Dating, Romance, and CPTSD

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) is a severe and prolonged form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that develops after exposure to prolonged, repeated trauma. This trauma can be physical, emotional, sexual abuse, neglect, or abandonment. CPTSD can profoundly impact an individual’s ability to form and maintain healthy relationships and present significant challenges for those dating someone with the disorder.

When dating someone with CPTSD, it is essential to understand that certain events or situations may trigger their symptoms and that they may experience intense emotional reactions as a result. These symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, emotional numbness, and difficulty with trust and attachment. It is also necessary to recognize that CPTSD is not a personal weakness or something that can be easily “fixed.” It is a complex condition that requires professional treatment and support.

The first step in dating someone with CPTSD is to be patient and understanding. Your partner may struggle with trust and difficulty opening up emotionally. It is vital to be supportive and non-judgmental and create a safe space for your partner to share their thoughts and feelings. This can involve actively listening to them when they talk about their experiences and feelings and being willing to support them through their healing process.

Communicating openly and honestly with your partner about your needs and boundaries is imperative. This can include setting limits on what you are comfortable with regarding physical and emotional intimacy and being honest about your feelings and needs. This can help to create a sense of mutual trust and respect in the relationship.

I suggest being aware of the potential triggers that may cause your partner to experience symptoms of CPTSD. These can include certain events or situations, such as anniversaries of traumatic events, or even specific words or phrases that may be associated with the trauma. Awareness of these triggers can help you understand your partner’s reactions and provide appropriate support.

One of the most challenging aspects of CPTSD is the way in which it can push people away. Individuals with CPTSD may struggle with behaviours that alienate those around them, making it challenging to maintain healthy relationships. These behaviours can include:

  1. Emotional outbursts and impulsivity: CPTSD can cause intense and overwhelming emotions, leading to sudden and dramatic displays of anger, sadness, or fear. This can make it difficult for others to be around the individual, as they may feel they are walking on eggshells.
  2. Avoidance and isolation: CPTSD can lead to feelings of shame and self-loathing, causing the individual to withdraw and avoid social interactions. This can make it difficult for others to connect with them, and they may feel rejected or abandoned.
  3. Difficulty with trust: Trauma can cause individuals with CPTSD to have trust issues, making it difficult to form and maintain healthy relationships. They may have a hard time opening up to others or struggle with paranoia and suspicion.
  4. Self-sabotaging behaviours: CPTSD can lead to self-destructive behaviours such as substance abuse, self-harm, and reckless behaviour. These behaviours can alienate others and make it difficult for them to offer support.
  5. Difficulty with boundaries: CPTSD can cause individuals to have trouble setting and maintaining boundaries. They may struggle with saying no to others or recognizing when their boundaries have been crossed. This can lead to feelings of resentment and frustration for both the individual and those around them.
  6. Difficulty with empathy: Trauma can cause individuals with CPTSD to have problems understanding and relating to the emotions of others. This can make it difficult for them to connect with others and may cause them to be perceived as cold or indifferent.
  7. Difficulty with communication: CPTSD can cause individuals to have trouble expressing themselves effectively. They may struggle with articulating their thoughts and feelings or may have trouble understanding the perspectives of others.

Be sure to encourage your partner to seek professional treatment and support. This can include therapy, counselling, and medication. It may also be helpful for you to seek help to understand better and support your partner.

In addition to professional treatment, several self-care strategies can be helpful for someone with CPTSD. These can include exercise, yoga, meditation, and other stress-reducing activities. Encouraging your partner to engage in these activities can help to reduce their symptoms and improve their overall well-being.

Please note that dating someone with CPTSD can be challenging, and taking care of yourself is essential. It is necessary to set boundaries and take time for self-care. It is also important to remember that healing from trauma takes time and that progress may be slow. Having realistic expectations and being patient with your partner and yourself is essential.

Dating someone with CPTSD can be a rewarding experience. It is imperative to have patience, understanding, and empathy for your partner and to create a safe and supportive environment for them to share their thoughts and feelings. Communication is key in any relationship, but it is vital when dating someone with CPTSD. Encourage your partner to seek professional treatment and support and to engage in self-care activities. Remember that healing from trauma takes time and that progress may be slow. You can help your partner heal and build a healthy and fulfilling relationship with patience, understanding, and support.

If you love someone, take it so, and never forget that we are all a work in progress.

—Brian Nadon


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