• From Trauma to Trust with Relational Post Traumatic Stress

    From Trauma to Trust (Relational Post Traumatic  Stress or RPTS)


    Most of us think that trauma results from surviving the severe type of physical danger only experienced during a war, accident, or assault.

     But surviving a relational trauma can be just as emotionally crushing as surviving  physical danger.

    The traditional definition of trauma involves the emotional aftermath of a physical catastrophe. More recently it has started to include emotional trauma. This is trauma resulting from what you see and feel, without any direct physical threat. Today brain scanning techniques show that the brain’s reactivity from physical traumas are identical to the neural signature of emotional or relational trauma.

    Emotional injury can lead to the same trauma-related neurologic change that is created by a physical threat to our lives.

    Relational Post Traumatic Stress often shows up in couples that fight too much. Past harm from a betrayal, a vicious divorce, an affair, gaslighting, power and control dynamics, death of a partner, neglect, or verbal, sexual, or emotional violence can spill over into chronic fighting with a safe, beloved current partner. This gets confusing for two reasons.

    No matter how loving and safe the new partner is, they can still trigger the  sense of danger and panic that is left over from the old relationship.

    Also, the time delay between the original traumatic relationship and the onset of trauma symptoms in a healthy relationship that starts months or years later can hide the link between the two. When couples fight and the reason why a partner is upset doesn’t make sense, not even to the triggered partner, it may be due to relational post traumatic stress.

    Typical signs are:

    Overreacting. When relational victims are unable to get closure, their intense feelings get buried. These suppressed emotions rest just below the surface. Later on, just falling in love with a new partner can trigger an explosion of these dormant feelings. If your partner complains that you are over reactive, it could be a sign of relational post traumatic stress.

    Feeling hot or cold. Your current partner may complain about you being on an emotional merry-go-round of getting warm and then cool, close and then distancing. It could be that just being in a loving relationship is what triggers the sense of cold dread and doom from a past relationship. The closer and warmer you two get, the more the past gets triggered and the more upset and distanced you feel.

    Feeling wired. You startle too easily, or are too jumpy around your new partner’s loud laugh or comedy show on TV. “What’s wrong with the way I laugh? You’re crazy!” “The TV is already at a low volume, what do you mean you can’t stand the noise?”

    Mistrust. Victims have a damaged sense of trust and can be suspicious with no cause. You constantly check your partner’s phone or social media accounts even though your partner always proves innocent. “You know that I am completely faithful, why are you always accusing me? Where is your proof?” “Why do you always attack me?” These accusations may be proof of RPTS.

    Memories and images. Memories and images from a devastating past relationship can pop up day or night. Worse, they can be sensory experiences that include vivid smells of their aftershave or perfume, or a particular body sensation from the way that the ex would touch you. Or a current song or noise that reminds you of the ex can trigger a memory that is so strong that it includes sweating, nausea, the chills, a thundering heartbeat and trouble with breathing.

    Blaming ourselves. You may believe that you should have “gotten over it by now.” Or you may feel “crazy” because the hurt keeps coming back, as strong as it was years ago. You may feel guilty and depressed from believing that you are broken or worthless to your new partner.

    Overwhelm. The burden of carrying past stressors can zap you in so many ways. You may feel out of control, like there is too much to do, or that people in your life are taking up too much of your time. Life feels unmanageable.

    Sense of the surreal.  Another sign of relational post traumatic stress is that you zone out only when you’re with your new partner. When you’re together, you drift into feeling disconnected. The more you struggle to focus on your partner the more you space out. When you withdraw, your relationship suffers, causing you further numbing.

    Shame. It’s typical for people suffering from relational post traumatic stress to feel ashamed. If you have shame around a past relationship, you’ll devalue yourself. You may feel a stigma from what you endured. This can prevent you from admitting that you’re stressed and prevent you from seeking help.

    The power of coaching.                                                                                                                      

    It takes patience, teamwork and getting informed about RPTS in order to heal. Coaching offers both partners tools to resolve it and build an enduring happy relationship.