Sanctuary for the Abused

Sunday, April 01, 2018

High Conflict Relationships Can Lead to C-PTSD

  by Randi Kreger

If you've been involved in a high-conflict relationship, you're probably familiar with feelings of shame, guilt, and self-blame. Perhaps you're ruminating about the relationship and feel hopeless and despair. You may even be suicidal.

If the stress of a high conflict goes on for many years  [such as those with a pathological parent who then goes on to series of pathological partners or coworkers] or is very intense, you may have a variant of PTSD called complex post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). It's not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, but it is widely accepted: some people see it as a combination of PTSD and the Stockholm Syndrome.

Let's take it one step at a time.

Clinical psychologist Dr Joseph M Carver, PhD, says in an online discussion that, "Every victim of abuse experiences some, if not multiple, symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)."  Carver writes:

"[T]hese symptoms linger many years; some for a lifetime. Everyone knows this but it's rarely bought up... During our period of abuse, the brain collects thousands of memories that contain details of our abusive experiences and the feelings (horror, terror, pain, etc.) made at that time. In what we call "traumatic recollection," any similar experience in the future will recall the emotional memory of the abuse, forcing us to relive the event in detail and feeling.

[NOTE: Even remotely similar events, no matter how 'silly' or 'crazy' to others it may seem - can cause PTSD and C-PTSD behaviors such as extreme or irrational fear, lashing out, acting "in", sleeplessness, anxiety and a host of other problems that can interfere with daily functioning and relationships.]

Most people think of PTSD as happening only to people who have been in extreme circumstances, such as war veterans. However, in her book Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence--from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror (1997) Judith Herman describes a subtype of PTSD she calls complex post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD).

Forms of trauma that can lead to C-PTSD

These include:

Signs of PTSD

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD symptoms can be grouped into three categories:

1. Re-experiencing symptoms:

2. Avoidance symptoms:

3. Hyperarousal symptoms:

Signs of Complex PTSD (C-PTSD)


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shared by Barbara at 12:41 AM



it's a long walk home from this dark place. i have no idea how long a journey to heal. thank you for sharing this. i am finding, through writing poetry, a way out of this fog of c-ptsd. and along the way, discovering myself. i am glad to find your information.

6:40 PM  

I think that I have PTSD from living in an abusive marriage for more than 20 years.

I really want out, but it's very complicated. I don't know how you could heal from an ordeal like this.

4:41 PM  

ive lived thru childhood sexual abuse & then married 16 yrs with a monster who not only abused me physically, mentally and emotional but the last 6 months of marriage he raped me and my childhood memories I suppressed for so long are now NIGHTMARES!! I got away and found a wonderful man but because of manic deppression, personality disorder and c-ptsd i lost everything!!!! DOES THE PAIN AND NIGHTMARES GO AWAY????????

11:37 PM  

Yes its wonderful to recognize all these horrible symptoms in myself and put a name to it and understand why I have them but what do I do about it? Meds don't seem to be helping....counselling doesn't seem to make a difference...How long will I experience this and will I ever feel OK?

10:06 PM  

I am finally divorcing my violent abusive husband after 26 years together . Thank goodness the strength to do it came to me . If you are I'n a relationship with an abusive man tell your parents or friends. Don't cover it up it . I called the police they were so helpful and supportive . He tried to convince them because he is a doctor that I was over reacting and mentally ill . The training they received allowed them to see through hiim . There is a way out.

6:45 PM  

I withdrew, got a puppy, exercise every day for 2 hours with the dog outside, and focus on work. I believe I will slowly allow others close to me, but don't yet trust anyone. However, the up side is taking the time away from everyone allows me to heal without protecting myself from others. So I would say from this experience, yes, it is possible to "heal" by learning to depend on yourself, love your life ALONE, trust what you absolutely believe in, and figure out why you let damaged people in to hurt you so you can learn to choose more wisely. Enjoy: loving pet, sunshine and fresh air, exercise and sore muscles, and quiet - you will see what I mean. Deb

12:06 AM  

I was in an abusive marriage for 13 years. you need to get out now! I know it's not easy to leave there's always the where will I go how will i take care of myself but trust me if you have one family member or one friend willing to take you in and help you take it!!

11:03 AM  

I agree. Its slow but it is helping

12:09 PM  

I thought I had help to escape a 14 year abusive relationship with two children. We were made victims after leaving through strong use of the courts and friend of the court and cps not doing what they are supposed to and also being used as a tool. We have lived in hell for the last eight years. I never got the kids safely away and we live every day in increasing poverty as well as constant never ending fear. I was told to leave "for the kid's sake if not for your own." You have no legal rights if you run somewhere that has no pro bono lawyers. Legal aid does not help and you can end up with seizures from your PTSD from the repeated terrifying stuff the state puts you through. Be careful if you children and I are the part of the story that has no voice. Know ahead of time what you could face if you leave. Remember that the homicide rate goes up just *after* you leave and run and stay hidden for a while if you go. And go somewhere that has "pro bono lawyers". Legal aid does not help. The damage that can be done with the state's help is immense. Don't go where you have no protection. Shelters can be no real help. I ran to two.

11:17 AM  

Just had a series of nightmares prior to returning home from a long business trip. PSTD is wearing on me. My wife has already been jailed one for physically assaulting me. Husbands are the silent victims.

