PTSD and Intimacy: Lasting Impacts of Trauma

June 12, 2023 Sammi Caramela

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) impacts various areas of life. When it comes to romantic and intimate relationships, PTSD can make it especially difficult to get close to someone.

Intimacy has never come easily to me. My first experience of sexual intimacy took place at age four. It wasn't consensual, and it definitely wasn't loving. To this day, getting close to someone — especially physically — often brings a rush of negative emotions

How PTSD Impacts Intimacy

Posttraumatic stress disorder causes many sufferers to operate in survival mode, constantly searching for ways to keep themselves safe. An overactive nervous system might lead to distrust in others and shame in ourselves.

Subconsciously, my brain associates intimacy with danger. And while, usually, I can be present enough to enjoy intimacy, I sometimes fall into a deep spiral afterward. During those moments, I feel so disconnected from myself that I feel like I'm standing in the middle of a torrential downpour, each raindrop acting as a toxic thought I can't dispel.

Doubts like, "Am I a bad person?" "Am I safe?" "Am I still worthy?" and "Did I do something wrong?" pelt me from every direction, and the smallest words or actions from the other person can trigger immense panic. When this happens, it's hard to make sense of my thoughts.

To an outsider, my "triggers" might seem insignificant; to me, they alter my entire world for at least a few days. This disconnect only perpetuates even more shame. I often ask myself how anyone could love someone with such strong reactions. I try not to identify with self-deprecating beliefs; my body fights them so hard that it often shuts down. When this happens, I can do nothing but lie still and stare at the ceiling. 

The Right Support System for PTSD and Intimacy Issues

When you have PTSD, it's important to surround yourself with the right people — those who love you and have your best interests at heart. Getting caught up with the wrong person can further the feelings of unworthiness.

At my worst, I was giving all my energy to those who didn't deserve it, but I couldn't seem to stop. Their validation was synonymous with "safety" for me, but really, that was a dangerous mindset to have. Once I opened up to the right people and only got close to those I trusted (who I knew valued and cared for me), I learned that I didn't have to "earn" love or be "perfect" to deserve it.

Intimacy is still a challenge for me, and it might always be. However, by building more vulnerable and honest connections with people who show — not just say — they care about me, I've been able to reach a place of acceptance and healing I never thought was possible.

APA Reference
Caramela, S. (2023, June 12). PTSD and Intimacy: Lasting Impacts of Trauma, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 16 from

Author: Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela is a freelance writer, fiction author, poet, and mental health advocate who uses her writing to help others feel less alone. Find her on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and her blog.

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