A strong response by many was that they heard the trauma of their experience validated. They experience what trauma experts call Little T traumas… what I have previously called emotional abandonment in the context of relationships. To be in a relationship with your perceptions invalidated, compared to others, being intimated that who you are is not good enough, your feelings not listened to, and honesty and respect thrown out the window are just some of the many ways that partners are traumatized. Many quickly said they identified with symptoms characteristic of PTSD and yet felt guilty because, after all, as painful as their situation was, it was only a “relationship problem compared to something horrific such as an act of war.” Partners experience Intrusion: your mind can’t stop thinking about the problem. This can occur in the form of intrusive images, nightmares, or flashbacks; Avoidance: numbing, feeling detached; Arousal: feeling on guard; Easily startled and triggered by situations that remind them of the crisis; Lower functioning: not able to perform at usual level with work, relationships, or other major areas of life.
They identified with the typical symptoms found with those having PTSD: • Betrayal of trust: Fear of trusting the addict and self. • Psychic and physical pain and anguish: Range of emotions that at times feel out of control. Increased headaches, back, and neck aches, stomach problems. • Hypervigilance: Fear that the other shoe is going to drop. • Preoccupation: Obsessing about the addiction and worrying about whether to stay or leave the relationship. • Loss of safety and security: Sexual, financial, and emotional fears grow and/or increase.
So while Cara Tripodi (co-author) and I realize not all partners identify as strongly with the trauma responses as others, to know we have nonetheless brought a validation and a framework for those that do is affirming.