10:01 AM  

Abused by my employer (large corporation) not one person but 3 different ones over a period of time. It has been exacerbated now 6 mths later as where I live as the article says it is not in the psychology manual and my psychologist apparently felt she could not 'talk to me about CPTSD' because 'I was an insurance patient, not a private patient' and then apologized for making me worse (I guess by witholding information that would have helped me?) I asked why I'm not just fearful about work related things now but about many other things as well.. and she said 'that is because you are generalizing' and my appointment was over. I have asked to be referred to someone else that I can feel safe with, I felt so betrayed by her, and feel so alone, it helps to know that my condition is real, but to know your doctor understood it for weeks and didn't help with it because she was being paid by the insurance company and not me... in the end how am I to ever recover if I am not being treated for what I have? Now I am resorting to the internet to find out information, and happily am finding some. Thank you for posting!

12:16 PM  

I can relate to the "fog". I live there day after day. I, too, was in an abusive marriage for 20 years. I was diagnosed with PTSD, General Anxiety Disorder, and Depression. After my divorce and remarriage to a wonderful man, the stress and past finally caught up with me, and I experienced burnout. I completely lost myself. I feel like an empty shell. I wonder how long before I will ever be "me" again...IF I WILL EVER be "me" again. I try to keep hope for my husband. I try to stay positive. I have good days and bad days. Therapy sucks. Exercising does no good. Thinking positive thoughts does no good. Medication does no good. Only time does good. How much time will it take? Mean while, I sit in my fog... Watching every one mill about like life is normal. And it's not. It will never be normal again. And no one understands that.

12:17 AM  

I am probably the exception to the rule but I am a man and my wife verbally abused me for a 10 year period. When she would "go off" her most common phrases were "I have you", "i wish I had never met you", " I wish you had never come into my life", "If you don't like it you can leave anytime" and "You're just a boy in a man's body". I also allowed her to control my financially and bully me. This profoundly affected my opinion of myself which was compounded by the stereotype that men aren't supposed to be abused by a woman. I am finally starting treatment for PTSD and hope that this will help me to develop the strength and belief in myself enough so that I am able to leave this relationship. At this point I do feel like a boy in a man's body and don't seem to care enough about myself to do what is in my best interest as far as recovering from this.

10:28 AM  

I have been in an abusive relationship up until five months ago. I am not normally so naive, but he was a good friend, I trusted him, ect. Four years later I find myself penniless (I was making six figures before he convinced me to quit my job) and not knowing where to turn. I was a vibrant young woman when I met him, now I am 34 and useless. Not sure what to do now

10:52 PM  

Based on the list of symptoms, I have CPTSD and severely. I have every symptom on the list about 75% of the time.

The beginning was verbal and emotional abuse from my husband. He was under pressure from his abusive father to treat me that way, and it ended when he realized what was happening to me and that his father was in fact an abuser and at the root of most of his mental health issues.

I was recovering when, within four months, my father died in a horrific way, we lost a pregnancy due to medical incompetence (I was denied treatment for a blocked colon and instead accused of being strung out on drugs because I showed up at the ER distressed, exhausted, and wearing pajama bottoms with my kids in tow after hours of fruitless searching for a babysitter), and my stepmother and I were forced out of each other's lives by her sister (who I can now prove was after the life insurance payout).

I got pretty depressed. I sought therapy. Instead of help, I got a heavy dose of antipsychotics and told that I must have done something to deserve all that (on the grounds that I have very mild ASD Level). I found out later that the clinicians involved were part of a two billion dollar disability fraud scam. Much later. After I'd spent 8 months in near-total isolation, getting sicker and more disabled from side effects of the medication. After I'd attempted suicide. After I'd spent a year staying with my husband's parents, facing tirades of verbal abuse every time my kids or I made any kind of mistake, unable to talk to anyone other than my husband (who told me to not let it bother me, and I could not explain or argue because any display of negative emotion would bring more abuse down on my head).

Now he gets angry when I display hyper vigilance, depression, talk about intrusive thoughts, or speak of the constant negative feedback loop playing in my head. He calls me stupid and lazy and says I have to win this fight, should already have won this fight, and that I must be waiting for him todo that for me too.

I've been in therapy for three years. I cannot leave, because we have four children that I am sure he would use the courts to take from me. Besides, I'm not in any condition to become the sole breadwinner and caregiver for a family of five. Some days I can barely focus enough to get the housework done. I don't want to leave. I want this to work. I want to get better, so I can help him get over his traumas and we can have a pleasant old age together like the first six years of the marriage were.

I know this is never going to go away. What I really want is to die. I can't kill myself now, because now the kids are old enough to understand what I would have done. I won't leave them with that burden. If I pass on the ASD, so be it-- but I refuse to hand PTSD down to my kids.

12:49 AM  

Anonymous just keep your head held high and know no matter what you walk through you are doing it with the correct motive. They won't win in the end when the kids are old enough to see the real truth. They won't have much to do with him I bet you anything. Nor out of meanness it's just life taking its natural course. You are doing good. It's better to have little with lots of love than anything else. May God bless you.

2:21 AM  

I also don't know how I let myself stay with an abusive partner for years only to be abandoned by him when I refused to follow his demands. I dodged a bullet by standing up to him before he got physical or managed to isolate me and my kids. However, the years of emotional abuse has taken a toll and damaged me in ways I didn't realize. Infiltrating thoughts and avoidance behaviors are something I struggle with hour by hour. Stay strong everyone and know we can all get through this. Don't let these abusers take away the life we were given.

11:40 PM  

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