Dating with PTSD

Dear Elana,

Do you have advice for guys who want to find love when they have PTSD due to a history of child abuse, sexual abuse or bullying? I’m talking about guys specifically because it seems that guys have to be confident and seductive, yet abuse hinders that confidence.

– Concealing Overly Personal Emotions

Dear COPE,

First of all, I want you to know that you are not alone. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), about 8 percent of the U.S. population will have post-traumatic stress disorder at some point in their lives. I want to reassure you that you can still find love. In fact, support and connection are two of the best defenses against the isolation and self-doubt that often accompany trauma.

After a trauma, your nervous system is on heightened alert and needs reassurance that it’s safe to ease into an evening of candlelight, scotch and innuendo. Practice mindfulness to increase your awareness of the present moment. Focus on the colors, scents and textures in the room. Notice the necklace your date is wearing, the way she holds her hands and the sound of her laugh.

One of the hardest things about dating after a traumatic event is not being able to fully trust your instincts. You might feel jumpy and insecure despite your date’s positive feedback. Remember that your gut reactions might be based on past experiences instead of the emerging relationship. Try to evaluate your feelings about the woman sitting across from you based on her words and actions – not the hurtful actions of other people from your past. 

As your relationship develops, you can start to open up about your symptoms. One of my clients had vivid nightmares that woke him in a cold sweat. When his girlfriend slept beside him, she would reassure him and help him fall back to sleep. After many exhausting nights, they were both able to sleep peacefully.

Your life experiences shape who you are, and your exposure to trauma may have allowed you to develop greater empathy, gratitude and courage. The right woman will admire your strength and honesty.