PTSD and OTRD are Common, But Not Mandatory

A few days ago, I found an interesting article in New York Times about a veteran without Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. She believed something was wrong with her, as she’s been through multiple traumatic events (deployed to combat zones twice and losing her husband in an avalanche in Colorado) and yet, she wasn’t suffering from PTSD.

Many people wrongly assume that PTSD is inevitable for anyone exposed to trauma or that having PTSD would validate military experience. In reality, only 8% of American citizens have PTSD, while in veterans the percentage is a bit higher (11% – 20%).

The author of this article had taken part in a study regarding a potential treatment for PTSD. The fact that researchers are studying healthy people without PTSD, but who were traumatized is amazing. It certainly makes more sense than only studying those with PTSD. You are more likely to find successful treatment this way.

While different, there are a few similarities between PTSD and Ongoing Traumatic Relationship Disorder (OTRD).

PTSD or OTRD are not inevitable for anyone exposed to trauma. From my years of experience, there are a number of factors which help avoid them, such as absence of childhood trauma and having a close circle of family and friends.

Ongoing Traumatic Relationship Disorder (OTRD)

I am happy to be part of our MeetUp group, “Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD”, because one way our group survives and copes with OTRD, is BY offering  community and open discussions about the stress of this lifestyle. There are many members of my group who do not suffer OTRD and who have found ways to maintain a healthy life and distance themselves from the stress.

I wrote an article about surviving unremitting grief. There is the grief over the lost dream of a relationship with an emphatic partner. There is the grief from chronic verbal abuse. There is the grief of raising your children in the chaos of the relationship. There is the grief of never being able to have a voice in your life.

If you want to work 1-1 with a therapist and you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment. You can also go to my website to schedule through the online calendar. Online therapy is also available, if that works best for your busy schedule.

27 Replies to “PTSD and OTRD are Common, But Not Mandatory”

  1. Most trauma therapists believe a client with a PTSD cannot heal while yet remaining in contact with his or her abuser. Separation from the abuse and abuser is key to therapeutic success.

    Questions:

    1. Why in the world would anyone CHOOSE to remain in relationship with an Aspie if he or she is traumatized by the relationship? Such a choice appears highly reminiscent of female domestic violence victims who choose to remain with their severely abusive husbands.

    2. Why would a therapist actively support the decision of a PTSD or OTRD client to remain with an abusive Aspie? Would not such support preclude healing?

    1. Healing from trauma at the hands of an abusive partner is never easy. The scars can last a lifetime. One of the reasons I wrote my latest book, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS: How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you,” is to tackle these tough issues. Personally I didn’t stay with my abusive partner, but it was not so easy to leave an abusive child. Then there are other mitigating factors. With “Aspies” those mitigating factors may be that even though they lack empathy, they don’t always lack heart or motivation to change. Good trauma therapists may separate a couple and help them establish strong boundaries, but they may still work on reconciliation if possible. Healing from my own trauma, has taken many years . . . and many books to write.

      1. Hi Kathy, A few years ago I joined your online group, at a time I was becoming aware that my spouse may have Aspergers. Soon after that he was diagnosed by a professional. My spouse is an Aspie who has a wonderful heart and is motivated to do the best he can in order for us to have a meaningful and kind relationship. What saved me was gaining knowledge from your website, group discussions, and books. I became aware of and applied realistic expectations. As I have become more proactive with setting boundaries along with being more proactive in my desires and goals, I have found happiness and fulfillment in my life and in our relationship. My sense of humor has returned, I make certain that my voice is heard through texting and emailing him. I use to become frustrated when I wanted to verbally be heard. I hold myself accountable for my triggers. While I am working through a trigger, I text him informing him that I am working out a trigger and ask him to give me time to do so. Sometimes I inform him regarding the cause of the trigger and other times it isn’t necessary. By holding myself accountable for me and not taking things personally we are able to relax and progress as a couple. Thank you for all of you wisdom, knowledge, and willingness to share. It has made ALL the difference in the world for us. Again, thank you.

