When Your Partner Has C-PTSD

Do you or your partner suffer from complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), whether due to a toxic family of origin or a previous toxic romantic relationship, family relationship, or friendship involving narcissistic abuse?

Are you struggling with how to deal when your partner has C-PTSD?

If so, you know that CPTSD can trigger intense reactions in both sufferers and their loved ones. In fact, the reactions may be more intense when the person with CPTSD is triggered by someone they love. This is because loving someone makes it harder to put up a wall against their pain.

Helpful: This video offers an understanding of how C-PTSD can really affect you long-term. If your partner is the one dealing with C-PTSD, it may help you to better understand why they do some of the things they do.

If you’re looking for answers, stick with me and I’ll fill you in. But first, a couple of definitions so we’re on the same page going into this discussion.

What is Complex Post Traumatic Disorder (C-PTSD)?

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a serious mental health condition affecting a large percentage of victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse. This disorder can take years to treat and many professionals aren’t familiar with its symptoms or misdiagnose it. They may even victim-blame if they aren’t familiar with the subtle tricks of a narcissist. Unfortunately, it can be a lifelong condition, but it can be managed with mindfulness and behavior modification, among other therapies and modalities. Learn what are the 17 symptoms of complex PTSD.

Helpful: This video offers 37 things you need to know about narcissistic abuse syndrome, AKA C-PTSD.

What is Narcissistic Abuse?

Narcissistic abuse is a pervasive, covert type of abuse that involves the exploitation and emotional and/or psychological abuse of one partner in a toxic relationship. This kind of abuse can affect a personal connection, such as marriage, partnership, friendship, or family relationships. When you’re dealing with a narcissist in the family, they will often abuse everyone in the household and even affect the extended family members. Even professional relationships and acquaintanceships can be affected by narcissistic abuse.

What is narcissistic abuse like?

While narcissistic abuse can result in profound emotional and psychological harm, as well as long-term, often debilitating, life-changing physical effects, the covert nature of this painful form of relationship abuse can make it difficult to spot and even more challenging to manage. Worse, if you find yourself involved in this kind of relationship with a malignant narcissist, your self-confidence and self-worth are often so low by the time you realize it, you can’t or won’t leave.

What do narcissists do to their victims?

Narcissistic abuse involves subtle manipulation, pervasive control tactics, gaslighting, and emotional and psychological abuse.  Many narcissistic abusers might be diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder – if they actually go to a psychologist for diagnosis, but this rarely happens as narcissists don’t feel that there’s anything with them. They may be overtly narcissistic, or they may be more of a covert narcissist. In either case, anyone in a close relationship with one of these toxic people will be used as a form of narcissistic supply and not treated like an actual person. Sadly, even the most intelligent and educated people can be manipulated and abused by a narcissist. Spend any significant amount of time with a narcissist who knows you well, and you’re guaranteed to get a taste of toxic. If you live with or communicate with the narcissist on a regular basis, chances are that you’ve been gaslighted so often that you might almost feel like it’s part of “normal,” but the idea of just one more instant has you doubting your sanity, your IQ, and your memory, not to mention your whole sense of self.

Helpful: This video offers insight into how C-PTSD from narcissistic abuse can affect you long-term, and it can also help you understand your partner’s C-PTSD and the effects it has had on their life. Also offered: tips for healing and hope for recovery.

Is every kind of abuse narcissistic abuse?

Certainly, the term narcissistic abuse can refer to a variety of behaviors, as described above. So, emotional abuse and psychological abuse are often the results of narcissistic abuse. Sometimes it may also involve a number of other kinds of abuse including the following.

Are all abusers narcissists?

Of course, most abusers seem to have some narcissistic traits, but while not all abuse involves narcissists, a large percentage of abuse cases seem to have at least one narcissist is involved. Of course, when you’re talking specifically about narcissists of a toxic nature (often referred to as malignant narcissists or toxic narcissists), you’re talking about those who have little to no empathy for the people around them and who act from that perspective.

In other words: they don’t care how you or anyone else feels, and you can tell because of the way they treat the people around them. Their actions clearly highlight their extreme lack of emotional empathy and compassion.

How does relationship trauma affect your other relationships?

