What are Post-Divorce Trauma and PTSD?

 What are Post-Divorce Trauma and PTSD?

What are Post-Divorce Trauma and PTSD_ichhori.webp

Losing a significant relationship can be one of life’s most difficult challenges. Divorce or separation, in particular, increases one's chances of experiencing distressing psychological symptoms. According to some research, it may also be a risk factor for suicide conduct.

According to the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS), which assesses the association between life events, stress, and susceptibility to illness, divorce is one of the most severe life stressors.2 The loss of a loved one ranks first on the list. Given these figures, some people ask if the trauma of divorce can result in a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Defining PTSD

PTSD, formerly known as "war stress reaction" or "battle fatigue," was officially recognised as a mental health disease in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1980. (DSM-all). It was thought to be a frequent condition among military veterans. We now know that one does not have to be a combat veteran to acquire PTSD or have PTSD-related symptoms.

The American Psychiatric Association's most recent edition of the DSM (the DSM-V) classifies PTSD as a "trauma and stressor-related illness" caused by "exposure to actual or threatened death, major injury, or sexual violence."

This could involve directly experiencing, witnessing, or learning about a tragic occurrence that happened to a close family member or acquaintance. In addition, the following criteria must be met:

  • Arousal and reactivity changes that began or exacerbated after the trauma (for example, risky or destructive behaviour, hypervigilance, and a heightened startle reaction)

  • Intrusion symptoms include recurring traumatic recollections, nightmares, or flashbacks.

  • Avoiding feelings or external reminders through avoidance techniques.

  • At least two unfavourable cognitive and emotional changes that began or exacerbated after the trauma (such as inability to recall key features of the trauma, overly negative thoughts and assumptions about oneself or the world, exaggerated blame of self or others for causing the trauma, negative affect, decreased interest in activities, feeling isolated, and difficulty experiencing positive affect)

  • Symptoms may appear soon after the occurrence, or they may not appear until at least six months after the trauma (specified as delayed onset)

  • Symptoms that persist longer than a month

  • Distress or limitation in function (social, occupational)

  • Symptoms not caused by medication, substance abuse, or another sickness.

  • Dissociative symptoms such as depersonalization (the feeling of being detached from oneself) or derealization may occur in some circumstances (a feeling of unreality)

PTSD and Divorce

A formal PTSD diagnosis, according to the National Health Service (NHS), does not usually apply to situations such as "divorce, job loss, or failing exams."

"A PTSD diagnosis involves something life-threatening or a threat to bodily integrity," says Sheela Raja, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and author of "Overcoming Trauma and PTSD." However, there are some similarities in symptoms.

Several studies have indicated that after a relationship ends, many people exhibit symptoms comparable to those seen in those who have endured extremely stressful events.

This means that in some situations, persons who have gone through a divorce may have symptoms similar to those who have gone through military combat, natural catastrophes, rape, or other life-threatening occurrences.

Post-Dissolution PTSD

The re-experiencing of symptoms, such as intrusive thoughts or dreams concerning the dissolution and avoidance behaviours, is defined by what some researchers refer to as "post-dissolution PTSS" (post-traumatic stress symptoms).

Other post-traumatic stress symptoms that may occur during a divorce or separation include:

  • Excessive negativity about oneself or the Excessive world self-blame or blaming of others

  • Reduced enthusiasm for activities

  • Feeling lonely

  • Aggression or irritability

  • Paranoia

  • Dangerous or damaging activity

  • Concentration problems

  • Sleeping problems.

Toni Coleman, a psychotherapist, claims that "If a person goes through an ugly, drawn-out, expensive, time-consuming, and lifestyle-altering divorce...it might result in persistent anxiety symptoms that lead to PTSD. These symptoms are the result of the divorce trauma being embedded in the person’s subconscious mind and then experienced as recurrent fears and bad memories."

In other words, someone who has gone through a divorce may have "symptoms of the disease." Coleman goes on to add that these sensations can manifest as "flashbacks." This might make it difficult for a person to move on for obvious reasons.


Certain risk factors appear to make some persons more prone to develop PTSD during a divorce or separation, such as intimate partner abuse or exposure tsignificantajor threat of injury or death. This level of trauma does not fulfil the severity threshold for PTSD diagnosis.

A history of trauma is another risk factor for developing PTSD after divorce. "The breakdown of a relationship can lead to increased symptoms of post-traumatic stress and psychological well-being in those with PTSD from past trauma," explains psychiatrist Dr Susan Edelman.

 A Word From Ichhori 

While the loss of a relationship may not match the trauma criteria for a PTSD diagnosis as specified by the DSM, the consequences can be equally devastating. It is critical to have a strong social support network. Reaching out to family and friends, joining a support group or seeing a therapist, and learning effective coping methods are all ways to help lessen the distressing symptoms of post-divorce trauma and lead to a path of recovery and healing.

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