An old adage about emotional baggage says: wherever you go, there you are. It refers to negative past experiences impacting relationships and general day-to-day living despite best attempts to move forward. And while the term “baggage” might be an adequate descriptor for some, it carries a deeply negative connotation. A metaphor that suggests overcoming trauma is as simple as unpacking luggage. The actual effects of trauma in a relationship, however, are not quite so superficial. They can be burdensome and impact a person’s ability to trust, build strong bonds, and manage highly debilitating symptoms. Strategies for coping do not come easily.
Experiencing trauma is one of the hardest situations for any person to endure. Facing emotional or physical abuse in a relationship, family dysfunction, childhood trauma, near-death experiences, or other forms of trauma can shape beliefs about relationships in negative ways. As a result, these relationships almost always suffer the consequences.
How Does Trauma Impact Life?
Trauma is incredibly complex. Because it’s specific to the person experiencing it, the concept can seem elusive, therefore making recovery feel unattainable. How can someone understand the depths of despair about a traumatic event? There are strategies for dealing with trauma proven to help people address grief, navigate negative emotions, and overcome poor mental health caused by these life-changing events.
According to the National Institute of Health, initial reactions to trauma can include exhaustion, confusion, sadness, anxiety, agitation, numbness, and dissociation. A person may also experience:
Severe Trauma Reaction Symptoms
These symptoms are more extreme in that they’re not as socially acceptable. They may have greater psychological effects and are not self-limited. The effects of trauma in a relationship can be extreme, impacting all within close proximity. Symptoms of severe trauma can include:
- Distress without periods of relief or rest
- Severe dissociation symptoms
- Flashbacks or feelings of danger even when safe
Delayed Response to Trauma
In some cases, a person may experience trauma and initially not show or possess any signs of distress. If symptoms arise six months after an incident, it’s referred to as delayed trauma response. Delayed symptoms may include:
- Chronic fatigue
- Sleep Disorders
- Unfounded fears of recurrence
- Anxiety caused by flashbacks
- Avoidance of Emotions
All of these symptoms can impact life and health. Concerning relationships, trauma can undermine a person’s ability to feel secure. Further, a person may feel the need to self-medicate or self-manage symptoms of trauma through the use of alcohol or drugs. Changes in behaviors, especially as they connect to substance abuse, can be costly. Relationships are likely to spiral out of control if symptoms of trauma are not properly managed.
Impact of Unresolved Trauma on Relationships
The effects of trauma in a relationship, of course, vary for each person. However, all relationships thrive with trust, understanding, openness, support, and intimacy. Trauma directly threatens these pillars.
Even with a safe partner, a trauma survivor may:
- Experience depression
- Develop compulsive behavior, an eating disorder, or substance dependency to try and regulate their emotions
- Have flashbacks or panic attacks
- Feel persistent self-doubt
- Have suicidal thoughts
- Seek or carry out the adverse behavior they experienced as a child
Recognizing unhealed trauma as a dynamic force in an intimate relationship is critical. It can super-charge emotions, escalate issues, and make it nearly impossible to communicate effectively. A few ways that trauma manifests within a relationship dynamic include:
- Heightened reactions
- Emotionally fueled disagreements
- Withdrawal or indifference
- Aversion to conflict
- Assumptions that a partner doesn’t provide support
- Lingering doubt about a partner trustworthiness
- Difficulty with intimacy
Adopting beliefs that originated after a traumatic experience can lead to bias about how a person perceives a partner’s response to a given situation. It can create mistrust and a need to control others’ behaviors. In the long-term, trauma response can present conflict in intimate and platonic relationships.
How to Manage the Effects of Trauma in a Relationship
After experiencing stressful or traumatic situations, many may find that their relationships are affected. It is common for traumatic events’ overwhelming circumstances to influence one’s interactions with friends, family, coworkers, and romantic partners. While these reactions are unique to each person and are related to their particular experience of trauma, there are methods of addressing the effects of trauma in a relationship.
Treating Trauma Effectively
Treatment can effectively address difficult experiences, minimize isolation, and restore a sense of hope to a person’s outlook. Discussing traumatic experiences, for one, can be incredibly helpful. Relationship difficulties can exacerbate feelings of grief, so talking about these occurrences regularly with a professional familiar with the complex effects of trauma can be beneficial.
A therapist can offer a safe relationship for building trust and a sense of security. The opportunity within that relationship to establish meaning, purpose, and hope can be a first step in developing or reestablishing relationships with others and oneself, building a social network of support, and engaging more fully with life.
How to find help
A family doctor, health clinic, local mental health association, state psychiatric, psychological, or social work association, or health insurers may help provide a referral to a counselor or therapist with experience treating people affected by trauma. Relationship therapists and counseling can also help to strengthen existing partnerships. However, individual therapy that works to address underlying causes of distress should be a priority step.
Self-Care Strategy to Manage Trauma Triggers
Developing good self-care habits can be a profoundly empowering experience for trauma survivors. In the aftermath of a traumatic experience, good self-care strategies can make a major difference in how well we recover. Here are some strategies to consider, according to experts:
- Trauma-Sensitive Yoga
- Trauma-Informed Therapy
- Adequate Sleep
- Exercise and Getting Outdoors
- Finding Community Support Groups
These items can aid in recovery and help a person build the resilience needed to overcome traumatic experiences.
AspenRidge REACH is an online addiction treatment center whose primary goal is to ensure that everyone affected by trauma receives the best possible professional response. We work to reduce the likelihood of alcohol and drugs becoming an unhealthy coping mechanism. As a dual-diagnosis treatment center, we specialize in trauma-informed therapy, particularly for those experiencing substance abuse issues.
All of our programs are 100% virtual, providing access to more individuals seeking immediate help. Our highly experienced and certified staff members include psychiatrists, psychologists, addiction specialists, recovery advocates, and others interested in the treatment and study of traumatic stress in combination with rehabilitation. For more information on treatment options, contact us today at 720-650-8055.