain a good quality of life.
The Ultimate goal for a trauma survivor and their partner is the same – healing. However, it can be understandably hard for both to overcome the common obstacles and develop negative feelings and coping mechanisms. What’s important is to remember that traumatic experiences do change people in more than one way. Nevertheless, it is entirely possible to recover the sense of respect, feelings, and love that keep them grounded in a meaningful relationship.
Related: treating PTSD in a luxury rehab center
So when you think of what to do when someone with PTSD pushes you away, remember that it takes patience and perseverance, but it is possible to overcome the problem. Neither of the partners has to suffer forever.
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