I was recently asked: Can years of abuse by a service member give the spouse PTSD? Can it keep affecting them years later when the toxic person is now long out of their life? The short answer is “Yes.” A slightly longer answer is “Emphatically Yes!” A really long answer lies below.
Abuse Effects Can Linger For Years
Any form of abuse can damage your soul. The effects always linger long beyond the actual events. While there are exceptions, one can say in general that the more you loved, the more you trusted, the more vulnerable you were, then the more the damage to your soul can linger after the divorce. It is possible that the damage can cause PTSD.
It is not unusual for a service member who has PTSD themselves to make their spouse’s life miserable. They don’t understand what is wrong and then lash out at the closest people. Given PTSD wants to ruin relationships and isolate us, this pattern happens frequently.
PTSD Can Spread Like a Three Dimensional Stain
In cases of divorce, especially if it blindsided a person, one’s self-worth can be challenged. The damage is like a stain on cloth that moves beyond the boundaries of the actual spill and starts to dampen other areas of fabric – areas well away from the initial spill. If the stain is heavy you can even smell it in the air. Trauma can affect us in many ways and not always directly.
One can lose their ability to concentrate about things that have nothing directly to do with the divorce or abuse. This could then make one want to stay away from the larger society (job, college, entertainment, religious services) and coop up in the apartment where it is relatively safe. PTSD can make one always feel afraid and tense.
Trauma really knows no boundaries. The PTSD trauma stain will spread to effect whatever it can. This is one of the reasons why most other people do not understand what we go through. They think only one dimensionally, that is they believe that trauma effects only connect to specific events. But, PTSD attacks are three dimensional (it takes those goofy glasses to see it all). One has to be able to see not only physical dimensions but also spiritual. And, PTSD also effects our relationships with God, Self, Communities, and the Creation.
The trauma can effect more than just what it seems to directly connect to. That is why we have secondary PTSD triggers as well as primary triggers.
What Can We Do To Heal from PTSD?
What can you do? Seek medical advice, i.e., a therapist. While PTSD affects our souls and relationships, it also damages us medically. Thus, in many cases, one needs not only spiritual care, but also medical care (This is because Faith and Reason are not in opposition).
But, since PTSD is also a wound to our soul, we will need to seek spiritual growth and authentic love. This is a lifetime plan; it does not happen in a weekend or in a few easy steps. PTSD healing is a journey back to God.
A Laundry List of PTSD Healing Techniques
Start Writing: You don’t have to share it with anyone. But it will help.
Start Talking: Find someone you can trust and talk about it. They have to be able to hear the same story over and over and be able to listen and not judge or interrupt. Sometimes only a good therapist can do that. Anyone can interupt me (they often do!), it is a gift to be able to listen attentively.
Seek God: If you have a faith community, start attending. You can write and talk to God. This can be done formallly (church service) or informally by taking a walk and telling God what is on your mind, or writing about an important issue in your journal.
Get Creative: Find, or start fresh, some creative outlet. Creation is life and it helps heal PTSD. Drawing, singing, painting, writing, etc. Some folks say they don’t know how so they never start to be creative. Then it is a great opportunity to discover where talents lie that are now very rough but that can be nurtured. Art is life.
Compassion: While this is a hard one it is necessary: Try to understand people the way you would like to be understood. Tolerate as you would like to be tolerated. This often takes a lifetime, but we can choose to become more compassionate.
Forgiveness: If you cannot forgive, ask God that you will one day have the grace to forgive. PTSD thrives on hate and will try to keep us from forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean we suddenly trust someone, it means we will no longer be controlled by hatred. Forgiveness does not means we say it is okay that these bad things have occurred. It means we want to heal from their effects.
I, myself, still need to improve in many of these areas.
Re-entry to Society a Spooonful At A Time
If possible get out and into society for a little bit and at a steady pace. Instead of a full time job, maybe start with a part time job or volunteer. If that is too much at present, then make a schedule to go for a walk in the park or work out at the gym or take a painting class or go to church services (there I am plugging religion again. It can help or harm. Yikes!)
You may find it desirable to get a part-time job or do some volunteer work. Getting out of the house is vital. Succeeding at something like a job or volunteer activity helps to defeat PTSD. We don’t swallow our dinner whole. We need to take bites that we can chew, enjoy, and then swallow. If PTSD has damaged our confidence and made it hard to go outside, then we don’t start with being a circus performer in front of large crowds. We start smaller, taking steady, manageable bites that nourish us.
Success in these things helps to soak up the PTSD stain. It allows us to heal and move on. Finding or creating community can help heal our PTSD.
Knowledge is Power and Leads to PTSD Healing
That all said, you are doing the most important thing. You acknowledge this is an issue and you are seeking ways to understand it and heal from the trauma.
The more you learn about PTSD and how it affects you, then the more you know you will have good days and bad days. You will learn that a bad day is not necessarily the new normal and life will be horrible from here on out. Rather, it was just a bad day and we can move on.
PTSD usually does not actively harm me on a day to day basis anymore. But I still try to be smart about it. I know some things will trigger my PTSD, I control my exposure to them. I know occasionally PTSD will really bother me, but it is not the end of my world. As long as I am committed to healing, I know that even a bad PTSD day is only temporary.
PTSD damages us the most when we have no idea we are being attacked by it. If you found this site and you are asking questions, then you have decided to take charge. That is good. It won’t make PTSD all go away in a weekend, but the journey of healing is a long one and you now are getting a better understanding of what you are healing from.
Semper Pax, Dr.Z