• 💖 [Donate To Keep MyPTSD Online] 💖 Every contribution, no matter how small, fuels our mission and helps us continue to provide peer-to-peer services. Your generosity keeps us independent and available freely to the world. MyPTSD closes if we can't reach our annual goal.

Relationship I really hurt a friend with PTSD, and I could use some advice

Status
Not open for further replies.

hopful

New Here
tl;dr I accidentally really hurt my closest friend, a rape victim who has PTSD, by telling her that I had feelings for her. I want to do what I can to help her feel better and repair our friendship, but I don't know what the best thing for me to do for her is, and I could use help.

Hi, I'm looking for advice about a situation involving a very close friend Kate, who has PTSD. I f*cked up really badly and unknowingly did something that ended up triggering her in a way that I worry might have permanent consequences to our relationship and might prevent her from feeling safe around me. I'm looking for advice on what the best thing I can do for her is.

Kate and I are both trans women. I'm 24 and she's 28. We met about 3 years ago and quickly became close friends, and about a year ago we moved into an apartment together (with 2 other roommates, who neither of us are very close with). Our relationship has been totally platonic the whole time we've known eachother, but over the past month and a half or so I started to develop feelings for her, and about two weeks ago I told her how I felt, and she said she didn't feel the same way. She seemed to take it in stride and not be too upset about it at the time, and then we didn't see eachother for about a week because I left town to go on a trip with my family (I timed it that way intentionally so we'd have some time apart to process independently if she said no). I didn't think it was too big of a deal for her because she seemed to take it fine when I first told her, but then I didn't hear from her over the week I was gone despite reaching out a few times, and when I got back in town and tried to say hi to her, she wouldn't even look at me and told me that she didn't want to talk. We haven't talked in person since then, and have only communicated a bit over text. I didn't realize what was happening for a few days and I begged her over text to talk to me (I didn't try to talk to her in person again because I was wanted to respect her boundaries, but I did send quite a few texts). After a few days I realized that me expressing my feelings had triggered a trauma response in her and she didn't feel safe around me anymore. I felt horribly guilty because I never meant to make her feel anything like that. A few days after I realized what she was feeling I left town to stay at my mom's place for a bit, both because I wanted to give her space and because being in the apartment and constantly hoping that she would finally come talk to me at any moment was really stressful for me and I felt that I needed to get away.

Kate is a rape victim, and the person who victimized her was another trans woman. This happened years before I met her. She's told me about the situation so I was aware of her trauma surrounding this. However, she's dated other trans women while I've known her, and I had no idea that the idea of a trans woman expressing interest in her would be so triggering to her. I never imagined that it could turn out like this when I told her about my feelings, and I still don't really understand why it did given that she's been willing to date other trans women. It might have been that we live at the same apartment so it freaks her out that she has no option to get away from me, or it might have been that it's scary that it's coming from someone she's so close with, or that she thinks I've had these feelings for a long time and I've been just pretending to be friends with her so I could work up to this, or some combination of all of these.

To clarify a bit about my feelings, I only had romantic feelings for a month or so before I told her, and honestly the feelings weren't even that serious. We're both poly, and I never imagined the two of us as primary partners, I just wanted us to have a comfy casual thing on the side while we each pursued more serious primary partnerships with other people. I pretty much just wanted us to be able to cuddle and be a bit more emotionally intimate with one another. I never really wanted us to have a sexual component to our relationship, that just wasn't why I was interested in her and I know sex is an emotionally complicated thing for her so I never imagined us going in that direction. We already spend a huge amount of time together so I wasn't really looking for much more in that sense, and ultimately the change I was hoping for in our relationship was fairly small, it would have just meant introducing some physical affection and more emotional intimacy. When she told me she didn't feel the same it wasn't even all that big of a deal to me, I was sad for a few days but then ready to move on and just continue being friends from her, and get the affection that I was looking for from other people. Our friendship is way way more valuable to me than the little extra aspects I was looking for. Getting to be friends with her is already so wonderful, I really value her perspective in conversations and I admire so many things about her and I feel so safe and comfortable around her, so I never would have even asked for more if I knew it would threaten our friendship or make her feel this horrible.

I wasn't very clear about exactly what I wanted when I told her I had feelings from her, I just sorta said "I have a crush on you" and she quickly said "I know, but I don't feel the same way. I love you bestie, but not like that" and the conversation ended pretty quickly after that. In retrospect I wish I had been more specific because I worry that she might have thought my feelings were more serious or more sexual in nature than they were. I wish I had clarified that these were pretty recent feelings, because I worry that she thinks this has been informing my behavior around her the whole time we've been friends.