        1. Wonderful to hear from you Susan. It certainly sounds like you have found a way to take back your life, and keep the love alive. Congratualtions, and I am very happy that I had a small part in the healthy changes.

        2. I was in a relationship with someone who self-diagnosed and I strongly agreed is on the autism spectrum. We broke up and I did so because I had to save my sanity. But she has a good heart and i did not see self-serving malicious behaviors. But nevertheless it got quite abusivo in nature. I think that the problem came in that I failed to establish proper boundaries and she failed to own her condition or the behavior it caused. I feel she is a great person. I wish her the best in this life. Pilgrim.

          1. As you note it is very difficult to resolve problems when the ASD person will not seek help. If the NT does all of the work, you just become codependent. I am sorry for your loss.

    2. There are many reasons why a wife will stay in an abusive relationship with an aspie. I can only speak from my own experience. I have been married to an aspie for 36 years. Believe me it was never an easy road, and is still not. For me leaving him at this stage of my life I will only exhanged one problem for another, that is lacking financially. I have just too much to loose. Secondly should I leave, this man will be alone. He hasn’t got any friends, hardly ever going out and our children are all living abroad. My conscience doesn’t allow me to leave him, as after all he is not a bad man, and didn’t choose to be an aspie. I have developed coping mechanisms and is grateful that I still can go out and work. This is my survival. I am so grateful that I came across this website. It really helps me to understand him better and has taught me how to deal with the whole situation better.

    3. The impact of being in a relationship with an Aspergic person is not something to be understood but experienced, i.e. can only be ‘known’ in the biblical sense. That is why therapy will only help when working out what to do is with the help of someone like Kathy.

      The trauma is indirect rather than active and builds up over time with each increment in and of itself almost trivial so not deserving of walking away from the relationship. So it may be with an Aspie work colleague who is the problem and it is simply not feasible to leave employment to get away from the relationship. Or it may be that the Aspie is one’s sister-in-law invited into one’s home by her co-dependent younger sister, one’s wife, and to cut that relationship means divorcing one’s wife.

      1. Your comment is so true John, “. . .The trauma is indirect rather than active and builds up over time with each increment in and of itself almost trivial. . .”

  2. My husband is not an Aspie but still has many of the behaviors of one. I would like to know one or two pieces of advice for people in our shoes! What can I do on a daily basis to preserve my sanity?

    One thing I do is focus on my kids and enjoying moments with them. It helps to take my focus off my marriage I can’t “fix” no matter how hard I worked in it until I realized it was all wasted time and energy.

    1. If you believe your spouse has ASD traits, you may be noticing their lack of empathy or what I call Empathy Dysfunction (EmD). Regardless of the official diagnosis, people with EmD have difficulty reading between the lines. This can cause a lot of chaos for their loved ones. In order to preserve your sanity, learn more about empathy dysfunction. It helps a lot to know it’s not you.

  3. A better comparison than that of OTRD with PTSD would be OTRD with C-PTSD, i.e. Complex PTSD: Much more similar.

    As to the article referred to reference might be made to the information available at the FAAAS site where they quote: ‘ the consequences of traumatic stress are likely to be “more severe and longer lasting when the stressor is of human design [American Psychiatric Association (APA), 1987, p.247] and that people are more vulnerable to stresses of intimate relationships than those attributable to nature or accidents.”’ And the latter are the circumstances Melissa experienced.

    The recovery prospects with CPTSD and OTRD are referenced indirectly in Meilssa’s article wherein it speaks of positive environmental factors whereas in CPTSD and OTRD these factors are absent and the aforementioned aspects are present.

