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How does trauma affect my social relationships?

Trauma can impact your relationships and social life in multiple ways. 

It can affect how you think about yourself and your social relationships. For example: 

  • How you think about yourself, your body, or your value (e.g., negative self-image)
  • How deserving you feel of love, affection, or praise from others
  • How much you feel you can trust and rely on yourself or others
  • Your beliefs about how safe or fair the world is
  • How you understand the thoughts and feelings of other people 
  • Your ability to concentrate during interactions with others or resolve conflict

Experiencing trauma can also impact how you feel in social relationships or situations. For example:

  • You’re easily startled and hypervigilant (e.g., always on edge or worried that something bad will happen)
  • It’s difficult for you to unwind or feel relaxed
  • A loss of interest in the people, places, or activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling emotionally numb (e.g., feeling empty or hollow)
  • Finding it difficult to experience sympathy or empathy for other people, even your closest loved ones
  • Becoming easily irritated or impatient even when you were once able to (or think you “should” be able to) tolerate something

Finally, experiencing trauma can lead to acting differently in ways that can affect social relationships influenced by the symptoms above. For example, you might be more likely to:

  • Have difficulty sleeping, which can lead to excessive tiredness and fatigue
  • Have angry outbursts or a “short fuse” with those closest to you
  • Withdraw socially and isolate yourself
  • Avoid certain people or places that you used to spend time around
  • Experience increased conflict or fighting with those closest to you
  • Engage in other (potentially unhelpful) coping strategies (e.g., self-harm, substance use)

When people who have experienced trauma develop one or a combination of these symptoms, it can lead to a vicious cycle of:

  1. Increased irritability or discomfort around others
  2. Withdrawing, pushing others away, or even noticing others pull away from you
  3. Feeling disconnected, abandoned, and/or unworthy, which may in turn increase irritability or discomfort around others