She finally texted me last night for the first time in 3 days to tell me about some of what she was feeling. She told me that she has just felt like she needed space, and how being in the apartment with me was really distressing for her because she felt like she had no way to get away, and that she'd been getting headaches and nightmares since I told her. She just started a new work-from-home job and she said having to deal with that at the same time as all this has put even more stress on her (in retrospect my timing on this was pretty short-sighted). She also said that one of the biggest things she was worried about in all of this was that it would end our friendship, so that makes me optimistic that there might be a way for us to work through this and that we both want to find a way to still be friends after all of this.

I wrote a short response to that message to thank her for getting back to me and to say I was going to think through it carefully before responding in more detail, and since then I haven't said anything. I don't think she's eager to hear from me, I think she just wants space and to be able to get me out of her head so I think it's fine if I don't say anything for a few days. I drafted up a long message explaining exactly how/when my thoughts started and how they've changed throughout this situation so that she wouldn't think I was looking for more than I was or that I had been thinking about it for longer than I have, and to clarify that at this point I want nothing more than to just get back to us being friends. But then I worried that writing so much about myself was just kinda narcissistic and might not really be helpful for her, and I realized that the whole issue in the first place was that I didn't really understand her trauma, so I figured it would be better to try to educate myself about what she's experiencing and get advice from people who know more about this than I do. So that's why I'm posting here. Any advice would about what I should do in this situation or what I should say to her would be hugely appreciated. I'm happy to provide more info about the situation if that would help people give advice, so please feel free to ask questions. And If there's any resources I should look into or books/articles I should read about how to best help a friend with PTSD and avoid accidentally hurting her again, please let me know.
 
And If there's any resources I should look into or books/articles I should read about how to best help a friend with PTSD and avoid accidentally hurting her again, please let me know.

First of all you need to stop making yourself responsible for her mental health. You are not.

Second, you didn’t trigger her. She was triggered. You did a totally normal and acceptable thing.

Third you cannot stop “accidentally hurting” her. She has PTSD, and she’s going to be set off regardless of anything you say or do. It is not your job to try and clear her path of triggers.

We cannot help and we cannot fix. Just be a patient friend.
 
unknowingly did something that ended up triggering her
might prevent her from feeling safe around me.
After a few days I realized that me expressing my feelings had triggered a trauma response in her and she didn't feel safe around me anymore. I felt horribly guilty
^These^ 🚩 🚩 🚩 are the great big giant waving red flags to me in what you’ve written.

Before I write any more on that?

Some reading for context <grin>






 
It was brave of you, and honest, to tell her how you felt.
If that has triggered her, then it is for her to realise what comes from the past (being unsafe) and what comes from now (a safe friendship with you). She has to separate those two things out.

Essentially, you haven't done anything wrong.
I hope you both work through this and maintain your friendship. Like you say, her text sounds like that's what she wants. So maybe focus on that?
 
I should probably stay out of this because "relationships" aren't my best thing.

Still, I can't help but wonder how you can be so sure you expressing your feelings "triggered" her. It could have, certainly. But she didn't really SAY that. Seems more like you jumped to that conclusion. Speaking as a cis gendered female person, if I had a male roommate that I considered to be a platonic friend, and he expressed that he had "feelings" for me that I didn't share, I'd be wondering where that was going to go and what I should do about it too. I DO have PTSD, but there's nothing about that situation that would be triggering. It would just be a situation that I would see as a potential impending problem. Actually, a bunch of potential problems. Am I going to lose a friend? Am I going to lose a roommate? Am I going to have to try to share a house with someone I now have to avoid because me saying "no" didn't go over well? Basically, I'd want to know that the other party could take "no" for an answer and move on.

People seem to have a natural inclination to assume they know what someone else is thinking and then run with it. It's usually better to ask questions and listen to the answers, then take things from there.
 
First of all you need to stop making yourself responsible for her mental health. You are not.

Second, you didn’t trigger her. She was triggered. You did a totally normal and acceptable thing.

Third you cannot stop “accidentally hurting” her. She has PTSD, and she’s going to be set off regardless of anything you say or do. It is not your job to try and clear her path of triggers.

We cannot help and we cannot fix. Just be a patient friend.

