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Can divorce, separation or bereavement leave you with PTSD?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or “PTSD” can leave you with symptoms such as night terrors, flashbacks and debilitating anxiety and worries.

These thoughts and symptoms can seriously affect your everyday life. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to be in the military to be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

What is PTSD?

You have probably heard of PTSD being spoken about with regards to someone being involved in a car accident, terrorist attack or other violent event. The reason for the PTSD involves the shock of a sudden event. However, the condition can also be caused by long-term emotional experiences such as harrowing relationships, divorce, separation and the loss of a loved one.

PTSD can develop immediately after someone experiences a disturbing event, or it can occur weeks, months or even years later. PTSD is estimated to affect about 1 in every 3 people who have a traumatic experience, but it’s not clear exactly why some people develop the condition and others do not – NHS

Other symptoms

It’s not only PTSD which can develop through divorce, think about how you feel when you receive a letter from the court or if your ex texts you. You can find yourself experiencing overwhelming anxiety as your stress levels surge. You might be so afraid that you are actually physically unable to open the letter. For many, their stomach starts to churn and their breath starts to quicken. Others actually enter into a full and terrifying panic attack.

The defining characteristic of a traumatic event is its capacity to provoke fear, helplessness, or horror in response to the threat of injury or death.

How is divorce a trauma?

So let’s think about the above quote from PTSDUK. If you are dealing with an ex who is reluctant to play fairly, that is extremely traumatic. You are literally fighting for your life and existence. If your ex just isn’t listening to you, maybe they have a borderline personality disorder or a narcissist. Dealing with someone like this will affect your health.

You may know that your spouse is hiding assets and it’s even more horrifying when you feel that the family court is not listening. If you know that your ex is lying in court you can feel completely helpless when it seems that the system seems to be working in your spouses favour. You are fighting for somewhere to live, for your children and for your future. It is any wonder that your mental health is taking a knock?

Find out more about the process of separation and divorce

How can PTSD come from bereavement?

The same can be said for bereavement especially if your loved one has been ill for a long time. It is very challenging to see someone you love, in pain and slipping away from you. If their affairs are not in order a lot of trauma can come from dealing with matters with other family members. It can all become “legal” and very much like a divorce. You could find yourself falling-out with siblings over a deceased parents financial affairs. It’s all trauma. Again, you can find yourself dealing with family members who show narcissistic traits.

PTSD can be caused by bereavement in a small percentage of the population.  Unlike the expected grief symptoms following the sudden death of a loved one, PTSD has much more profoundly life altering symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks and intrusive thoughts in conscious waking hours, to name a few.

The World Health Organisation found there was a small risk, about 5%, of bereaved people developing PTSD after learning of the sudden death of a loved one.  Early interventions, such as grief counselling, coaching, CBT or talking therapies, are beneficial to those who have experienced the unexpected death of a loved one.  

Talking about PTSD, as we do all ‘health issues’, helps normalise it, ends stigma and helps people recover sooner.  Shame and fear isolate us, communication and connection help us heal and live more fully.

Patrick Hill – Grief, Loss & Life Coach
Are you dealing with post traumatic stress disorder due to divorce or grief bereavement separation

These feelings can literally turn your plans for the day upside down as your mind turns to your ex, the divorce or separation or the person you have lost. You can feel angry with the person who has died because they, for example didn’t have a Will. you may start to blame them for the mess and feel guilty for your thoughts. You can think of nothing else and before you know it, an entire day has been wasted.

Are you adrift and drowning in divorce depression

Your relationship with others

It can affect your relationships with your children and those closest to you as you find yourself becoming snappy. It could be that your children want some attention but your mind is so overwhelmed with replying to a court letter. You feel agitated that the kids want some of your time when you have to deal with what seems like the most important thing in the world. You’re in survival mode and having guilty thoughts because you know that you need to spend time with the children, but you also need to sort out this pressing matter. You are basically arguing with yourself.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder been around for thousand of years, but rather confusingly under many different names.

Previous terms for what we now call PTSD have included ‘shell shock’ during WWI, ‘war neurosis’ during WWII; and ‘combat stress reaction’ during the Vietnam War. 

It was in the 1980s that the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was introduced – the term we most commonly use today.

The first documented case of psychological distress was reported in 1900 BCE, by an Egyptian physician who described a hysterical reaction to trauma.

The shock factor

Divorce can lead to feelings such as a complete loss of trust in people and the system. Symptoms of PTSD may not surface until months or even years after the divorce has been finalised. The reason for this could be that when it’s all over, your body relaxes and is no longer in “fight” mode. Divorce can be psychologically traumatic because of the shock waves it causes.

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It doesn’t matter whether you instigated the divorce or not, the ripples run deep. Getting a divorce is much like a bomb going off. The whole world as you knew it changes, as you may find that you are no longer living with your children, are moving house, finding out that your friends have abandoned you and feel worried about how your family are reacting to the news. You may also be left with the emotional damage created from being in an abusive relationship. You will need to heal.

People who repeatedly experience traumatic situations, such as severe neglect, abuse or violence, may be diagnosed with complex PTSD.


Where to get help

It is crucial to reach out to a professional if you experience any symptoms such as depression, anxiety or intrusive or unwanted thoughts, even years on. A therapist can start the healing process with you and you will learn coping skills to improve your quality of life.

Clients often need therapeutic support while going through divorce. Perhaps surprisingly, one of the most common diagnosis is PTSD which can be very difficult to recover from.

Zoe Bloom – Family Solicitor – Keystone Law

The divorce or separation cannot define you. It might be part of your history and life experience but it must not become who you are. The first step you will make will be to recognise that your feelings are alien and to seek help. A grief coach can help you to recover from your loss and to move forward into a new chapter of your life.

You should speak to your GP or medical professional. You can also reach out to Divorce Coaches and Grief Coaches in The Hug Directory.

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Written by The Group Hug


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