Research shows that dealing with relationship trauma affects more than just those involved in an abusive relationship. It impacts people from their immediate social circle as well. In one study, researchers interviewed 88 college students and found that those who experienced a relationship trauma felt the need to isolate themselves from others and felt significantly less attractive to potential partners. They were also more likely to feel they had a lack of control over events in their life.

The point is that when one person in a relationship is traumatized it can create an imbalance in communication between the partners and other people they come into contact with. For example, if one partner has been exposed to prolonged and/or extreme forms of abuse or neglect, it can create an imbalance in communication between the partners.

Can you have PTSD from narcissistic abuse?

A lot of people don’t understand that you can develop C-PTSD from long-term narcissistic abuse. It’s confusing because conventionally, post-traumatic stress disorder is associated with war, terrorism, natural disasters, and other life-threatening events. If you have PTSD, you may be experiencing flashbacks or nightmares about the event, avoid people or places that remind you of the event, feel numb or disconnected, have difficulty sleeping or concentrating, be constantly on guard for danger and have feelings of anxiety and fear. But what if you are suffering from PTSD after narcissistic abuse? Let’s talk about the differences between PTSD and C-PTSD.

What are the symptoms of PTSD from narcissistic abuse?

And how do you know if you have it? C-PTSD and other kinds of relationship trauma can be devastating to your physical, emotional, or psychological health, not to mention painfully life-altering – and usually not in a good way.

Not only can you end up depressed, numb, and feeling lost, but C-PTSD from narcissistic abuse may lead to behaviors such as:

See more symptoms and indicators of C-PTSD here. 

Can someone with complex PTSD have a relationship?

Short answer: YES, as long as they’ve healed or mostly healed before entering that relationship.

Detailed explanation: When you’re dealing with someone who has complex PTSD who has taken the time to do the work (or in some cases who are still in the process, a healthy relationship is entirely possible. The newer the discovery of C-PTSD and the less recovery work a survivor has done, the more difficult the relationship could be. Still, if you’re patient and willing to be supportive in a kind, consistent, gentle way, you can be of tremendous help to ease many C-PTSD symptoms. Just be careful to maintain your own boundaries in the meantime.

When you’re dealing with a less-healed person with complex PTSD, things can get a little difficult, but there’s still hope. You can make it work if you’re willing to be patient and compassionate. It can help to remember to consider their perspective and to treat them with kindness – just as you’d want to be treated if you were in their shoes. Let your empathy shine.

How should I deal with a partner who has C-PTSD?

It’s important to remember that not everyone is capable of loving everyone – and in some cases, of loving ANYONE – they meet. Some people are naturally more kind and honest than others, but other people have been taught to keep their feelings hidden from the world.

With this in mind, here are some things to keep in mind when dealing with someone who has been through relationship trauma.

  • They might not say anything until they’re ready. In other words, they might not express their feelings at all. Don’t take this as a sign that they don’t love you — it’s just a way for them to control how they feel until they’re ready to let go of their pain.
  • They might try to avoid any discussion about their exes or other relationships out of shame or embarrassment. If you ask them about someone else, it’ll make them feel uncomfortable and bring up bad memories from the past. But if you respect their privacy, they’ll open up eventually without pressure from you.
  • They might get defensive when you bring up past relationships or talk about your own experience with other people. Their own history might make them feel vulnerable and insecure — particularly if they’re still working through their feelings — so they might become defensive when confronted with issues from the pasts of others. This is a sign that there’s something going on inside that needs healing, but your questions could be interpreted as a challenge or intrusion by someone who feels threatened by the vulnerability.
  • They might go silent when talking about topics related to their exes, such as what happened between them and how they treated them in the relationship.

What should I do when my partner struggles with C-PTSD triggers?

A better question might be what are the best practices for your own behavior during C-PTSD triggers? See, this will depend on two things: the understanding that this really IS NOT about you, even if you did cause the trigger. So, stay calm and remember that this is one of those times when “better or worse” comes into play. Here’s where, most of the time, avoidant partners will just shut down. They will do their best to avoid situations that could cause them to feel hurt again. The problem with this is that there is no chance for healing, which can lead to depression and feelings of hopelessness.

How much responsibility do I have when it comes to my partner’s C-PTSD triggers?

This is sort of up to your partner, in some ways, because they may or may not be able to accept any support, depending on how damaged they are and what phase of the relationship you’ve reached. Of course, you’re always free to walk away, but if you care about them and want to make the relationship work, chances are you’ll accept the level of responsibility they’re willing to give to you.

