The Post-Traumatic Stress we get from Toxic Relationships.


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Last night was amazing.

I took the most exquisite and alluring woman to the fanciest restaurant in town, and every little thing about the evening went perfectly.

The conversation was effortless and the food was gourmet, with all of these thoughtful combinations of unexpected tastes and textures.

I was struck with the thought that I couldn’t remember the last time I sat in a restaurant with someone like this. By “like this,” I mean that my date was exactly who I wanted to be with. I wasn’t settling or going out on an awkward first date with someone from a dating site who looked nothing like their profile picture. There were none of those strange silences that happen when you realize there is nothing to talk about. It was just flawless.

At one point, I looked right into her eyes and just drank in her beauty. I wanted, more than anything else in the world, to lean in and kiss her—and I couldn’t. I was paralyzed. She looked right back at me, and after a few seconds she said, “Wow. She really screwed you up, didn’t she?”

My date was right.

People can laugh or poke fun all they want, but I believe that, if you are in a relationship with someone who rejects you over and over for years, you’d have to be a special kind of person to leave without some kind of post-traumatic stress. Intellectually, we try to convince ourselves that they are the ones with the problem, but emotionally we cannot help but feel as though there is something unlovable or undesirable about us. And the sad truth is that it doesn’t just go away.

It has been over a year since I left. I have hooked up with a fair number of women since then, and yet, I am still unsure of myself. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of pop psychology will tell you that it’s an inside job—and they’d be right. The strength required to wash away all the anchors that have been installed by an unloving partner can only be removed internally, with some work.

There are five signs, in addition to low self-esteem, that you may be experiencing Post-Traumatic Relationship Syndrome after a breakup.

  1. Commitment Phobia
    This can be a difficult one to spot because, oftentimes, it presents as other issues. However, if you find yourself with Goldilocks Syndrome—that is to say, everyone you date is either “too this” or “not enough that”—you may want to take a hard look at your motives. You may just be scared of getting hurt again.
  2. Starting Relationships that Look Very Familiar
    The temptation to move on can be enormous at times. We live in a society that generally believes the old adage, “If you want to get over someone, get under someone else.” Unfortunately, if we don’t give ourselves enough time to heal and don’t address the issues that led to getting involved with a toxic person the last time around, the chances of getting hooked up with someone just as bad are exponentially higher.
  3. Difficulty Letting Go
    It’s perfectly normal to feel angst about who your ex is dating after a breakup. But, if you find yourself ruminating and obsessing for hours on end, checking their Facebook page, and spying on their Instagram account, you may have been more profoundly affected than you think. Allowing a little time to pass can help with this, but if it seems like you are still in this place after several months, counseling may be in order.
  4. Apology Overload
    If, when you do in fact begin a new relationship, you find yourself apologizing three or four times a day for things like the weather, a traffic jam, or there being nothing good to watch on Netflix, you may have been damaged from your last lover. I am injecting a little humor here, but on a serious note—if this is hitting home, you’re going to want to do some work on this. It’s a clear indication you’ve been dinged up a little.
  5. Nightmares
    I have personally suffered from these after my breakup, and, really, they’re no fun. The thing is, they are not those obvious sitcom nightmares where the old partner comes back to haunt you in the way they used to. Instead, they generally show up as strange incidents with people from your distant past, your parents, or total strangers. The things to watch out for are the feelings you get from them. You might find that, although the dreams come off as nonsense, the emotions are familiar.

All lightheartedness aside, there is a spectrum to the damage that toxic relationships leave us with. This includes everything from my personal experience of being left with very little confidence to the more serious end that involves physical abuse.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit their website.

author: Billy Manas

Image: Davide Pietralunga/Unsplash

Editor: Kelsey Michal


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Billy Manas

Billy Manas is a poet, singer-songwriter, and truck driver from the Hudson Valley in New York, where you can catch his act at wine tastings and breweries. His distinct voice in both song and poetry is likely the result of his degree in literature and his teenage years spent outside of CBGB’s on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. His new book “Rockstar Recovery” will be available everywhere Fall 2019. Catch up with Billy on his website.

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Michelle Gibeault Traub Sep 29, 2018 10:02pm

Thank you :) You articulate what I have felt beautifully.

