Supporting a partner who’s going NC with family
November 7, 2021 3:55 PM   Subscribe

His past is highly traumatic, family is ongoingly dysfunctional. There’s a lot of pain. CPSTD. How can I be a useful support?

And what are some things that can be done to help process this. (Therapy isn’t happening, not because he won’t do it. It’s just inaccessible for his situation and diagnoses and resources. Point finale.) He’s wanting distraction. I can listen. How else can I be a help?

His ACE score is at least 5. Mine is I think 2, but I never doubted feeling loved, and I felt cared for and protected. He didn’t and wasn’t, and is coming to realize how true this has been. My family is very tight, and there are some things I can’t get.

His memory is excruciatingly detailed and vast. I don’t know how it’s possible to think of your own life and not feel pained and alienated. He’s not able to work at the moment and generally feels unwell, and he’s at the mercy of intrusive thoughts.
posted by cotton dress sock to Human Relations (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Even if he can’t be in therapy, you should. That’s a lot to support.
posted by OrangeVelour at 4:42 PM on November 7, 2021 [7 favorites]

Consider this clinical trial. Sometimes these drugs (and plants of similar sort) work wonders for trauma survivors, or so I have heard.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 5:11 PM on November 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Listening (and like the above commenter said, having a therapist yourself) really feels to me like the extent of what you can healthily and meaningfully do here.

It may help if you can go into a little more detail on the why of therapy not being an option. I say this because actively processing trauma isn't really a great arena for the layperson to just try to dive into, and it seems to me like what he's potentially claiming to need is basically therapy, but for free and from someone untrained. That's not going to be better or healthier for either of you than figuring out ways to access professional help, even if that process isn't especially easy.
posted by augustimagination at 5:44 PM on November 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: He's on permanent, lifetime disability for his mental health diagnoses. Even the cheapest, least equipped, worst private therapist would eat up more than half his monthly income. Even so, he tried private therapy three times since I met him. Let me just say that bad therapy can be so, SO much worse than no therapy.

Wrt to the free therapy available through hospital systems, even the psychiatrist who (re) diagnosed him said it would be unsuitable for him. It did turn out to be (made two attempts, he was on the waitlist for a year, twice). DBT in practice reflects the diagnostic bias towards women. There are lots of gendered dynamics at play that make it not work. That's as specific as I want to be if that's ok.

(There is no trauma-specific free local therapy afaik. Above is wrt a (related) PD.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:57 PM on November 7, 2021

Best answer: I can relate to your partner. The biggest thing that helped me was having a loving partner who totally supported me in going NC with my parents, but never pushed or tried to control me. The next biggest thing was watching lots of YouTube videos by psychologists who specialize in the topic that caused my estrangement (parental narcissism) and reading lots of books about the topic.

When your partner goes NC, you can help by being a buffer as needed — for example, filing or destroying mail so he doesn’t have to read it, firmly telling the parents to leave if they show up at your door demanding access to him, having a script and plan of action for if they accost him in a public place, etc.

It’s important to talk through the various scenarios in advance so you can support his wishes and not have to make any split-second decisions. In many cases, abusive parents will react very badly when the target of their abuse cuts off contact. Be ready for that.
posted by farkleberry at 6:49 PM on November 7, 2021 [7 favorites]

This is a subreddit many people find supportive or just useful to read through: Raised by Narcissists.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:52 AM on November 8, 2021

Best answer: Could your partner manage $30-60 per session for therapy? If so then this might be worth looking into.

DBT doesn't help with resolving the consequences of trauma on ones mind and body. It just teaches people a specific way to cope with distress. I'm surprised that was the first thing offered.

If your partner wants to try again, they could specifically look for someone that works primarily with trauma. TF-CBT, Somatic Experiencing, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, and EMDR are all potentially helpful for complex trauma. Prolonged Exposure and CPT, also trauma protocols, are less helpful for complex trauma compared to "single incident" in my opinion. They could look for someone that offers one of these specific things. But you're right, bad therapy is worse than no therapy. Hopefully after multiple tries at it, your partner understands what they like and don't like in a therapist and could tell them upfront what those things are. A competent therapist can modify their approach based on that type of feedback.

I have to pause for now but will try to come back for partner specific info.
posted by crunchy potato at 9:26 AM on November 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Helping a partner with CPTSD means taking care of your own mental health first and foremost. Self care is important. Encourage your partner to join you in any self care that might suit them (CPTSD often causes low self esteem which interferes with self-care). Self care can be eating at all, eating well, hydrating, creating a pleasant sleep ritual even if it doesn't always work. Self care can be putting on not-pajamas, and that's it.

Find a way to set boundaries if your partner begins to articulate details of trauma. If you aren't a trauma professional you shouldn't set a precedent of listening to that stuff. You can offer validating statements. Someone with this background probably has a deficit in mirroring. You can help with that if you want to.

Also be ready for acting out. Some people with complex trauma behave worse, the safer they become, because it's so hard to trust the safety. Your partner may test you. Be ready to not take it personally. Get outside help for yourself or the relationship if needed. Remember you can always walk away if it becomes too much. Don't martyr yourself, as this can cause irreparable levels of resentment.
posted by crunchy potato at 6:13 PM on November 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

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