    Also figuring with CPTSD and OTSD is there are three layers to the psychological abuse whereby Aspie’s take advantage of one dropping one’s boundaries and allowing them into one’s physical and psychological space and they then treat one as an animate object to be manipulated as they see fit. The three layers are:

    (1) the inappropriate behaviors; and worse

    (2) the aggressive back-answering from the Aspie when one tries to indicate that the behaviors are inappropriate but worst of all

    (3) the gas-lighting one faces when one asks for help from others in trying to work out what the hell is going on – the ‘Cassandra Phenomenon’. If one asks for help from others who are also in some relationship with the Aspie then they can turn on you and scramble one’s brain in an attempt to blame the victim so as to not imperil the relationship they have with the Aspie. If one asks for help from someone outside the relationship then unless they ‘know’ OTRD from their own experience of it then they haven’t a clue, or worse only know about helping Aspies.

    The kernel of PTSD /CPTSD/ORTD is that they are not disorders but orderly responses to disorderly situations which leave one’s sense of psychological boundaries violated. The human brain evolved and thrived because it was able to reflect on stressful experiences, such as nearly being devoured by a leopard leaping down upon one from a tree, and (a) work out what the brain had done wrong then (b) test that answer in the field. Brains which did not do this were eaten the next time. Brains which mined the experience to learn the lesson survived and then let go of the experience, although not the memory of them, and move on.

    So too, I believe with CPTSD/OTRD the issue is that identifying what one has done wrong can be very difficult, as it is the Aspie which behaved inappropriately and is then impossible to test the tentative answer.

    Ultimately though the answer to the question of what one did wrong is that one trusted people to respect one’s opening themselves to the intimacy of a relationship when the Aspie was inherently untrustworthy to do so on account of their inherent inability to recognize the separate existence of a ‘significant other’. Other people are an extension of themselves or strangers.

    1. Good synopsis John. Many people don’t know this but PTSD or Complex PTSD result from what any normal, reasonable person would do given the circumstances. Thus someone may stay in an abusive situation, attempting to learn from their mistakes . . . when they made no mistake.

  4. I would like to join this group but I’m discouraged by what seems like the possibility of further trauma from it. It has been very traumatic for me in the past to belong to a group where the posts endlessly focused on depression, resignation and hopelessness. Although these are often part of my experience too, it did not help me to have these feelings exhaustingly reinforced by other’s experience. I was looking for practical help and to belong to a community that offers support for people like myself who refuse to live a life of regret and bitterness. Am I in the right place for this type of help? Thank you.

    1. It’s not easy to put yourself out there when you are suffering. As for me I started this group many years ago so that NTs wouldn’t have to be silent anymore. I think it’s the silence that kills.

  5. The 4Fs are discussed by Pete Walker in his book on CPTSD as typical responses to relationships whereby one partner abuses – conciously or not (as in the case of Aspies) – the trust the neurotypical partner assumes will be respected:

    The classic pair
    (1) fight
    (2) flight
    each a valid active response

    But also
    (3) freeze and
    (4) fawn – Stockholm Syndrome
    each a passive response and damaging responses over anything but the short term.

    I feel that CPTSD/OTRD flows from too great a reliance on (3) and (4) often times being encouraged to do so by third parties either known to both who have their own relationship with the Aspie they seek to protect or counsellors or therapists who are unfamiliar with OTRD and end up gaslighting the NT partner.

    One has to realise that one is alone in the situation and you must take action either fighting or taking flight. Either way the relationship needs be terminated ASAP.

    After that one can ‘move on’ and instead of ‘the movie’ replaying in the mind in color and surround sound the emotion dies down leaving the memory still there in the form of black & white silent movie.

    Ignore advice that one has to ‘forgive’ the Aspie. They will never apologise so such advice is yet more blame the victim gaslighting. The advice should be to ‘pardon’ the Aspie: Just as the State pardons a convicted criminal because it serves no good purpose to continue incarceration but does not quash the conviction so too it serves no good purpose to keep the emotion alive in oneself. This necessarily involves physical separation from the unrepentant Aspie as well as psychological

    1. I like the idea of a pardon. Another term for this is acceptance. Accepting the truth of the abuse frees you to move on and stop being a victim.

