I’m guessing that there is not one person reading this who can say they have never had their heart broken. Even if it was just that childhood crush, we’ve all been there before, and some of us more than others.
Heartbreak can take a toll on our mental, emotional, and even physical health, depending on the circumstances. However, there is a difference between your “run of the mill” break up with a partner who was incompatible but not abusive, and a breakup with a narcissistic or toxic partner. This is not your normal breakup, and you will likely not have a typical recovery if you were in a toxic relationship.
In a “normal” breakup with a partner who was not abusive, you may feel sadness, loneliness, and grief over the loss. You may even feel angry and bitter. The length of time may vary depending on how long you were in the relationship and the circumstances of your breakup, among other things. You may even feel like you can’t eat or sleep, or are eating or sleeping more than normal. You may ruminate about happy memories. However, over time, these feelings will pass and you will move on from the breakup. This is normal!
However, if you have been with a toxic or abusive partner, your breakup may be entirely different. According to the Association for NPD/Psychopathy Survivor Treatment, Research & Education, up to 90% of people who have been in a “pathological love relationship” (meaning an intimate relationship with a partner who has a personality disorder such as narcissistic or antisocial) will have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is astonishingly high, but not surprising when you consider the psychological, emotional, and other types of abuse that a narcissist or sociopath can inflict upon their partners.
If you believe or know that you were in a relationship with a partner like this, and you are struggling to heal and recover, this could be why. What is important to note is that PTSD may look very different in a survivor of a pathological love relationship. This may make it difficult for you to realize that you are experiencing trauma. Even most therapists are unaware of this different presentation of PTSD in a survivor of these toxic relationships.
The problem is that victims have highly positive memories with a partner that occurred early in the relationship or during times of “love bombing.” These memories are mixed with traumatic experiences, causing confusion for the survivor, and they may vacillate between the positive and negative memories.
Common symptoms of PTSD in someone who has experienced a pathological love relationship include:
- Flashbacks of traumatic events OR flashbacks of positive, loving memories that occurred as part of the love bombing
- Constantly thinking about negative experiences OR constantly thinking about the positive experiences
- Avoiding people, places, or things that remind you of your partner
- Difficulty remembering traumatic events OR holding on to positive memories that occurred when being love bombed
- Avoid discussing what happened in the relationship OR constantly seeking validation or replaying events with others in an attempt to understand the crazy-making behavior.
- Nightmares of traumatic events OR “dreams” of the positive memories
If you believe you were in a pathological love relationship (or still are), and any of these symptoms resonate with you, it is important to seek help to heal from the trauma. Ideally, working with an experienced therapist who understands these types of relationships is the best course of action. If you can’t find someone who understands these relationships, a therapist who works with trauma is the next best thing. Either way, it is crucial to find help so that you can heal.
Many of us have been in the very position that Chelli describes. It is so important to have this discussion in order to heal and be healthy. Thank you, Chelli!
Chelli is a Certified Integrative Medicine Mental Health Provider and can assist you in exploring health issues as part of your healing and recovery process.