Thursday, September 10, 2015

Relationship PTSD - What is it and how can I get past it?

As human beings, we require social relationships in order to grow into functioning adults.  We evolved this way because our survival depended on strong communities working together.  In fact, on an instinctual level we know that to not belong can mean death.  It is because of this that the quality of our relationships often determine the quality of life we will have. 

For all of us, our first relationships were with our parents.  In fact, everything we know about relationships started with them.  So, think about your early relationships.  Were you parents nurturing?  Were they available?  Were they involved or preoccupied?  Were they abusive or loving?  Were there conditions placed on your worth as a person?  Did you find you never quite measured up? 

When a person is involved in an abusive or unhealthy relationship, it can leave behind scars.  You may find it difficult to extend trust in new relationships.  You may be on guard for when your new relationship “turns” or when your partner begins to change towards you.  You may feel like the world is not safe anymore.  You may not be able to trust your instincts about people.  You may even have flashbacks of the abusive or unhealthy relationship, become filled with rage or isolate yourself from friends and family.  All of these behaviors are symptoms of what experts are calling Posttraumatic Relationship Syndrome or Relationship PTSD. 

Traumatic experiences are handled very differently by our brains than normal experiences.  In a normal experience, the brain has the time and ability to process the situation at hand, make sense of it and apply coping skills.  In fact, our brains are hardwired with an internal processing system geared toward healing.  The system helps us learn from each of our experiences and then let go of any information that does not serve a purpose.  But with disturbing experiences, the normal processing system becomes interrupted and the memory is stored as you experienced it – in its raw form.  It then remains this way, unprocessed and not integrated with our general memory networks.  Because of this, we experience lingering effects of the original experience.  And although time can dull the effects of the experience, it often fails to heal it. 

So what can be done about this?  The good thing is that the brain can reprocess the lingering memories of the negative experiences, through a form of therapy known as EMDR.  EMDR therapy is a form of therapy using eye movements that simulate REM sleep – the period of the sleep cycle characterized by an increase in brain activity and is thought to be the time where experiences of the previous day are processed by the brain and then stored in the memory networks.  This therapy helps to remove the lingering symptoms experienced as a result of the bad relationship.  This leaves you free of the past to enjoy new, healthy relationships in the future.

Once the effects of the negative memories are processed, you can then work on learning how to spot bad relationships before you get into them. 

If you live in the Tampa, FL area and want to learn more about Relationship PTSD and how to overcome it, you can attend the Relationship PTSD workshop on October 10, 2015.  For more information, visit and click on the events page.

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