September 6, 2018

The Post-Traumatic Stress we get from Toxic Relationships.

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.

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