Can You Get PTSD From an Abusive Relationship?

PTSD from an Abusive Relationship

Can PTSD Occur After an Abusive Relationship? Absolutely, yes. If you’ve reached the point of wondering about the answer to that question, it’s time to ask another couple of questions:

  1. Are you or is someone you know engaged in a potentially abusive relationship?
  2. Are you or is someone you know experiencing the signs and symptoms of PTSD or another mental illness?

If you answered “yes” to either or both of those questions, this article is for you. Let’s get you connected with resources and support to navigate the topics of abuse and mental illness, okay? There are a couple more questions to ask that will help us get a handle on the situation. First, how do you recognize abuse within a relationship? Second, how do you recognize the signs and symptoms of PTSD?

What Is Abuse?

There are several kinds of abuse, but the underlying factor in whether a person is abusive is that they are intentionally causing harm to another person. This can manifest as physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, verbal abuse, etc.

Regardless of how an abuser inflicts harm, the abuse can cause lasting, crippling damage to the victim in a number of ways, including mental illnesses like PTSD. Abuse is not always overt. Sometimes it’s so subtle that nobody notices, perhaps not even the victim, until years into the relationship or after the abuse has occurred. So how do you recognize an abusive relationship when you suspect one? Pay close attention to the following things:

  • Is the victim afraid to speak their mind in the presence of the abuser?
  • Is the victim able to make decisions for themselves, such as what to eat, how to dress, and where to go?
  • Do the victim and the abuser keep to themselves? Do they often socialize, or do they seem to keep their relationship more private than others?
  • Does the abuser demand to know everything or be involved in every detail of the victim’s life?

Often, an abuser’s power relies upon maintaining control over the victim, so if you see signs that a person has lost their independence or autonomy due to their relationship with someone, it’s quite possible that the relationship has become abusive.

How Can You End or Escape an Abusive Relationship?

If you suspect an abusive relationship, it’s time to seek professional help! Counselors and therapists are trained to recognize abuse and equipped to support someone who may be in an unhealthy relationship and needs to escape. If you or someone you know needs this kind of resource, please reach out to TheHopeLine today, and we’ll be happy to help connect you to someone who can advise you on your situation.

If you’re in physical danger, or if you think your abuser won’t take kindly to your attempts at separating, create a safety plan before you make your move to end things. Make sure you’ve talked to a professional, contacted the necessary authorities, and have somewhere to go. Again, don’t hesitate to reach out to TheHopeLine if you need help figuring out the next steps.

What Is PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental illness that results when one or more traumatic experiences cause lasting damage to the brain. When a destabilizing event occurs, the brain becomes predisposed to triggers that can alert the mind to go into a trauma response, whether or not the situation actually calls for fight, flight, freeze, or fawn actions in order to survive. While many recognize PTSD as a result of experiencing more violent events, such as armed combat or criminal activity, studies have shown that PTSD can occur after emotional abuse during childhood or adulthood. As for many mental illnesses, there isn’t exactly a “cure” for PTSD, but there is still hope for those who are experiencing symptoms! The first step is recognizing the problem and seeking a professional diagnosis. If you’re concerned about PTSD, keep an eye out for the following symptoms:

  • Intrusive memories, such as flashbacks or vivid nightmares that depict the traumatic event.
  • Avoidance of people or places that remind you of the traumatic event.
  • Negative changes in thinking or mood, such as feeling detached from relationships, lack of interest in activities that used to bring you joy, or feeling hopeless about the future.
  • Changes in physical and emotional reactions, such as being easily startled or frightened (hypervigilance), difficulty concentrating and sleeping, destructive behaviors, and overwhelming guilt or shame.

How Can You Treat and Heal From PTSD?

If those symptoms resonate with you, it’s time to seek professional counseling and consider whether an official diagnosis of PTSD or another mental illness could help you move forward and heal. While there are still a lot of negative stigmas out there surrounding mental illness, it’s so important to remember that there is nothing wrong with you struggling mentally and emotionally. Your brain has developed certain coping mechanisms to help you survive situations of extreme stress, which is, quite frankly, impressively resilient! But now that you’re (hopefully) no longer in the environment that calls for survival mode, it’s time to re-teach your brain strategies for how to respond healthily to a world with significantly fewer threats than the one it’s used to.

A professional will most likely recommend talk therapy, because there’s nothing quite like naming the trauma you’ve experienced when it comes to stripping the past of its power to control your brain. The more you can become aware of your triggers, your responses, and your symptoms, the more you can take control of your PTSD. A professional may also recommend medication to help your brain and body manage the extreme chemical reactions that occur in the brain when fight and flight mode are activated. While it’s not always necessary to take medicine to heal from PTSD, it may be a helpful, temporary aid in your recovery process.

It’s important to remember, however, that PTSD is not a disease with a “cure.” No matter how long you work toward recovery, you may still struggle with symptoms from time to time, which is why establishing a supportive community is a crucial element of any healing journey. In addition to working with a professional counselor, find a mental health support group, join a warm and welcoming church body, or confide in trusted friends. Set yourself up to have somewhere or someone to turn to on those “bad days” when your symptoms flare up, so that you don’t have to feel alone on top of feeling hypervigilant. Everyone’s healing process is different, and you deserve to go at exactly the pace you need.

As always, you can send a message to someone at TheHopeLine anytime, and we’ll be here to remind you that you are, in fact, never alone. God loves you more than you can imagine, especially in those moments when you find it difficult to love yourself or see any light at the end of the tunnel. When you’re stuck in a moment of darkness, know that He is holding onto the light for you, even when you can’t see it.

If you were assaulted, you can get help. TheHopeLine can connect you to support for abuse victims to help you with reporting and healing.

TheHopeLine Team
For over 30 years, TheHopeLine has been helping students and young adults in crisis. Our team is made up of writers and mental health professionals who care deeply about helping others.
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