Is Your Bad Breakup Causing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

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The National Institute of Mental Health defines Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as “an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened." The NIMH goes on to say that traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.

The definition has since been redefined to include exposure to prolonged exposure to stressful events that cause extreme emotional distress, without the ability to process the trauma experienced. That said, it makes sense that it's possible for those involved in a high conflict divorce or traumatic breakup—especially those involved in abusive relationships, according to divorce attorney and coach Karen Covy—may develop symptoms of PTSD. Read on to learn about the common symptoms and what to do about it.

Common Symptoms of PTSD

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), these common symptoms below may indicate you are experiencing PTSD. 

Reliving the Traumatic Experience

Survivors of trauma may experience nightmares or flashbacks of the traumatic event. This might be triggered by something that reminds the survivor of the event like the anniversary of the event or a familiar location.


Individuals may remove themselves from people or situations that are similar in some way to the traumatic event. Survivors may become detached from their loved ones and lose interest in their previous passions.

Increased Arousal

Those with PTSD may become more sensitive to their emotions or bodily sensations. They may have high anxiety levels, insomnia, trouble focusing, and be hyper-vigilant.

Somatoform Illness

A somatoform illness is one in which there in no medical indication for what appears to be a medical problem. For example, those exposed to prolonged stress may suffer from tension headaches caused by the stress. There can be chronic pain that interferes with a person’s ability to function that has no specific medical cause.

An Example of PTSD and High-Conflict Divorce or Breakup

Take the scenario of Janice, a victim of a high conflict divorce on the subject of post traumatic stress disorder. Janice was recently diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to a long, drawn out battle during the divorce process, and her ex-husband’s emotional abuse before and since the divorce. Janice feels like she can't get any relief because some sort of conflict with her ex was always lurking around the corner, and she didn't have time to process one negative event before she had to deal with another one.

How to Deal With Extreme Stress

According to the American Psychological Association, there are steps you can take to help regain emotional well-being and a sense of control following a traumatic experience.                                  

Give Yourself Time to Heal 

Anticipate that this will be a difficult time in your life. Allow yourself to mourn the losses you have experienced. Try to be patient with changes in your emotional state.

Seek Support

Ask for support from people who care about you and who will listen and empathize with your situation. But keep in mind that your typical support system may be weakened if those who are close to you also have experienced or witnessed the trauma.

Communicate Your Experience

Communicate your experience in whatever way feels comfortable to you, such as talking with family or close friends, or keeping a journal. Find out about local support groups that often are available such as for those who have suffered from natural disasters, or for those who are victims of domestic abuse. These can be especially helpful for people with limited personal support systems—but try to find groups led by appropriately trained and experienced professionals.

Take Care of Yourself

Try to engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to cope with excessive stress, like eating well-balanced meals and get plenty of rest. If you experience ongoing difficulties with sleep, you may be able to find some relief through relaxation techniques. Avoid alcohol and drugs. Establish or reestablish routines such as eating meals at regular times and follow an exercise program. Take some time off from the demands of daily life by pursuing hobbies or other enjoyable activities. And, avoid major life decisions such as switching careers or jobs if possible because these activities tend to be highly stressful.

Post Traumatic Growth

On the other hand, Covy writes that a growth mindset may play a huge role in determining whether you can move past your trauma. A growth mindset, according to Dr. David Feldman, author of Supersurvivors, is best described as grounded hope. In other words, it is about acknowledging that the pain is real and the willingness to address your trauma; sadness, pain, anger, grief and all. And then, those with a growth mindset also asks, 'How can I build the best future possible?' writes Covy. She adds, "Researchers have also found that the ability to accept situations that cannot be changed is crucial for adapting to traumatic events." Social support is also crucial.

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