PTSD Spirituality: Expect Intensity in Relationships



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


  1. Hi Dr. Z, I don’t say much, but I do read everything. This hits home for me. Mine is with my mom right now. Thankfully she moved out several months ago, or I would have had to be put under sedation everyday.

    My anger and hostility grew worse with her under my roof. I had originally offered to have her live with me to help her. Physically she is a mess, she is 72. But after a year, I had to get her out fast, seriously fast .

    There were a few times when I heard the “get over it” from her and just wanted to physically get violent with her. Every day it was something different. She wouldn’t stay out of my business and made it her business to let everyone know my business.

    Even though she is out of the house now, she was continually coming over almost daily and telling me what she was going to be doing etc. I lost it with her at the potluck in church a few weeks back and silently hissed at her to back off. She has.

    I better stop, cause I still get extremely angry over it all.

    Anyhow, I am actively getting help at the VA Vet Center and from my Pastor, as well as picking my crafts back up again and just got a shelter dog about a week ago, due to heat extremes, we have walked only for a couple days, but we are walking 🙂

    Some days are rougher than others.

    Your words encourage me. 🙂 Thank you!

    • Hi nclv2010,
      I am grateful you were able to read and leave me this kind message, It means a lot to me.
      You’ve gone “above and beyond” with your mother and it is good you set some boundaries … that helps everyone. While we are called to compassion, we are not called to give up our dignity nor privacy. We may be wounded, we may have PTSD, but we are human beings who have value and we are not door mats.
      Excellent news on getting VA and pastoral assistance. It is also great news that you are re-engaging with your crafts. I probably sound like a broken record, but, creating with art and craft is a lifesaver and helps to heal our souls.
      Some days are indeed rougher, and then again, some days are better than others … thank goodness for those better days!
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

    • So happy you got a rescue dog. Literally a dog was what the doctor ordered for me. She is an integral part of watching over me, but also making me laugh. Hope things improve more for you very soon. 🙂

  2. Dr. Z, your blog was heaven sent today. I’ve been faced with many challenges lately on my mental health providers not understanding or criticizing behaviors symptomatic with the PTSD, specifically anger and outbursts, So when I read your blog, I felt relief that someone understands. In fact, I teared up in relief.

    I have ECT tomorrow and made arrangements to speak with the psychiatrist before. Thankfully he was a lieutenant commander in the Navy so he’s been more exposed to people with PTSD.

    Anyway, thank you for the relief. I’m going to print it out and give to Art.

    Finally, how laid back is that bear! Just sits there and lets the fish come to him. 🙂

    • Hi Harry!
      Always a joy to hear from you.
      I keep you and your ECT in prayer. I don’t know much about it, but hope it works well for you.
      And, those Bears! They are just amazing! They get better service than a 4 Star restaurant.
      Semper Pax, Dr. Z

      • I’ve started checking those bears out regularly now! ECT went great. Helps a lot with the depression and hopelessness. Had a very pleasant talk with the psychiatrist who administers it, telling him I had not been doing as well. Sometimes a validating acknowledgment of the difficulty with PTSD was much welcome from him. I even spoke of your blog and how it helps!

    • I hope all went well Harry 🙂

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