Divorce, Dating, and PTSD

In following up with the last blog, I would like to add another factor that may well be involved with what is behind a lack of effort problem. What often goes unacknowledged is the trauma that can come with a divorce or a break-up. Trauma is an event or situation that causes great distress and disruption. This trauma can turn into what is known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms typically start within three months of a traumatic event, and on occasion symptoms may not appear until years after the event. Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms are generally grouped into three types: intrusive memories, avoidance and numbing, and increased anxiety or emotional arousal (hyper-arousal). While PTSD is usually associated with natural disasters, real physical danger, and war, it can be a side effect of a very stressful break-up.

Symptoms of intrusive memories may include: Flashbacks, reliving the traumatic event for minutes or even days at a time, upsetting dreams about the traumatic event.

Symptoms of avoidance and emotional numbing may include:
Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event
Feeling emotionally numb
Avoiding activities you once enjoyed
Hopelessness about the future
Memory problems
Trouble concentrating
Difficulty maintaining close relationships

Symptoms of anxiety and increased emotional arousal may include:
Irritability or anger
Overwhelming guilt or shame
Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much
Trouble sleeping
Being easily startled or frightened
Hearing or seeing things that aren’t there

Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms can come and go. You may have more post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms when things are stressful in general, or when you run into reminders of what you went through. In the case of divorce you may have what could have been a simple disagreement, or a request to be heard with a date, turn into a major fight due to PTSD symptoms of avoidance, shame, hyper-arousal, hearing things that weren’t said.

I, clearly, struggled with PTSD after my divorce. So much so that I could not even date a man with the same first name as his… avoidance. Time has helped to heal that wound, but now I find that I may date someone who has similarly been traumatized with his divorce and I may end up bumping up against his dysfunctional need to cope with hyper-arousal, avoidance, and/or anxiety. Unwittingly, recreating the very thing that he says he wants to avoid… a destructive fight. I have found when this happens that I can be thrown back into my earlier reactions from my divorce. This is not uncommon in the dating world.

So in summary, what may seem like lack of effort, in reality may be a disguise for the reactions associated with PTSD. The good news is that a problem like that can be successfully navigated through. If you believe yourself to be dating a very good person who would be very compatible with you then have a heart to heart about what you are struggling with and what you think he or she may be struggling with. Instead of pointing fingers at each other, you can recognize the discord for what it really is… a reaction to trauma. If you then can commit to the willingness to stay with the relationship then you will find yourself getting to the other side of trauma… communication can become what you hoped it would be, you can sustain a closeness, and eventually have that relationship you had longed for.

I cannot emphasize how helpful it can be to seek out a good counselor. Through their ability to listen, empathize, and give you an array of coping skills, you can become much less reactive to the symptoms of a traumatic break-up and get on sooner with the business of having a new and fulfilling relationship.

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One Response to Divorce, Dating, and PTSD

  1. Cassandra says:

    Wow! I feel like this and your last post were talking directly to ME! I needed to hear that. It made me not feel so “crazy” for feeling that way and other people are just as extreme in their thinking when it comes to a break up as I was. Seriously, it was big relief to read those. The first step is to recognize that you are having the issue and the next step is fixing it! Knowing that going forward will be very helpful!

    Thanks for that today Dawn!

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