Moving Beyond Trauma: 4 Steps to Healing from "Post Traumatic Dating Syndrome"

by Dee Rene

“I’m afraid I’m not strong enough to still choose me once I love you. That loving you will compromise the commitments I’ve made to myself. Because I have spent a lifetime not choosing me. And giving to those that don’t deserve it. I need to know that loving you won’t kill me.”

I wrote this message and deleted it a thousand times, unable to tell the new person that I was seeing why I couldn’t return their love. Eventually it landed in my tweets to no one in particular, lost in the timeline. How could I explain to someone that potentially falling in love (or even like) made my heart tighten up and my breath quicken from panic?

Old wounds that seemed to heal, yet burst open the minute anyone new came along. the constant panic that would rise in my chest and choke out any hope of moving forward. Would this love kill me too? The words “I like you” sounded like bombs going off, bringing flashbacks of wars I’d lost in the past.
Nightmares. Flashbacks. Pounding anxiety. Bad relationships, abusive relationships, and lost loves had suffocated the life out of me. What was going on? I would soon realize I was suffering from a version of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in this case triggered by the many negative and distressing “romantic” situations I had been involved in. I read up on the symptoms and all of them applied to me:
  • Re-experiencing the traumatic event
  • Avoiding reminders of the trauma
  • Increased anxiety and emotional arousal
I was experiencing my love life like trauma. I was more than afraid of moving forward; I was quite literally terrified by it. I was suffering from “post traumatic dating syndrome.” And while others may not consider my broken heart to be on the same level of other traumas, that didn’t change that my trauma felt very real. I couldn’t enjoy developing feelings for someone new without flashbacks to the last time that I liked someone and the hurt that didn’t quite heal—constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was running and hiding from the relationship Boogie Man the moment any feelings surfaced.

It was time to heal. As I continued to read about PTSD on, solutions for coping, self-help, and healing were offered. I related these same tips to what I needed to overcome the grief and anxiety I was experiencing in my love life.

“Explore your thoughts and feelings about the trauma.”

We often numb and push down the thoughts and feelings instead of actually addressing the pain we’re experiencing. Calling out and naming that you are still hurt, upset, and afraid will allow you to start releasing these negative emotions. Write down what you’re experiencing. Seek out professional help through a counselor, therapist, or trauma recovery coach to help you process through everything. Stop ignoring and hiding from your feelings.

“Work through feelings of guilt, self-blame, and mistrust.”

It was never about the other person. I had to forgive myself for the haphazard way I handled my heart. I had to forgive myself for loving him and allowing him into my deepest places. I had to forgive myself for not looking out for me. I released the guilt of choosing a partner that hurt me. I stopped blaming myself for the things another adult chose to do. I learned to trust myself again.

“Learn how to cope with and control intrusive memories.”

I allowed myself to think about him without judging myself or beating myself up for having these thoughts and memories. Sometimes, it was the smallest reminder—like an old song. Instead of fighting it, I let the song play, let the memories wash over me, and I breathed in that moment. If the tears came, I let them fall. If the anger came up, I cussed a bit. If I smiled from remembering a good moment, I didn’t call myself a fool. I experienced all of these recollections when they happened, and then I let them pass away so I could do something that felt more productive in my healing. I found a distraction to shift my thoughts. I said a prayer or mantra for strength and positivity. I engaged in conversation with friends that loved me. Eventually the memories became less like bombs going off and more like whispers of the past. And a whisper is much more manageable.

“Address problems PTSD has caused in your life and relationships.”

No one should be given hell for a heart they didn’t break, but indeed I was raising hell for others who came into my life. I was distant, aloof, snappy. If my new love interest said or did anything that reminded me of a past partner, the anxiety would rise and I would shut down. I realized that I was never upset about what was happening in the actual moment, but rather I was defensive from the last time from a previous memory. I found the solution in verbalizing my fears and concerns to potential partners. I don’t need anyone to fix me, I just need them to be patient while I fix myself.

If the thought of a new relationship sends you running for cover, it may also be time for you to take some of these steps. Fiercely protecting your heart may keep the hurt out, but it also prevents new, healthy, positive love from getting inside. Treat your broken heart like any trauma. Acknowledge and honor the pain, but realize that you also deserve to heal.

Photo: Shutterstock

Dee Rene is a regular contributor at For Harriet.

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