Valentine’s Day is a day generally thought of as a time that represents love, gifts, gestures of affection, and celebrating our loved ones. However, if you and/or someone you love struggles with symptoms of PTSD or trauma, Valentine’s Day can be less than desirable.
Oftentimes, those who have experienced trauma, or have PTSD, can feel as though Valentine’s Day is a day full of triggers. It can be difficult to manage one’s emotions while being flooded with messages of love and affection that can potentially serve as reminders of past horrific events. While everyone else around you is happy and in love, you feel depressed.
For example, those who have encountered sexual assault may be particularly sensitive to compliments or physical affection; even something as well-intentioned as a hug can be incredibly uncomfortable!
Further, it can seem particularly perplexing if your partner has traditionally received love and affection well but recently has begun to pull away, or worse, even become frightened of your bid for affection!
Typical behaviors following trauma (trauma symptoms):
You find yourself becoming more isolated and prefer to be alone whereas you used to be more social
You are more sensitive to sudden, loud noises causing you to jump and have increased breathing rate and elevated heart rate. This could even result in a panic attack.
You have flashbacks of the incident and just can’t seem to get away from them.
You have nightmares in which you feel as though you are being chased or are exposed to other terrifying situations
You prefer not to be touched and become highly anxious at the thought of someone touching you. Someone actually touching you could result in a melt down or panic attack
It can be confusing for both you and your partner regarding what to expect and how to react following a traumatic incident. It can be difficult not to take your partner’s behavior personally but it is important to remember that their reaction is not your fault.
Following a traumatic event, the nervous system can feel as though it’s been hijacked causing an array of behaviors and reactions that can seem surprising and overwhelming. However, these behaviors can be thought of as smaller aftershocks following the incident - it is the body’s way of trying to rid itself of the trauma.
How can I help my traumatized loved one?
Allow your partner all the room he/she needs to express him/herself openly and without judgment. Techniques in trauma therapy include retelling of the traumatic story in order to release the emotional charge that it holds. The more the victim is able to tell the story, the better until it has been fully processed.
Give them space
Following a traumatic incident, the brain and the body go into a state of “what the heck?” They are desperately trying to return to a state of homeostasis and this process can often result in irrational, uncharacteristic behavior. Try your best not to judge, not take it personally, and to simply walk away to diffuse the situation until emotions have calmed.
Do not blame them
It is very unhelpful and further damaging to make comments such as “well, if you just weren’t there, it never would’ve happened” or “you should’ve been more careful.” These statements are highly shaming and blaming and the very triggers that can set a person back in his/her progress. As a victim, it is important to limit your exposure, or remove yourself altogether, from these relationships until you are fully healed.
Encourage them but don’t push
Depression and anxiety are very common mental health symptoms that occur following a traumatic event. While it is kind to encourage the victim to get out of bed, eat, go to the gym it is important not to push as this can make the feeling of shame worse. Offer some encouragement then back off and allow the victim to decide what is best for his/herself that day.
It can be difficult to know how to navigate a relationship with someone who has endured a traumatic event. Unfamiliar emotions and uncharacteristic behavior can make you feel like you’re living with a stranger!
Try to keep in mind that the experience is oftentimes even worse for the victim and what they need is space, compassion, and patience.
Your Valentine’s Day this year might not be as exciting and eventful as those in the past; however, sharing the intimacy of healthy coping skills and support is far more romantic than any gift, meme, or gesture.
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