One important note: If you’re not equipped for it, please let your partner know. If you’re willing to help but don’t know how, that’s okay – there are ways you can learn. For example, You could choose to get some kind of counseling or coaching together or separately on how to deal with C-PTSD as a couple.

And remember this:

  • You don’t necessarily have to prevent your partner from shutting down, but you can certainly facilitate a safe, emotionally supportive response if the situation warrants, or some distance, or even a period of extreme closeness – depending on which of your partner’s needs you feel comfortable fulfilling.
  • The point is, listen and watch for what best serves your partner I’m the moment and read up on other ways to help your partner cope with C-PTSD triggers. 

How do I get out of a CPTSD trigger? 

Step One: Identify the trigger.

Triggers in C-PTSD can be overwhelming for both you and your partner. If you’re the one dealing with the trigger, the first thing you can do to help yourself is to identify it AS A TRIGGER. In layman’s terms, this can help to switch out of your emotional side and into your intellectual one.

Step Two: Understand why you’re triggered.

Then, take a deep breath and remember that you’re not alone – even if you are in the middle of a CPTSD trigger, you are not alone.   Even if you feel like an alien, you are not the only one who has C-PTSD as a result of narcissistic abuse.  This is not an easy question to answer, because everyone responds differently to triggers, so there really isn’t a sure-fire plan on how to get out of one.

Step Three: Who is your narcissistic abuse recovery support team?

Start by figuring out your support team – who can you count on to get you through the hard times in recovery, and who will be there to celebrate your wins with you.

My Best Support Team Recruiting Tip: If you’re feeling alone in your recovery, I get it. I did too, and that’s why I do what I do – and why I always suggest a check-up with your doctor to have C-PTSD diagnosed and to determine if you need to be medically or psychologically treated. A lot of survivors also need support from outside of these helpful but time-restrained support people – and their friends stop listening after a while – or worse, side with the narcissist. Or for any number of other individual circumstances, you find yourself feeling lost and lonely after narcissistic abuse – you’re going to want to join a narcissistic abuse recovery support group. 

That’s why I suggest that you also consider finding yourself a good narcissistic abuse recovery coach or coaching group, or a therapist to help guide and support you along your C-PTSD recovery journey. Or, if you’re struggling with money and can’t find someone who takes your health insurance, or you just want a little extra support, you can join one of our free online narcissistic abuse recovery support groups.

Dr. Robin Bryman’s C-PTSD Healing Tips

Dr. Robin Bryman, QueenBeeing’s clinical psychology content partner, offers the following tips for self-help healing for C-PTSD.

1. Ground Yourself.

Dr. Robin recommends that you first and foremost physically ground yourself.   She offers this simple technique for grounding.
A. Breathe…
  • Inhale through your nose, count to 6.
  • Fill your abdomen with air.
  • Stomach distended.
  • Do not hold your stomach in.
B. Hold your breath for 6 seconds
C. Exhale 6 seconds through your mouth.
Repeat 3 times.

2. Try Reparenting Yourself. 

Dr. Robin recommends a reparenting exercise that can be very effective, especially if you grew up in a toxic family and were invalidated or at least not given proper validation by your parents. Her simple exercise, below, offers a shocking amount of help because you can learn to validate yourself in the process.
  • Talk to yourself like you’re your own best “mom ” or “dad.”
  • Be loving and kind.
  • This can help you feel calmer and less alone, as well as improve your self-image and self-esteem.
“Know that you got this,” Dr. Robin says. “You’ve been through so much and have developed residency. Much more than most. Believe in yourself, and remember that survivors become thrives!”

Help Yourself Through Narcissistic Abuse Recovery and C-PTSD Healing

You have to keep in mind that relationships go through many stages. And if you’re going through a rough period, it’s possible that your partner may not be able to fully empathize with your situation. Explaining the situation might help, but you can serve yourself and any potential future partner best if you work through this healing before committing yourself to a new relationship.

Help Your Partner Through C-PTSD Healing After Narcissistic Abuse

If you’re in a relationship with someone who suffers from trauma, remember not to get caught up in the drama of their anger or occasional outbursts of violence. Instead, try to understand what’s going on for them and offer them support by listening and talking things through instead of rushing in and trying to fix them. Remember that they’ve been through a very difficult and painful situation that took them away from who they were supposed to be.

