Can you have a relationship before you’re fully emotionally healed?
Emotional healing is so necessary after experiencing a traumatic event. Trauma is a difficult thing to work through, from any cause. It is important to recognise trauma, hard as it may be, in order to be able to overcome it. A question many of you may be wondering about is whether it is a good idea to let love in during the healing process, I know I wonder about this. It of course can depend on the type, cause and severity of the trauma. PTSD can happen to anyone and can be caused by a life threatening situation, gaslighting or an abusive relationship. The symptoms are disturbing thoughts, feelings or memories relating to the incidents that linger over a long time afterwards. The survivor might have strong emotional reactions to their triggers, causing avoidance behaviour and outbursts. These are due to flashback feelings that may or may not be associated with distinct memories.
Relationships causing PTSD
The fact that relationships themselves might be the cause of a trauma, means it could be unwise to risk entering back into an unhealthy relationship dynamic. Learning how to have your needs met and to express your feelings calmly and confidently is part of the healing process. Recovering from trauma can involve rebuilding a sense of self but it can be hard to know when you are ready to hold your own in a relationship.
When we are threatened the body adopts physiological survival modes, the best known being fight or flight, but freeze and fawn also occur, at least with complex PTSD.
The freeze mode immobilizes us to avoid antagonising the abuser. The fawn mode is often developed in childhood and causes conflict aversion and people pleasing. Those who default to the fawn mode lose their sense of identity and can fall victim to narcissist manipulators.
These physiological responses are often misunderstood to be personality traits. They often reinforce the physiological symptoms by insisting they are part of a personality that they love, this is emotional manipulation.
The abuser in a relationship will find the weak points in the victims sense of self and exploit these with comments or actions that reinforce the victims negative self-image and keep the victim in a subservient shame spiral in order to always be in control.
Relationships after/during PTSD
In a new relationship, the fight, flight, fawn, or freeze modes could be reactivated, leaving us back where we started. The entirely normal feelings of shame and guilt following a traumatic event can also be problematic in permitting ourselves the possibility of happiness. A loving bond can accelerate emotional healing.
Milder forms of trauma or PTSD caused by something other than a relationship could actually benefit from the presence of a loving and caring partner. Entering into a new relationship could be tricky but is also not impossible.
Lack of trust and pushing away close ones are symptoms that should be addressed with the help of a therapist. Learning to process emotion is also important. Then the survivor can approach communication in a different, more self-valuing way, leading to more fruitful and deeper relationships.
However, a strong couple can approach the challenge of having PTSD present in the relationship by taking it as an opportunity to grow together. Speaking about the challenges that present themselves and recognizing when an emotional reaction is unfounded or lacking evidence can lead to deeper mutual understanding.
Escaping the negative spiral
Breaking the cycle of PTSD behavior is important although it might take time for the survivor to be ready to take this step. Many activities that encourage self-compassion can be helpful for the survivor. For instance yoga or dance, while art and writing can be cathartic outlets for expressing and reflecting on trapped emotions.
Elizabeth is an avid writer and activist for human rights and she works in IP in the Netherlands. In her downtime she enjoys cooking food from around the world, hiking the great outdoors and crafting.