But the thing is, if I hadn't told her my feelings then it wouldn't have happened. In retrospect I really feel like I should have put more thought into her trauma before telling her. She told me that she thinks it's really selfish that I wasn't more careful about this, and I think she's right. I made the decision to tell her pretty impulsively and didn't consider whether it might be destabilizing for her like this. I've never seen her like this in the whole time I've known her, her PTSD symptoms have been under control for a long time, as far as I know this the first situation in a long time that's put her in this bad of a place. So I think I can stop "accidentally hurting" her, I've never hurt her like this before and if I'd just been more careful with this then I could have realized it would have hurt her.

Some reading for context <grin>






Thanks for the links. I guess I should have said that what I did was a stressor, not a trigger. The cup metaphor is helpful, thanks.

I listened through the video series linked in the third post you linked. Some of it was helpful but it was mostly focused on a pretty different scenario than what I'm in, it was mostly about dealing with chronic issues around dealing with a spouse with trauma from combat experiences. Her PTSD has never really caused issues in our friendship before, it's really just this one event where it's suddenly come up as like a big deal. She's told me that she's had her symptoms under control for a while now, I think this is the first thing in a long time that has been this difficult for her. Still, a lot of what the videos was helpful to hear, so thank you.

I'm also looking into the Diane England book linked in that post. It seems to also be focused on how to best care for a partner with PTSD, which isn't quite my situation, I'm just her friend and not really her caregiver or anything like that. Do you think it would still be helpful to read?
 
It was brave of you, and honest, to tell her how you felt.
If that has triggered her, then it is for her to realise what comes from the past (being unsafe) and what comes from now (a safe friendship with you). She has to separate those two things out.

Essentially, you haven't done anything wrong.
I hope you both work through this and maintain your friendship. Like you say, her text sounds like that's what she wants. So maybe focus on that?

I think you're right that trying to maintain the friendship. I'm drafting a message that I hope to send today or tomorrow just explaining that my feelings were pretty recent and not all that serious, and that our friendship means way more to me than my romantic feelings, and how at this point I want nothing more than to just move on from this and be purely platonic friends.

It's hard for me to believe that I haven't done anything wrong. I really feel bad that I didn't take her trauma into consideration more before telling her, I feel like I should have known better.

I should probably stay out of this because "relationships" aren't my best thing.

Still, I can't help but wonder how you can be so sure you expressing your feelings "triggered" her. It could have, certainly. But she didn't really SAY that. Seems more like you jumped to that conclusion. Speaking as a cis gendered female person, if I had a male roommate that I considered to be a platonic friend, and he expressed that he had "feelings" for me that I didn't share, I'd be wondering where that was going to go and what I should do about it too. I DO have PTSD, but there's nothing about that situation that would be triggering. It would just be a situation that I would see as a potential impending problem. Actually, a bunch of potential problems. Am I going to lose a friend? Am I going to lose a roommate? Am I going to have to try to share a house with someone I now have to avoid because me saying "no" didn't go over well? Basically, I'd want to know that the other party could take "no" for an answer and move on.

People seem to have a natural inclination to assume they know what someone else is thinking and then run with it. It's usually better to ask questions and listen to the answers, then take things from there.
After I realized that it might have been triggering for her and asked her if that's what was happening she did say "yes this has been triggering for me for a lot of reasons" (I guess she and I are both misusing the word "trigger" though, it's more of a stressor, not an immediate response to a sensory experience). But yeah I think you're right that the main thing is that she was wondering if I can really take "no" for an answer and she's worried about losing our friendship and having to stay in a house with me. That's the main thing I'm going to try to reassure her about for now. But she also said that this has damaged the trust she had in me and she isn't as sure that she can trust things I say about myself like she could before, so I worry that she might not believe me if I try to assure her that taking "no" for an answer is not going to be a problem. But I guess all I can do is tell her the truth and hope that she can trust me.

I should probably stay out of this because "relationships" aren't my best thing.

Still, I can't help but wonder how you can be so sure you expressing your feelings "triggered" her. It could have, certainly. But she didn't really SAY that. Seems more like you jumped to that conclusion. Speaking as a cis gendered female person, if I had a male roommate that I considered to be a platonic friend, and he expressed that he had "feelings" for me that I didn't share, I'd be wondering where that was going to go and what I should do about it too. I DO have PTSD, but there's nothing about that situation that would be triggering. It would just be a situation that I would see as a potential impending problem. Actually, a bunch of potential problems. Am I going to lose a friend? Am I going to lose a roommate? Am I going to have to try to share a house with someone I now have to avoid because me saying "no" didn't go over well? Basically, I'd want to know that the other party could take "no" for an answer and move on.

People seem to have a natural inclination to assume they know what someone else is thinking and then run with it. It's usually better to ask questions and listen to the answers, then take things from there.
Oh, and thank you for sharing your perspective, it was very helpful and I appreciate it.
 
She told me that she thinks it's really selfish that I wasn't more careful about this,

This is called projection. Instead of taking responsibility for her stress response she is making it your problem instead. Were you forceful? Inappropriate? Threatening? If not, you were just sharing your feelings. That is a perfectly acceptable thing to do. It’s not f*cked up just because she says it is.

So I think I can stop "accidentally hurting" her,

I once triggered my partner by throwing cardboard into the recycling bin. It reminded him of some rubbish that covered an IED his vehicle had hit in Iraq. You can’t avoid it. There is no rhyme or reason to what they will connect to their trauma, and it’s happening entirely in their head. It is a mental illness. You cannot logic it.
 
It's hard for me to believe that I haven't done anything wrong. I really feel bad that I didn't take her trauma into consideration more before telling her, I feel like I should have known better.
You really haven't! And it's impossible to second guess other people's reactions. (I know I try and fail!). You got to be true to yourself: you put yourself out there, in a vulnerable and honest way.
She could have responded in a while host of ways.
Hopefully she will respond with "how are you feeling about it and the fact this will only ever be a friendship?". Highlighting that because, your feelings matter too.
 
This is called projection. Instead of taking responsibility for her stress response she is making it your problem instead. Were you forceful? Inappropriate? Threatening? If not, you were just sharing your feelings. That is a perfectly acceptable thing to do. It’s not f*cked up just because she says it is.

I once triggered my partner by throwing cardboard into the recycling bin. It reminded him of some rubbish that covered an IED his vehicle had hit in Iraq. You can’t avoid it. There is no rhyme or reason to what they will connect to their trauma, and it’s happening entirely in their head. It is a mental illness. You cannot logic it.
I guess it's hard for me to accept that because it doesn't feel like this wasn't some random thing that I never could have known would be stressful ahead of time. A trans woman - the type of person who traumatized her - expressing attraction to her seems like a pretty obvious potential stressor in retrospect, I really feel like I should have been able to see this coming. But I understand what you're saying and I appreciate the reassurance.
You really haven't! And it's impossible to second guess other people's reactions. (I know I try and fail!). You got to be true to yourself: you put yourself out there, in a vulnerable and honest way.
She could have responded in a while host of ways.
Hopefully she will respond with "how are you feeling about it and the fact this will only ever be a friendship?". Highlighting that because, your feelings matter too.
Thanks, I appreciate it, I've been trying to keep in mind that I need to stand up for my own feelings in this, but it's tough when I know she's in so much pain. When she first told me she was upset with me I sent a message basically saying "I'm sorry that you're upset but I needed to prioritize my own feelings ultimately I'm glad that I told you", but that was before I realized that I had done something that reminded her of her trauma. I thought she just like felt awkward about having to reject me and was making too big of a deal out of it. When I realized how serious this was and that this situation had activated her PTSD I just started apologizing profusely and stopped advocating for my own feelings. It feels like if this is such a big deal for her then it's selfish for me to be worrying about my own feelings.
 
It feels like if this is such a big deal for her then it's selfish for me to be worrying about my own feelings.
I call this "being a doormat."

Sounds like you have a problem with people pleasing. Most people consider their own feelings to be the most important. This is entirely appropriate except in special cases. There's no reason why you should have to give up any part of yourself for anyone else.
 
I call this "being a doormat."

Sounds like you have a problem with people pleasing. Most people consider their own feelings to be the most important. This is entirely appropriate except in special cases. There's no reason why you should have to give up any part of yourself for anyone else.
But this does feel like a special case!

You're right, I do have problems with people pleasing. I've realized that about myself over the past year and I've been working through it, and recently I've felt like I was in a pretty good place about standing up for myself and not being a doormat. I guess maybe the guilt and fear of losing a close friend in this situation made me fall back into old habits. I know I'm probably not being entirely rational about this and the people in this thread are right that I shouldn't be putting so much blame on myself, but I can't really get away from the feeling that this whole thing my fault.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Back
Top