Is It Normal To Pull Away From Friendships After Trauma?
After trauma, the number one thing I hear survivors say is, “I just want things to go back to the way they were.” That’s a normal wish and desire. Before trauma, you felt a sense of safety, security, surety and certainty that made you feel like you understood the world and your place in it. Even if your trauma happened so early that you can’t remember life before it, the idea of safety holds true.
Of course, you can’t go back to who you were or could have been before. You can only go forward to discover the new you.
How Friendships Change in the PTSD World
For just a minute, take stock of yourself today. What defines who you are? What are the top three qualities about you that sum up the gist of how you experience the world each day? After a trauma and with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, the definition of you and those qualities that shape your daily experience can become super trauma-focused. Describing how you feel you might use go-to words like anxiety, panic, fear, trepidation, unease, discomfort, uncertainty and danger.
Now, take a look around at the friends you’ve known since before your trauma. What defines them? What qualities shape their daily experience of the world? What words would they use to define how they feel? Right away you’ll probably begin seeing a big difference between you and the people you hang with. That’s okay; some people still belong as part of your post-trauma tribe even if they have a different daily experience. In fact, they may belong because of that! And then, there will be others who don’t belong because they are unequipped to step into your post-trauma world.
Supporting someone after trauma can be challenging. For many people, dealing with the trauma of a friend is enormously unsettling; often they can’t handle it. They don’t know how to relate to the changes they see in you, are uncomfortable with the vulnerability your experience brings up in them, and don’t have the patience to move as slowly and carefully in your friendship as recovery requires.
If you ever look at your pre-trauma friends and think, “Who are these people?” you’re not alone. In fact, this is a common experience for survivors. Trauma changes you. Your perspective, perceptions, priorities, values, philosophies and life strategies all undergo post-trauma transformation as your brain works to quell the chaos, incorporate the learning experience and formulate a plan to live with all the new, unexpected and uncomfortable knowledge you now have. As a result of this transformation many things about you shift:
- Your relationship to the world at large has changed. What you thought you knew, believed or could count on has dramatically altered. With your new perspective you see things like danger, threat and hurt where others may not.
- Your relationship to yourself has changed. What you thought was funny, fun or exciting pre-trauma may not be so interesting anymore. Today, your focus may have shifted to an entirely new landscape; one that is foreign to those who haven’t peeked behind the veil of trauma and seen what you have seen about life, death, victimhood and survival.
All of the changes in you lead to this: It’s only natural that your relationships to your friends have changed too. You may look at some friends and wonder what you ever saw in them. You may try to keep up with their (your old) lifestyle and discover it no longer holds any appeal to you. Or, you may reach out to them for support and find them self-centered or just completely unable or unwilling to relate to you now.
Happy and Sad Truths about Friendships after Trauma
There are both happy and sad truths about friendships after trauma. The happy truth is that some friendships will be strengthened because of the transformation you’re going through. Some friends will rise to the challenge, step into this frightening space with you and walk beside you as you find your new way. These are the friendships that you discover were holding the potential to be deeper, more meaningful and more supportive in your life than you previously knew.
The sad truth is that some friendships will have to be released. There are some friends you’ve outgrown but in your pre-trauma state didn’t notice or take action around this fact. There are some friends who aren’t whole enough in themselves to be able to be something strong, supportive and integral in your post-trauma transition. Then, there are some people who just can’t/won’t/don’t fathom trauma or its effects and so can’t tolerate any evidence of it in you.
It’s okay to let these people go. It’s okay to withdraw from pre-trauma friendships that are not serving you in positive, healthy, supportive and life-affirming ways. You have, actually, through your whole life pruned the tree of your friendships. You’ve let go of friends from elementary school, high school, college and jobs. The difference is there often isn’t an event that so dramatically shows you the difference of when you made the choice to back away. Still, you’ve pulled away or discontinued friendships at many undramatic times in your life. It only makes sense that during this dramatic time you would also choose to do that.
A friend is someone with whom you share a “bond of mutual affection.” The way you define that today may have changed from how you defined it before your trauma. Honor that you’re so consciously aware of what you’re seeking in a friend. Acknowledge that some friends aren’t meeting the requirements you have for friendship. Celebrate your desire for friendships that serve a positive and healthy purpose in your life. Then, reach out in whatever ways feel comfortable to make some post-trauma friends who fit, serve and support who you are today.
Rosenthal, M. (2014, June 25). Is It Normal To Pull Away From Friendships After Trauma?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, October 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2014/06/is-it-normal-to-pull-away-from-friendships-after-trauma
Author: Michele Rosenthal
I have been through numerous of trauma and I have a bestfriend that I feel is drained from me. He always says come talk to him but when I do he says I don’t know what to say then we stop hanging out. I can’t just shut off my feelings and not think about it. He has no idea of how painful trauma can be. My family is toxic and I only have him .He is the only person that has treated me nice. Most of my friends say you’ll be fine or get over it .Eventually I just let suffer to myself because they get tired of it and distance themselves. I don’t understand how someone can say be honest and I When I do I feel worst . I feel like I’m bothering them I don’t like to annoy them but I need help and I guess they just don’t want to be bothered. I can’t continued to feel bad about myself. I don’t get to trauma dump I try my hardest to fix myself and I feel like no one cares about me unless I’m pretending to be happy or just ignoring everything .
