Dating Someone With PTSD May Feel Impossible, But Here's How I'm Learning To Heal

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Relationships are hard enough on their own: asking someone out or accepting a date is an exercise in vulnerability — we have to essentially admit we like someone enough to go on a date.

But for people like me who are survivors of trauma, dating someone with PTSD presents a different set of challenges.

Every guy I've ever been with has commented on my need to keep them at a distance. It's not that I don’t enjoy intimacy — physical or otherwise — rather, it’s something I calculate to the letter when I start seeing someone I actually like.

Even seemingly small things, like holding my partner’s hand, are proclamations that say, "I like you, I don't mind being vulnerable with you" and that can feel like a lot for someone living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Coping with this aspect of our emotional health can make healthy relationships feel out of reach.

RELATED: Can Someone With PTSD Fall In Love? 5 Ways People Suffering From Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Handle Relationships Differently

PTSD can be caused by childhood trauma, being a victim of rape or abuse, or surviving any sort of traumatic experience — a health crisis, a natural disaster, war, and more. For many survivors of sexual violence, dating and relationships can be especially challenging.

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), "PTSD has been known by many names in the past, such as 'shell shock' during the years of World War I and 'combat fatigue' after World War II. But PTSD does not just happen to combat veterans. PTSD can occur in all people, in people of any ethnicity, nationality or culture, and any age."

The APA further explains that one in eleven people in the United States will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime, and women are at particular risk, as we are twice as likely to be diagnosed as men.That's a serious threat to our mental health.

As someone with PTSD, I often sought intimacy in the form of superficial "flings" rather than getting to know someone. The risk of rejection was just too much to bear.

“A healthy romantic relationship requires two healthy minds,” says Dr. Tapo Chimbganda, a Toronto-based licensed psychoanalyst, registered therapist, and qualified relationship coach. “People who have experienced trauma are more at risk of mental illnesses and conditions such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, and others.”

Among other things, Dr. Chimbganda says, “Trust and intimacy issues are likely to develop when a person has experienced trauma. They are more likely to be paranoid, hypervigilant and suffer from low self-esteem and attachment issues.”

RELATED: 8 Common Symptoms of PTSD That Can Affect Anyone

According to Dr. Chimbganda, some other issues that may be faced by those who have experienced trauma are:

Phyllis G. Williams, podcast host and writer, whose PTSD originated from sexual trauma while serving in the military, says she found herself needing to have more and more control in relationships.

“[I] became controlling," she told me. "I felt as if [as long as] I was in control that I wouldn’t be harmed [...] when I wasn’t in control in a relationship, I would lose my temper. It seemed like I was being attacked or someone was out to get me.”

These types of reactions to trauma aren't something we can just wish away, no matter how much we just want to feel "normal".

“Trauma is not a one-time thing. The event may happen once [but] the experience of trauma is ongoing,” stresses Dr. Chimbganda. It is often for this reason that healing from trauma can be complicated, and one reason why PTSD recovery takes as long as it does.

Twelve years after divorcing her narcissistic husband, Candace Stevens, another trauma survivor, told me, “I am still healing. The fact that I am still single after twelve years speaks volumes about how PTSD has affected me.”

Despite being a successful entrepreneur, Stevens points out, “I am so afraid of losing my independence again that whenever I feel a guy is trying to control me, I run away [...] I quit dating because I kept picking men who weren't good for me. I am starting to be able to tell when a man isn't good for me but I have a very hard time trusting men I am in a relationship with."

"I know good guys are out there," she adds. "But I am too scared to try and find them.”

RELATED: How Loving Someone With PTSD Affects Your Life (And 6 Ways To Make It Easier)

Personally speaking, every time I’d enter a dating or relationship situation that turned serious, I felt the heavy presence of my so-called "baggage" — an omniscient dark cloud waiting to ruin something, however unintentionally. So, any time things started going awry, I tended to blame myself.

Recently, though, I’ve found myself being more objective in these scenarios — particularly when I’ve been upfront with my partner about both my trauma and triggers.

“The stigma of mental illness can make one feel ashamed and guilty for having a condition,” says Dr. Chimbganda. “[People] may view themselves as broken or damaged and not worthy of love or commitment."

"Hiding one's mental illness or history of trauma is a symptom of this," Chimbganda explains. "There is a lot of freedom and healing that can come from owning one's issues and past.”

Daniell Damrell, an artist and trauma survivor experienced trauma in relationships differently. “When I entered into relationships that had the potential to be healthy and stable, it was actually the stability that triggered me into flashbacks which ultimately caused most of my relationships to fail," she told me.

"I was only comfortable with partners who treated me poorly and who I could treat poorly," she adds. "Because there is no easy fix to PTSD, I still have battles, nearly daily, with fighting off my internal desire to reject stability.”

Damrell, who came to realize later in life that her PTSD and BPD developed from childhood trauma, is happily married today.

RELATED: You Can Get PTSD From Staying In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship​

"After years of intensive therapy, plugging into the strong and healthy community around me, and learning how to build stable friendships, I finally gained the strength to enter into a stable relationship with a 'normal' man; a man without a ton of lifelong baggage,” she explains.

Dr. Chimbganda stresses that communication with your partner is key. “Sharing this detail about yourself can contribute significantly to trust, respect, and positive communication patterns in your relationship,” adding that, “the best time to bring it up is when you are sure of what you want to build or not build with the individual.”

We live in increasingly progressive times. In this day and age, most people have some mental health issues to deal with, and it’s important when you trust someone and are looking to build a future with them that you understand that, says Dr. Chimbganda. “Talking about yours may release your partner to tackle theirs and together you can support each other in a journey of healing.”

I’m still on that journey.

I come to find strength in deciding whom I choose to disclose my story to and how much I choose to share. It seems to be a constant iteration of trials and errors, but I’m hopeful I’ll get there eventually.

RELATED: What Is C-PTSD? How The Symptoms Of Complex Trauma May Affect Even The Healthiest Relationships

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Akanksha Singh is a writer and journalist who covers women's rights, social justice, and mental health. Her work has appeared in BBC, CNN, The Huffington Post, The Independent, The Sydney Morning Herald, and more. Follow her on Instagram to read more.

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