My partner has CPTSD – five quotes that help me make sense of it

Making sense of complex post traumatic stress disorder is hard. As a partner to a person with CPTSD, I struggle. Some things just don’t make sense.

When I discover a clear quote that summarizes a key component of CPTSD, it’s like finding a gem. It’s an a-ha moment and I can feel my anxiety drop. (I frequently share these on social media and links are posted below.)

Today, I’m sharing five favorite quotes that help me make sense of my partner’s CPTSD. I’ll also share the reasons why because I hope these words might help you too.

Quote One: Trust

A core dilemma of C-PTSD is that your longing for a relationship is in direct opposition to memories that tell you relationships aren’t safe.

Arielle Schwartz, PhD.  The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control & Becoming Whole

Why this quote helps:

The lived experience of this statement is challenging for partners, supporters, and survivors. As much as supporters try to offer love, care, and safety, when the brain and body signals danger, our attempts may not break through. It is a big reason partners need support during difficult times and why survivors benefit when trauma therapy includes neurobiology.

Quote Two: Developmental Trauma

With developmental trauma, the table was not properly levelled or was built without much attention or craftsmanship, and therefore everything resting on the table is unlikely to have the support it needs.

Kathy L. Kain and Stephen J. Terrell. Nurturing Resilience: Helping Clients Move Forward from Developmental Trauma

Why this quote helps:

This quote speaks to the challenges many survivors face in simply engaging in tasks of daily living. Life is much more difficult when your biology, neurology, and psychology did not develop as intended. These words are a needed reminder to practice compassion to loved ones and to ourselves.

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Quote Three: Danger

When the alarm bell of the emotional brain keeps signaling that you are in danger, no amount of insight will silence it.

Bessel van der Kolk, MD. The Body Keeps the Score

Why this quote helps:

This quote explains why talking, reassurance, pointing out the positive and other cognitive-based strategies will not work when the amygdala and related brain structure are firing. Of course, when language is a main tool of communication, the alarm bell of the brain clanging creates challenges for relationships. This quote can also guide you when seeking clinical treatment. As mentioned, it is important to inquire about treatment addressing the neurobiological aspects of trauma.

Quote Four: Shame

Early experiences of lack of belonging and acceptance can promote unhealthy shame experiences that can manifest as a sense of being essentially unworthy, unlovable, and bad.

Kathy L Kain and Stephen J Terrell. Nurturing Resilience

Why this quote helps:

There is much written on shame, but I think it is important for supporters to know about the type of shame of early life trauma. The shame of individuals who have C-PTSD is pervasive. It is not simply cognitive, it is a physiological response. Understanding this can help explain why shame may not respond to reassuring words or gestures.

Quote Five: Protection

Repeated trauma requires you to create a system of defenses that protects you. And these protections were so important. They saved your life. They protected your real self. 

Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD. Journey Through Trauma: A Trail Guide to the Five-Phase Cycle of Healing Repeated Trauma

Why this quote helps:

This quote explains another aspect of complex trauma encountered by loved ones: defense mechanisms. Like the term suggests, defenses are there to protect even when present circumstances don’t require it. Understanding this in the context of my partner’s past helps. Therapy that addresses and deconstructs these mechanisms safely is often needed.

Is making sense enough?

Making sense of a partner’s CPTSD is important. It explains symptoms, creates space for compassion, and offers language to communicate the issues. While it is not the complete answer, information and understanding go a long way in helping both people to navigate the challenges of CPTSD.