    2. Re forgiving an Aspie.

      I forgive my Aspie’s behavior to ease my mind. I do not do it for the sake of receiving an apology. How sincere of an apology can be expected from someone who doesnt understand his/her impact? Forgiveness or pardoning helps me cope. Whatever works!

  6. The idea of ‘pardon’ versus ‘forgiveness’ I found in a PhD dissertation on the topic wherein it looked into the symbiotoic relationship between apologizing and forgiveness, seeing them as Siamese twins each dependant on the other and meaningless without the other, in the context of reconciliation after the behavior of one party in a relationship is contrary to its spirit.

    In the Bible it speaks of forgiving as Christ did and Luke 17:3 onwards provides the script for restoring a relationship: (a) your brother offends you (b) you rebuke him (c) he repents and (d) you forgive.

    If the brother does not repent (i.e. apologize) then forgiveness is not appropriate. Indeed verbalizing that you ‘brother’ is forgiven may well rebound with the claim he did nothing wrong to be forgiven.

    Instead I like the words of Jesus on the Cross: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”. Jesus had pronounced forgiveness of sins directly in his ministry but in this situation he passed it to a higher authority. What works for me is to think of the process as one of pardoning, and then passing the task of forgiveness up the line to the one who created the person concerned, kind of saying “She / He is your problem not mine, you made her / him, not me”.

    1. Re Pardoning an Aspie (John)

      Oh I like your response John. Forgiving someone for not knowing what they have done is very fitting in my opinion. Since it was demonstrated by one of the most perfect examples of living well on earth, I think it will serve me well too.
      Linda.

      1. Re Apology and Forgiveness (John)
        Sorry, I posted without finishing my thought John. In paragraph 3 of your comments, you say that if the brother does not apologize, forgiveness is not appropriate. This sounds like a rule: in my opinion and experience, rules should be adapted to one’s own relationship. Generally a rule cannot apply to all relationships because of the specific differences inherent in their composition. I believe anything is appropriate that brings peace.

        I do not “forgive” my partner verbally since inevitably it would be challenged. This is not because of Aspergers. Any person surely would claim not to require forgiveness when feeling nothing wrong has taken place. I have learned to forgive in my heart which is where it works.

        1. For me Linda it is a grey area.

          Under the script given by Jesus in Luke’s gospel, forgiveness assumes one is looking to stay in the relationship, and the other party is too.

          The script assumes the other party has the capability to recognize the validity of objections to inappropriate behavior and indicates that they will at least attempt to modify the behavior in the future.

          For Aspie’s that is impossible so the script does not apply. However they generally do want to continue the relationship so the partner, if he/she wishes to continue with the relationship, has to assume the responsibility of actively managing the behaviors and nip any reccurrence in the bud, over and over with no end.

          If one is prepared to take on this responsibility then the word ‘forgiveness’ used in its pure sense could still be applicable for sure.

          I have had experience or close involvement with four Aspies and quite apart from the initial behaviors, which might have in a sense seemed trivial, was the effect of attempting to be pro-active in addressing the behaviors, i.e. the ‘fight’ response.

          Generally the response would be to not yield an inch of ground, even if the ground was in my psychological or indeed physical space: (1) aggressive back-answering or (2) the classic passive-aggressive self serving non-apology “I am sorry_but_I …” whereby they indicate in the future they will behave exactly the same as before.

          With the ‘flight’ response the relationship is ended so the process is a different one. I find using the same word, i.e. ‘forgiveness’, as in the STAY situation is confusing so do prefer an alternate word, ‘pardon’ being one which fits.

          Using ‘forgiveness’ when the process is different can be detrimental to people suffering the results of abuse but who receive counsel that they need to forgive to be relieved of their suffering. That can be a form of gas-lighting drifting into blaming the victim so adding to the trauma and leaving the person feeling worse and then feeling guilty for not having forgiven enough.

