• Michelle Barsky

Can Relationships Cause PTSD?


A toxic relationship wreaks havoc on your emotional health. Your emotional, mental, and even physical well-being are put at risk when you endure an abusive relationship because it disrupts your sense of self, your sense of security, and makes it hard for you to trust anyone.


Even after a toxic relationship is over, you may still face inescapable reminders of the time you spent with the abuser. This is what we call trauma—it’s an event that makes a mark on you, isn’t shaken off easily, and is difficult to bounce back from.


Relationship-based Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is very real, and some experts have even given it a new name.

Understanding PTSD

PTSD develops after a stressful and traumatic event. The PTSD that develops after an abusive relationship can look a little different from how we traditionally see it.


Flashbacks, memories, and intrusive thoughts are one aspect of living with PTSD. These bring the trauma back into your conscious awareness and initiate a kind of crisis reaction. You might start avoiding anything that remotely reminds you of the tragic event.


Panic attacks and generalized anxiety are other indicators that you’ve triggered your PTSD.

Post-Traumatic Relationship Syndrome (PTRS)

Post-traumatic relationship syndrome (PTRS) differs from PTSD in several ways. The most fundamental difference is in avoidant behavior. While PTSD might trigger you to steer clear of the traumatic event, PTRS primarily attacks your self-worth.


You might replay events from the relationship, but you might doubt your memory. You might even seek out a new partner immediately after leaving the relationship. This is a subsidiary symptom of the co-dependency that develops in toxic relationships.


Other key differences between PTRS and PTSD include:

  • PTSD involves experiencing or witnessing a threat or act of physical harm. PTRS doesn’t necessarily parallel with physical harm.

  • PTSD has a list of symptoms that don’t specifically focus on relationship trauma. Symptoms of PTRS directly connect with relationship trauma.

  • PTSD might include feeling anger or rage, but it isn’t considered a key symptom. While for PTRS, rage, horror, and fear of the abusive partner is a key symptom.

Signs of PTRS

General signs of PTRS include emotional responses toward the abusive partner; mostly fear, anger, and rage. Other signs fit into one of three categories: intrusive, arousal, and relational symptoms. These include:


Intrusive Symptoms


These signs are any that cause you to re-experience your trauma, such as:

  • Flashbacks

  • Intrusive thoughts

  • Rumination

  • Nightmares


Arousal Symptoms


This is a direct response to the body’s fear reaction. Trauma stays in your physical body, causing a state of hyperawareness, and these hormones can contribute to:

  • Sleep problems or disorders, like insomnia

  • Edginess

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Restless

  • Irritability or anger

  • Feelings of panic and anxiety


Relationship Symptoms


After experiencing a traumatic relationship, it’s common to feel that:

  • You don’t deserve or will never have a healthy relationship

  • You can’t trust anyone

  • No one will believe you about your abuse

  • You believe you’re to blame for the failed relationship

  • You isolate yourself

  • You lose interest in sex

  • You feel shame or self-blame about sex and relationships

What if You Have Relationship-Based PTSD?

Healing and recovery is possible. You’ve already survived the trauma, and that’s the most important part. Recovery can be challenging, but with some patience and compassion, you can accomplish it. If you’re afraid to open up about your experience, know that you are not alone. Consider working with a personal therapist.


A therapist can help you process and overcome guilt, shame, and self-blame. They can help you recognize that you’re not at fault for the abuse and fully process the anger and fear you’re experiencing. If you have any related mental health issues like anxiety or depression, they can help you with those as well. With time, you can reestablish your sense of trust and security.


For more information on trauma therapy, click the link!

To contact me, reach out here!