Hi, Mike! I'm so sorry you're feeling this way and experiencing this in your friendship. I've felt this way before and still do sometimes. Healing from trauma can be an isolating experience, but the right people will stay and support you through it. Have you considered having an honest conversation with your friend, telling them exactly what you shared here?
You deserve love and support, even when — ESPECIALLY when — you're suffering. Sometimes it helps to join a group or community that shares a similar trauma or can relate to you in that way. I think a lot of people without PTSD can't truly understand the pain and fear we battle, but I've learned it doesn't mean they don't care — they just don't know how to show it.
I also just want to share our Resources and Hotlines page:
https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-refer…. This might help you find immediate help if you need someone to talk to who truly cares and can give you the attention you deserve.
Please know you're not alone in this; I've been where you are, and you are NEVER a bother.
A lot of people can’t handle trauma but what is a friendship is judgement.
What is likely bothering your friend is your ''wise'', ''can't deal''...if you are trying to put yourself on top of him, implying he is wrong and it is somehow his fault, he may take the blame for staying and wanting to walk away. There is nothing less lovely to be disrespected. There are emotional boundaries. This is where you have to stop trying to convince people of your point. Even, if they are in serious harm, it is better to not judge. I am incredibly disgusted by such a statement as a survivor of multiple traumas. Life is sadly not all about logic and logic can't tell how wise a person is.
In a perfect world, the following would be true.
You are entitled to thoughts, opinions and experiences and emotions. And you should share them. If you don't share them, that's apparently bad.
Others around you should care about your thoughts, opinions, experiences and emotions, they should want to know. And if they don't. They're bad apparently.
Truth is, if you ain't got any real experiences with suffering. Sure, your mates will listen to your incessant droning about all things insignificant. It's so easy to handle it's irritable as worst, but it's easy enough to find someone to help bear your neglible burden.
When you happen to have the experience of knowing the intimate details of something HORRENDOUS, with the ability to predict it while controlling for the self fulfilling prophecy phenomenon, well truth be told the expectation to share it is unreasonable due to the unwillingness of others to share significant pain through empathy. No one likes suffering I guess.
Catch 22 really, share and be shunned, clam up and become isolated. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.
So putting your argument of trying to convince others of anything in place, personally I think thats an elaborate form of victim blaming. If a woman wears a short skirt does she deserve to be raped? Should she have worn something else? Maybe it was her fault for being out so late. Hanging out in an unsavoury part of town? You can do that forever, the excuses to cut yourself from that person's understanding are never ending. But that person happens to know something you don't know. Very very well. A truth, a peice of reality. Lots of people understand say, the 'theory' behind a rape. But being forced to understand it from a human perspective is something you're cursed to know. And unable to forget.
It's a few things in action, the self serving bias and the bystander effect to name a couple of mechanisms.
So yes, in a perfect world maybe you can take some blame for being a know it all. Assuming that everyone around you has a superhuman capacity for compassion.
After trauma, I think your life is divided into real friends, and family of which you may have none. And the reality of now knowing that the people you loved and cared for in your life, were actually just bystanders the whole time.
Did they see you differently than you saw them. Maybe. Maybe not. You and those you lost, were happy idiots. And birds of a feather flock together, life just had other plans for you unfortunately.
I'm sure theres a flock somewhere for you. But trauma sufferers don't exactly have social club meetings.
I found this very helpful. I have had a life of consecutive traumas. Last year I was shot 6 times in the chest. I moved across the country for safety reasons and have found it difficult to trust someone enough to believe they aren't going to harm me just because they can (when it comes to friendships). Im not socially awkward and I have casual interactions without worry. But as soon as I share details there's this overwhelming fear that they'll ruin my peace or scheme to harm me. I really would like to get passed the paranoia so I can logically assess the person instead because Its time to call in my tribe. Ive been in trauma therapy for over 6 months but havent managed to get over that hump in particular. So thank you for the article and the language you chose to use throughout. You seem to understand from a personal standpoint, not just someone writing on a topic they researched.
I lost friends because of trauma they couldn't stand it anymore so they started slagging me off about it saying things like "she's always pissy" and saying thing like "oh she needs to get over it" but let me tell you it is very difficult to "get over it"
This is a useful article, although I recently had a friend break off our friendship 6 months after his traumatic experience. The reason was that he did not like that I had feelings about it. His girlfriend cheated on him, and they are trying to work past it. As his friend, I expressed that I was angry at her for hurting him. This made him very upset that I would have that feeling, and said he could not have my negativity in his life bc he desperately needed to forgive her, and my words didn't help.
It seems like he is shutting out my care and concern, and choosing to put his head in the sand rather than discuss what I'm saying. This doesn't seem healthy or wise.
Do you have any thoughts on people who shut friends and loved ones out bc they can't deal with opposing view points?