People with PTSD can have successful relationships, even with other people who have PTSD. Yet, PTSD adds extra challenges to our relationships. One of these additional challenges is intensity. When PTSD endeavors to change our identity it attempts to turn the intensity dial to one extreme or another. PTSD makes us intense, sometimes too intense.
PTSD makes us intense. It tends to make us respond in extremes. Either something does not matter to us, or something is extremely important to us. Something important may be allowed to wallow and an important deadline or opportunity is missed. Or, something that may not be all that important is suddenly treated as a life or death matter.
Having survived trauma, and trying to survive society’s “get over it” attitude towards our wounds, we are rendered much more intense than the average national park bear. We realize the life or death tensions that lurk beneath everything.
This realization sets us on edge. It make us intense and this means it is hard for us to mellow out, to relax, to try and take it easy for a little while. Conversely, it can also make it difficult for us to get excited about some things, or even pay attention to situations which require our care.
This intensity (or lack thereof) can make relationships awful challenging. But it does not make a successful relationship impossible to have.
Trauma survivors do not choose to be this intense. But, we must learn to understand and manage this intensity.
Don’t Let PTSD Intensity Isolate You
If we see someone we care about engaged in one of these extremes, it is a sign to let us know they are probably having a tough time, perhaps more affected by stress and triggers than usual.
In terms of relationship survival it is important to realize that these moments or episodes of intensity are not meant as an attack upon our partner or spouse.
It is always hard to not take things personally.
PTSD wants us to take it all personally and cut off our relationships. If we cut off our relationships it is then easier for PTSD to drag us into self-harm and suicide.
Taking Charge of Our Intensity
Two ways we can manage our intensity is through creative expression and physical activity.
Physical exercise channels the unfocused energy that is produced by PTSD-induced intensity into something healthy. It can even reduce our levels of anger.
If our extreme is in the other direction, the extreme of doing nothing at all, then physical exercise literally pulls us up from the doldrums and off the sofa. Our bodies and minds will be more willing and able to engage in some other activity after we have gotten out of PTSD-doldrums.
The same also applies to the creative arts. Regular readers know I am a major advocate for art as a means to heal from PTSD. Art, in any of its manifestations, brings us back to life. It can resuscitate us from being asphyxiated by PTSD-induced extremes.
Art heals wounded souls.
When we are active and creative in these ways it acknowledges the value of our lives, our inherent dignity. It means we have value. PTSD hates it when we figure this out.
Crafting a Worthwhile Life
PTSD tries to whipsaw us between deep lethargy and hyper-intensity. We can take our lives back when understand what it is we are going through and use that energy to acknowledge the value of our life.
Understanding that intensity is a feature of PTSD reduces the feeling of helplessness and bewilderment, of being under invisible attack.
We know it’s there. We know there are things we can do to prevent it from ruining us and our relationships.
Crafting a worthwhile life, in spite of PTSD’s attempts to erase our identity, has its challenges. But it is a journey worth taking.
It is a journey where we risk discovering more about who we are, who other people really are, and that healthy relationships, while not guaranteed, are possible.
PTSD-induced intensity does not have to control you or ruin you.
You Have Value!
Semper Pax, Dr. Z