Mary Martha Sep 13, 2018 10:02pm

Billy, this was so interesting because I had a parent that beckoned with one arm and pushed away with the other and a husband! Now I've been single a long time and definitely have some of those problems. I had to finally say, I just can't fall into this trap. I must practice detachment from these types of people.

Hillel Gazit Sep 10, 2018 12:46am

I had 4 out of the five. I don't have the "Difficulty Letting Go". When it's over, it's *over*. The less I know, the better for me. Ms. Karma may do a number on her, but Ms. Karma can do its job just fine without my supervision.

Billy Manas Sep 9, 2018 9:56pm

Great stuff Kristin. Thank you.

Billy Manas Sep 9, 2018 9:54pm

Thank you so much Layla. I appreciate the comment. <3

Layla Brook Sep 9, 2018 9:19pm

Great read.. Everything explained is exactly what I have been experiencing and helped me realize more of what I already knew. Thanks for helping others with their pain.

Gigi Giralamo Sep 9, 2018 5:58pm

I understand the effects of a bad relationship. Who doesn't? But the quote that "she really screwed you up" sounds like one of your things to work on. Letting go. Also we are also part of a tango. 2 people here. Which means You allowed her control on your thoughts. We have all been there with family, friends lovers. Not a complete story with that statement as your date had only your side of the story. Not doubting your experience. Hopefully in lessons we repeat bad habits less and less. Good luck in meeting people that support your lifestyle.

Glenda Nilsson Collins Sep 9, 2018 4:35pm

Thank you Kristin and Billy for addressing this difficult issue which is so poorly understood only targets of this abuse can understand it. Having been through two long-term marriages to men who looked and operated very differently but with the same invalidation, rejection, cruelty and plain mind fuckery, I've spent the better part of the past year looking within at my part, my family history, and actively healing and detoxing through multiple modalities. Here I am at 67: still wanting to share love and life with someone stable who wants the same. I am just embarking slowly on this "dating" thing. I sometimes feel I am shattered glass and could accidentally cut someone unintentionally. But better that, than be taken in again and trampled to dust. I couldn't physically survive another one. And "time heals"? That's just not true. Maybe in a normal drifting-apart breakup painful things would fade and forgiveness, be possible. But this: Krisitn is right - it takes focus, effort, diligence and Self Love (not easy with a lifetime training of putting others first.). I feel like I'm learning to crawl again. Forgiving myself has been an essential first step. (After blocking all contact.) Again, Thank you....

Kristin Toussaint Sep 9, 2018 2:43pm

Toxic relationships cause trauma to embed in the body's tissues, especially when they end with a wake up call for the victim of chronic abuse. Our Limbic system adapts during abuse; our survival depends on it. Our endocrine and nervous system follow suit and neurotransmitters, essential to optimal health, go haywire. The body keeps the score. PTS relationship syndrome is widely misunderstood in our highly judgemental, victim blamming society. Excellent SELF care includes a healthy diet, one that promotes optimal neurotransmitter production and purposeful SELF reflection and a commitment to remaining SELF aware. In absorbing and adapting to abuse, one lives in a reactive flight or fight state are far removed from the SELF. The body keeps the score. Movement, reconnection to the body, is key to releasing trauma. Yoga, Thai Chi, Qi Gong, and many other focused, neurotransmittor producing exercises aid in rebalancing the limbic system and help to release trauma from tissues. It does take time, however time alone does not heal the body. Intention to become your best SELF is the key to avoiding a repeat experience. Great piece Billy. Looking forward to a date like the one you enjoyed one day. Committment phobia is a tough hurdle after a 26 year tango with toxic.

Marilyn Regan Sep 7, 2018 3:46pm

Hey...I hope you get to date this new woman. She may be just what you need. Time heals. Good luck and thank you for sharing.

Sukriti Chhopra Sep 7, 2018 5:16am

Billy, you are writing my present life story through your recent articles!!

Billy Manas Sep 6, 2018 1:35pm

Great point, Jennifer.

Jennifer Evangelista Sep 6, 2018 12:16pm

Very helpful. Thank you. Isn't it also possible though that included in these symptoms could be a toxicity from the dynamic of the relationship which is why self-care is so important (yet so hard at times to do?) Thank you for sharing.