Can a Relationship Cause PTSD?

can a relationship cause PTSD?

Trauma can undoubtedly impact your entire livelihood. In some cases, residual trauma symptoms may lead to PTSD, a complex condition often associated with hyperarousal, rumination, and avoidance. If left untreated, PTSD can leave lasting effects on your self-esteem, sense of safety, mental health, and physical health. 

If you’ve ever been abused or threatened by someone, you might be asking yourself, can a relationship cause PTSD? Let’s get into what you need to know.

What Causes PTSD? 

Although millions of people experience trauma every year, not everyone with a trauma history develops PTSD. After a trauma, it’s normal to experience some temporary disturbances like depression or anxiety. However, most of the time, these symptoms decrease gradually.

PTSD, however, is a complex, long-term condition where symptoms can increase and worsen over time. As a result, many risk factors play a part in determining whether a person develops PTSD. Some of the more common risk factors in adults include: 

  • Getting physically hurt during the event. 
  • Seeing another person hurt or witnessing a dead body.
  • Having a history of recurrent childhood abuse
  • Experiencing a sense of extreme horror, fear, or helplessness.
  • Lacking adequate social support after the event.
  • Experiencing increased stress after the event (death of a loved one, losing your home, having a permanent disability).
  • Having a co-occurring substance use disorder or mental illness.

It’s important to note that symptoms may not emerge immediately. In fact, you may go several weeks or months without experiencing any symptoms at all. With that in mind, you can develop PTSD at any point and any age. 

can a relationship cause PTSD?

Can a Relationship Cause PTSD?

Humans are social creatures, and we are wired to seek close connections with others. We absolutely rely on people for emotional support. So, what happens when those connections are toxic, chaotic, or otherwise dysfunctional? What happens when someone we love hurts us?

Relationships can be undoubtedly traumatic. Consider the following example. Maybe you grew up with an abusive, critical parent who triggered immense shame or self-doubt. Now, as an adult, you find yourself repeating similar patterns of toxicity. You keep entering relationships with people who seem to hurt you. In this example, a parent can absolutely be the PTSD trigger.

Or, let’s say you trust a close friend and build a meaningful friendship with them. Unfortunately, they backstab you after a minor conflict and spread rumors about you to others. As a result, you feel anxious trusting anyone else, and you start experiencing nightmares about running into them. You withdraw socially and begin drinking alcohol more heavily to cope with your anger.

In both these cases, a relationship may be the primary catalyst for PTSD. Furthermore, PTSD can also happen in any instance where rape, violence, or emotional abuse occurs. Because these traumas usually happen within the context of familial, platonic, or romantic relationships, they can all represent foundations for abuse.

What are the Common Symptoms of Relationship PTSD? 

PTSD looks different for everyone, but you might be experiencing relationship PTSD if you have the following symptoms:

  • Frequent nightmares or sleep disturbances related to the abuse.
  • Persistent feelings of guilt or worthlessness.
  • Rumination about the abuse.
  • Experiencing an ongoing sense of numbness. 
  • Having fears of running into the abuser (or having them retaliate in some way).
  • Avoiding other people, places, or events that remind you of the abuse.
  • Withdrawing from other activities or loved ones.
  • Using drugs or alcohol to cope with trauma-related symptoms.

How Do You Recover From Relationship PTSD? 

Healing from trauma doesn’t happen overnight, and there isn’t a simple solution for treating this complex issue. Instead, recovery often entails a multifaceted approach. 

Accepting Your Feelings

Learning how to identify and embrace your feelings can be a powerful step in your recovery. Many times, people with trauma histories suppress their emotions- they want to avoid them altogether. But feelings are fleeting, and learning how to lean into them is an essential part of self-care. 

Leaning on Support 

Try to find trusting, loving people who support your growth. Lean on them for love and acceptance. If you don’t have anyone who fits this role, consider joining a support group for trauma survivors.

Nurturing Your Self-Esteem

Your trauma wasn’t your fault, but any abuse can trick you into believing you caused the problem. Instead, try to focus on ways you can cultivate a better relationship with yourself through more self-care. If you still struggle with negative self-talk, consider integrating more positive affirmations throughout your day. 

Final Thoughts

While a negative relationship might cause PTSD, positive relationships can help you heal from it. At Willow Counseling, we pride ourselves on building safe, trusting environments for our clients. 
We understand that trauma can feel shameful and challenging. With that said, we are here to listen to your story and give you support. Contact us today to get started.

Willow Counseling, PLLC – Nashville, TN

Willow Counseling, PLLC exists to provide quality trauma-informed mental health counseling to the Nashville community, recognizing the interconnectedness of our emotional, spiritual and physical selves. We work together to alleviate symptoms, learn better coping skills, relieve burdens, remove the pain of trauma, and so much more. However, our greatest desire is for you to know what it means to feel purpose and joy again and to recognize the strength and worth you have to offer the world.


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