They can’t get back the person they once were, but they can certainly become a better, more balanced version of it – and that’s what you’re going to help them shoot for. And consider where they’re coming from, what they were taught, and who they really are by thinking about the following questions, and asking them if appropriate.

  • How did they grow up?
  • What did they learn from their parents?
  • What did they experience at school or in the workplace that made them who they are today?

It’s important to take into account these things when understanding what caused the problems in the relationship. This, along with steady, unfailing support and a willingness to keep an open mind, can go a long way into helping your partner feel safe again.

Advice for Managing C-PTSD in Your Relationship

In either case, remember this: how you go on from a traumatic event is important – and the most important thing when it comes to getting into your next relationship is that you’re ready. You must take the time to heal and to learn to stand up for yourself and to set firm boundaries. You must learn to value yourself properly and to recognize your worth. If you grew up with toxic parents, chances are that you’ve never fully managed to do that.

Here are some resources to help.

Resources for Healing After Trauma Caused By Narcissistic Abuse

Professional Help for Managing Trauma and Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

If you are experiencing symptoms that are affecting your day-to-day life, it is important to get professional if needed. There is no shame in working with experts to improve your overall health and wellbeing. Consider talking to experts if you experience the following symptoms.

  • Ongoing distress, anxiety, sadness, etc for multiple weeks.
  • Feeling like you’re stuck or you have an inability to function in your life.
  • Feeling hopeless all the time.
  • Your work or school is affected.
  • Your daily life and activities have been affected.
  • You are using drugs or alcohol to cope.

It never hurts to start by contacting your family doctor or mental health professionals. Also, consider talking to a clergy member about a referral if you go to church. They may know a professional in your community that you can work with. You can also check out the narcissistic abuse recovery support resources here.

Self-Assessments for Managing Trauma and Narcissistic Abuse Recovery 

More Resources for Narcissistic Abuse Recovery

  • Best Books on Narcissistic Abuse Recovery
  • Comprehensive Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Glossary: This is a comprehensive guide to words and phrases (related to narcissism, NPD and related conditions, narcissistic abuse, and narcissistic abuse recovery) that are commonly used in articles, videos, and narcissistic abuse recovery support groups. Defined here as specifically how they relate to narcissism, narcissistic abuse, and narcissistic abuse recovery, these terms have been developed by psychologists, coaches, therapists, and survivors of narcissistic abuse who need a way to understand and overcome the abuse.
  • FAQ Help: Whenever you need help with something related to this site or you want to know how to find something, join a group or otherwise deal with an issue you’re having, visit our new FAQ Help page.
  • Self-Care for Survivors: This is a page that covers everything you need to know about self-care, from how to build your own self-care kit to how to sign up for self-care support, and more.
  • New Resources Page: This is a one-stop overview of narcissism, NPD, and narcissistic abuse recovery, offering a long list of resources that will be helpful for you.
  • Stalking Resources Center: If your narcissist is a stalker, the information and resources on this page will help you get and stay safe.
  • Visit Our Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Resources Page

*Disclaimer: This article is for informational and educational purposes only.  It’s very important to always check with your doctor before taking any action that could affect your physical or mental health.  

Author

  • Dr. Robin Bryman

    Dr. Bryman is a Licensed Psychologist and the QueenBeeing.com psychology advisor and content partner. Dr. Bryman earned a Doctoral Degree in School Psychology from the City University of New York in 2002 and holds two Master’s Degrees in Counseling Psychology and Industrial Psychology from Teacher’s College, Columbia University, earned in 1990. Before that,she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the State University of New York at Albany in 1988. Dr. Bryman has vast experience in the field of Psychology over the years. This includes an extensive research background involving children, adolescents, and parenting. In addition, she was an adjunct professor at Queens College, teaching both Undergraduate and Graduate students courses spanning from Psychology, Elementary, and Secondary Education. For over 18 years, Dr. Bryman has been in private practice specializing in children, adolescents, families, individual counseling, and marital counseling. Often treating anxiety and depression, as well as conducting play therapy and parenting training. In addition, she is a specialist in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Psychodynamic Therapy. Read more about Dr. Robin Bryman.

    Angela Atkinson
    Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery, and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own. Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation, and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves. Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse here at QueenBeeing.com and at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.

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