Did you ever stop and wonder why you didn’t leave the abuser of the past or the one (or more than one) you have been in a relationship as an adult? What was the glue that held you to silence and obedience in either case? Why didn’t you tell the world about what was happening to you?
The answer is a phenomenon known as trauma bonding and this article will take a look at this strange occurrence and how to combat it.
What On Earth Is Trauma Bonding?
Simply stated, trauma bonding is loyalty to someone who is harming you in some way, such as sexually, physically, or mentally. Trauma bonds happen in relationships where there is intermittent reinforcement of the person being loving and charming mixed with abusive behaviors such as hitting, raping, yelling, and name-calling.
As human beings, we are hardwired to need bonding to other humans, and when someone shows us affection, it is easy to fall into the trap of someone narcissistic and abusive.
To be clear, falling in love with and not leaving someone who is harming you is not a weakness, and you are not at fault. I will repeat that, so it gets in; it is was and is not your fault.
What Are Some Signs of a Trauma Bond?
There are several signs that you might be experiencing a trauma bond. The following list is not all-inclusive.
- The person you’ve bonded with is inconsistent in their behavior towards you, yet you continue to believe their promises
- Others around you are upset by the things they see happening to you or that you say to them, but you are not upset at all
- You make attempts to change the person you have bonded with by trying to stop them drinking, using drugs, to stop hitting you, etc. (If I just…)
- You know you can’t trust the person you have bonded with, and you know you don’t like them, but you cannot detach from them
- You feel stuck in your situation because the other person does destructive things and you believe there is nothing you can do to help yourself or them
- When you do leave the person, you find you miss them so badly that you crave returning to the chaos even though it may prove damaging to you or even fatal
- You feel sorry for them when you turn them down or try to leave because they “need you.”
- You feel guilty leaving because it “feels wrong” so you stay regardless of what you know will happen to you
This list is only a partial one because everyone is different, and different thought processes can keep a person feeling helpless, trapped, and alone.
The Causes of Trauma Bonding
While anyone can fall prey to a situation where trauma bonding will occur, people who were raised in an abusive home in childhood are much more susceptible. It makes sense when you think about it. Unless you have become wholly aware of what happened to you and how the trauma in childhood has affected you, it becomes easy to fall into a similar pattern as an adult.
In childhood, kids are not capable of escaping the horror of domestic violence perpetrated against them. They are helpless and hopelessly trapped at the mercy of the adults who were supposed to make sure they are safe and loved. For a little girl or boy to admit to themselves that the abuse they experience is the fault of the adult and not their own is akin to emotional suicide for them. So, they either push the events deep down, or they take all the blame upon themselves.
Either way, the child will grow up to become an adult who does what is natural; they will seek out relationships that echo what they experienced when they were kids. The adult child, now all grown up, seeks out people who will treat them with the same inconsistency of love and abuse that they knew so well growing up.
Breaking Free of a Trauma Bond
Getting free of a trauma bond is difficult because humans tend to go with what they know. It may seem counterintuitive, but even the horrible life of living bonded to an abusive person can seem more comfortable than leaving that relationship.
The following list of steps to breaking free of a trauma bond is adapted from a post found on the Good Therapy website with many of my own experiences thrown in. I suggest you go to the Good Therapy site to read their version too.
Step One. Decide you are going to live in the reality of what is truly happening to you. Stop fantasizing about how it could be or what would be if you did this or that and remind yourself that you have decided to live in the truth and not a lie any longer. Although you may not choose to leave him/her immediately, remind yourself all the time that it is painful so that you won’t fantasize about it any longer.
Step Two. Live in the reality of what is happening instead of always thinking about what “could” or “will” happen later. Stay in the moment and notice your feelings of being trapped and how you have allowed someone else to compromise your self-respect. Stop hoping and waiting for that other person to change and start noticing how his/her actions are affecting you today.
Step Three. Don’t trap yourself into black and white thinking because thinking about leaving can actually make you long to stay more. There is a gray area between absolutely deciding you can never overcome what’s happening to you and the fear that accompanies thinking about what you will do if you do leave. In other words, take your time and don’t scare yourself with thought patterns that you may find frightening.
Step Four. Be compassionate with yourself because even if you feel weak for feeling attached to the person who is hurting you, you are only human. Remind yourself daily that you are on a journey, not striving to a destination. Never beat yourself up for where you are, as this can make you more prone to believe you deserve what you are getting. You do not. I repeat you do not deserve what you are getting. You deserve more.
Step Five. When you find yourself away from the person who is harming, you allow yourself to recognize and acknowledge your emotions. Remember, feelings are neither right nor wrong; they are emotions. Don’t avoid them or push them away because you need them to free yourself from the situation you find yourself trapped in.
Step Six. Allow yourself to grieve the dreams you had about the relationship you thought you were entering in the beginning. Also, grieve the time you’ve lost living with the person who harmed you and the relationships you have ended to protect them and your imprisonment. It is alright to honor the death of your dreams.
Step Seven. Begin to identify what you will gain when compared to what you are losing if you break the trauma bond. Will you gain the building up of your self-esteem? Will you gain new and better relationships? What will you lose? Will you lose a connection that would never work because the other person is abusive? Will you lose your dream of what it could have been?
These are essential questions to identify the hook that has kept you trapped and continues you thinking about life after the relationship has ended as you are contemplating leaving a trauma bond relationship.
Step Eight. Little by little, begin to build a life for yourself outside the trauma bond. Dream about how things will be different and reach out to other people and make moves to improve yourself like starting a hobby and start making choices that begin to draw you away from the abusive relationship.
This step is frightening to many because of the real threat that their making moves away from the abusive person you have bonded with will cause panic and anger in that person. Make and keep a plan to protect yourself and any children involved in the case that person gets out of control. This may not be necessary to implement, but safety is the first concern in any decision to leave an abusive relationship.
Step Nine. Begin to build healthy relationships so that the circle of abuse will be broken. Begin to develop close and connected relationships not based on drama and seek out for professional help. You need not face this life-altering experience alone. There are literally thousands of others like you and many around you who will be more than willing to be your listening ear and shoulder to cry on. A mental health professional can also help you remain clear of those relationships that are harmful, and you will be drawn to in the future.
Step Ten. Leave. Pack your things (if it is safe to do so), gather the children if you have any, and leave. It is time for your light to shine and to understand deep down where it counts that you do deserve better than what you have experienced in your life thus far. Be proud of your decision the leave that abusive relationship and smile at the thought that it is finally over. You are free.
The Consequences of Leaving Compared to Staying in a Trauma Bond
There can be no doubt that there will be consequences for leaving a trauma bonded relationship.
For one, it will be so unusual for you not to be bonded to an abuser that it will feel uncomfortable at first. You may even find yourself feeling regret and remorse for your actions.
However, the reality of staying with that person and how it hurt you to do so must remain in the front of your mind. Don’t allow yourself to fantasize that it “wasn’t that bad” or that you somehow provoked that person to abuse you. No one, I repeat, no one deserves emotional, verbal, sexual, physical, or any other type of injury.
Once you are free of the trauma bond, do whatever you need to do to remain away from the toxic person you were bonded with. You may need an order of protection but do whatever you need to do to keep yourself and any children you took with you safe from that person. You and they are worth it.
“Her life changed the day she realized that she was just as valuable as everyone else” ~ Author Unknown
“When you start seeing your worth, you’ll find it harder to stay around people who don’t.” ~ Anonymous