Trauma can affect how the brain works, how we deal with future stressors, and how we navigate our relationships with others.

Someone who has experienced trauma might find it difficult to find and stay in fulfilling romantic relationships or they could feel unsatisfied with their current relationship but can’t pinpoint exactly why – and complex trauma could be to blame.

What is complex trauma?

Unlike typical Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is the result of a single traumatic event and is often associated with soldiers and those escaping war zones, complex PTSD (c-PTSD) is the result of multiple traumatic events over a long period of time.

These events usually occur in childhood or adolescence and can include witnessing the illness or death of a caregiver, abuse, neglect, or exposure to violent or chaotic situations.

What does c-PTSD look like?

Although it is a fairly new term, complex PTSD shares some symptoms with typical PTSD, with some additional symptoms.

According to UK mental health organisation Mind, these symptoms can include:

  • Constantly feeling empty or hopeless
  • Difficulty regulating emotions
  • Experiencing dissociative symptoms
  • Headaches, dizziness, stomach aches, and other physical symptoms

Those with complex PTSD may also find friendships and relationships very difficult, or try to avoid them altogether.

Dr Andrea Brandt, a marriage and family therapist of 35 years with a PhD in clinical psychology, shares five signs c-PTSD could be affecting your relationship.

Image: Getty Images

1. You worry your partners are going to leave you

Experiencing constant feelings of insecurity in your relationship is common for people with c-PTSD.

A constant fear your partner will leave may be the result of multiple major upheavals in childhood or having caregivers who would be very loving and attentive sometimes, and unavailable or aloof at other times, according to Dr Brandt.

2. Acting “clingy” or “needy”

Have you ever been described by a partner as “needy” or “clingy”? It may be due to complex PTSD.

Dr Brandt points to feelings of abandonment as the culprit, as these feelings cause you to cling to your partner, which can drive your partner away and fulfill your fear of being abandoned.

3. You are hypersensitive or hypervigilant

If you feel hypersensitive to slights despite being in a stable relationship with a loving partner, or you feel hypervigilant towards any signs of trouble, that may indicate that you have c-PTSD.

Dr Brandt says that if you feel anxious or on edge most of the time while in relationships and this occurs across multiple relationships, seeking treatment for complex trauma is a good idea.

4. You find trusting romantic partners hard

According to Dr Brandt, experiencing abuse or neglect or living in a chaotic environment while growing up can make it hard for you to trust romantic partners as an adult, especially if your caregiver was a source of trauma.

This may result in the development of an anxious-avoidant attachment style, meaning that you crave closeness with others but push it away when it happens.

5. Saying yes to sex when you don’t want it

Finding yourself agreeing to or initiating sex even when you don’t feel like it? Dr Brandt says this could be because you’re craving feelings of closeness or because sex helps to dull other negative emotions.

If you then pull away once physical intimacy is achieved, potentially ending a relationship before it’s truly begun and moving on to another partner, this is a sign of an anxious-avoidant attachment style resulting from complex trauma.

What you can do about it

These are only some of the ways complex trauma can affect your relationships, but Dr Brandt stresses that those with complex PTSD can still experience happy, healthy relationships.

If you identify with any of these or other signs, she first suggests recognising that these issues aren’t the fault of your partner or current situation. Instead, they are the result of events that have occurred years or decades earlier.

Acknowledging your trauma and processing it with a licensed professional can help you start to heal and embark on the journey to healthier and happier relationships.

Image: Getty Images

This article first appeared on Over60.