  7. For me, the concept of forgiveness does imply that both sides are working toward a win-win solution. With those who lack empathy, and who generally seek a win-lose solution (see Patricia Evans), there is no forgiveness possible. However, we can free ourselves from the bind of a never ending abusive argument by acceptance of what is. If you believe in God, or a higher power, the next step is surrender. Surrender means to render into something else. I’m not sure I feel free if I pardon someone for their destructive behavior. But I do feel free when I accept and surrender. Then it’s not about me and I have done the best I can. With surrender I am not offering the other person a pardon; instead I am turning it over to God, or Spirit or The Universe, to handle as they see fit. I am freeing my energy to put to better use than to fight with a narcicisst.

    In fact, I am dealing with a narcissist right now in my personal life. He sucked me into his world with offers of friendship and lovely gifts. However, one day when I didn’t agree with him on some small thing, he immediately melted down and began attacking me. It was stunning. Since he put it all in writing, I had proof which I found fascinating. Narcissists can be that bold, because they fully believe in their shallow web of lies. I can’t reach this man, but I can surrender. I suppose it is only a matter of words and if pardoning frees a person from the grip of a narcissist, then that is very good. As for me I will let God pardon him.

    1. Narcissists are like that.

      At least Aspies generally are “not a bad stick”, as the idiom goes in the UK, but narcissists are another matter.

      I was very friendly with one but he started to become controlling and domineering and when I displayed my independence the bullying started, even on Facebook.

      He asked to be friends and I ignored a very strong gut instinct to say no and he then started trolling my posts on my own wall. When I called him out on that he rebuffed my rebuke and then offered his forgiveness (without waiting for me to apologize for having called him out). When I called him out on that as well he unfriended me rather than finally apologizing.

      Interestingly his marriage, which we had wondered about, also collapsed a few months later. He had two daughters, both who sort of went off the rails, one ending up with depression still in her teens. My own daughter, a bit younger, and now a 2nd year intern at a major hospital was the first to realize what he was about and was not surprised that his daughter had mental problems.

      For years my attitude was if he called me up tomorrow I would say “Forget it, let’s go skiing this weekend.” I reached out a year ago offering him the opportunity but he was not interested so decided if he did happen to call, which he won’t, I would not take the call or I’d say “Right, Bye”, hardly even thinking of it as ‘pardoning’ him. Just not interested.

      PS.
      The writing would have been very instructive Kathy. It can be with Apies too. My wife had adventures with one, a demonstrator in the clinics she organized as part of the subjects she was teaching as part of an allied health degree. He started interfering with her role, telling the students she was teaching them inefficient techniques and cutting into her safety briefings, without asking. She came home in tears and described what had happened and I said “Aspergers” and how talking about it with him would be resisted. Sure enough he did and documented his response to their chat in a lengthy email to her, and the faculty. My wife spent a week rebutting his push-back, swearing and cussing the whole time. I had a look at it and it was written in terms of a 3rd person observing the chat, describing my wife as “the lecturer” and himself as “the tutor”.

      That feature resonated with how Aspies describe others, as extensions of themselves, referring to the relationship instead of the name, i.e. ‘Mother’, ‘Son’, ‘Brother’ or even when directly addressing the person themselves rather than by name. It is as though they cannot think of anyone as ‘2nd person singular’ but as a member of ‘1st person plural’, ‘2nd person plural’ or 3rd person.

      Seeing it in writing and being able to take a second look made it stand out.

  8. I appreciate the concept of “forgive them for they know not what they do.” My husband definitely does not know what he is doing to me. However, he does not beat me and is not into porno, and says I am stuck with him.
    I have learned to set boundaries and ignore his efforts to one-up me. We live separate lives together, as neither one of us can afford to live without the other.

    1. Jeannette, it is a kind of solution isn’t it? Strong boundaries that lead to separate lives. But your life does matter, so take it back.

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