The Link Between Abusive Relationships and PTSD

Can Abusive Relationships Result in PTSD?

Yes, the research has shown, that abusive relationships can result in a trauma response.

Many of us have heard of the term, PTSD, or post -traumatic stress disorder. This disorder is generally associated with physical sources, such as exposure to war, physical and sexual assault, witnessing an accident, etc.

But mental health experts agree that there is also another type of trauma, related to experiencing a severe, repetitive traumatic event during childhood or being in an abusive relationship (even currently), which results in emotional abuse. This type of emotional abuse can lead to a type of PTSD, known as C-PTSD, or complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

Below are a few examples of C-PTSD emotional abuse:

  • Your partner humiliates or belittles you.
  • You experience a pattern of criticism, related to small, trivial issues.
  • Your partner or spouse frightens you with rage and anger, resulting in frequent outbursts.
  • Your partner gives you an “ultimatum”, stating, “either you do such and such or I will leave you.”
  • Your significant other insists on knowing your whereabouts and activities at all times.
  • You feel as though you are “walking on eggshells” around your partner.

Please note, although we used the term “partner” in the examples above, emotional abuse can take place in many types of relationships. It is often associated with situations related to power imbalance, such as a parent/child relationship, caregiver/patient relationship, or between partners in romantic and/or intimate relationships. Additionally, both males and females can be perpetrators of emotional abuse.

Any type of emotional abuse can result in poor self-esteem, particularly if being demeaned or ridiculed. Many times, there is the element of co-dependency involved, which is an excessive emotional or psychological reliance on a partner. Co-dependence can make it very difficult for someone to leave an abuser.

Someone experiencing C-PTSD as a result of emotional abuse may experience difficulty with emotional regulation (moods fluctuate) and may experience interruptions in consciousness (disassociation), resulting in feeling detached from surroundings.

It is important to resolve trauma and work through it. Psychotherapy can assist with this process, inclusive of medication.

The type of therapy received must be “tailored” to each person’s specific set of circumstances. When seeking help, make certain to ask the mental health professional if they have had experience treating trauma issues.

Professional treatment can help C-PTSD and PTSD. Speaking with a professional provides feedback and validates feelings, as well as insight into how an individual’s specific emotions affect everyday life.

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse in any form, please seek professional help or contact a domestic hotline. Many communities also have domestic abuse shelters available.

National domestic abuse hotline:1-800-799-7233

Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence lists all the domestic violence programs in the state, for those looking for local resources:

Here are some additional resources on Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder