Everything you need to know about Trauma Bonding and how to overcome it.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where your partner does something wrong, you fight tooth and nail, and when the dust settles, you feel a new emotional high and connection to your partner? If you find yourself stuck in a cycle of abuse, neglect, and strong positive reinforcement, chances are, you are in a loop of trauma bonding.
Trauma Bonding is the term for emotional highs and lows a person feels when in an abusive or manipulative relationship. It is when love and kindness from a partner are alternated with devaluation and disrespect- often leaving victims of abuse confused about their feelings and their relationship.
There are some ways to identify red flags of a trauma bond. For instance, a relationship that begins with a partner showering love and assurance that turns to events of manipulation, physical or verbal abuse, or fits of rage. This kind of bonding is most common in romantic relationships but is also found in dynamics such as a child and an abusive caregiver, boss and employees, and more.
These kinds of highs and lows are cyclical and often rely on the intermittent positive reinforcement the abuser gives the abused. The abuser often swears to change and even shows positive behaviour. It is easy to leave completely bad situations, but abusers understand this and often manipulate their partners with “good” behaviour to confuse, gaslight, and control them.
Relationships that are trauma bonded also have an imbalance in their power dynamic. Here, the abused often feels like they are “beneath” the abuser and their thoughts and opinions matter less. This power imbalance often makes the abused feel controlled and unsure about their emotional reactions. Even if the abused partner can leave a trauma bond relationship, it becomes difficult to break from the cycle without professional help. The abused partner feels less than themselves, inadequate, and lost without their abusive partner.
This may lead to the abused partner feeling unhappy in the relationship, disliking their partner and still being unable to leave. They often find themselves blocking out the bad days and fixating on the good, hoping their partner would change. Abused partners in trauma bonded relationships also keep their partner’s abuse a secret to protect them.
All of this happens because when our body and mind find themselves in a threatening situation, the usual response is a fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response. With power dynamics in play, it becomes difficult for abused partners to fight, flight, or fawn, so they often freeze and stay stuck in abusive cycles. And every time the cycle of abuse repeats, it renders the abused partner even more powerless and solidifies their belief in the false reality that the abuser has created where the narrative often realise on the abused partner needing the abuser, their self-worth lying in the hands of the abuser and this ties them down to the trauma bond even more.
Oftentimes, abusers use dopamine addiction to their advantage by showering their victims with love, gifts, reassurance, and physical affection. This can make the abused partners feel even more trapped and confused.
There are many ways to end a trauma bonded relationship. Abused partners must regulate self-blaming and look at the relationship objectively. It is important to talk to loved ones and people they trust to share their emotions. Sometimes, seeking professional help to regain your sense of self-worth can be beneficial. Finally, cutting off contact completely with an abuser can be difficult, especially in situations of co-parenting or marriage. But working with a therapist can help you create boundaries, self-care plans, and start your healing journey.
Remember, an abusive or bad relationship is never your fault and neither is being bonded by trauma. We are human and there is always recovery. You just have to find it for yourself and set yourself free.