Trigger Warning: The following content discusses abuse and its effect on victims. If you find such content difficult to read, please refrain from reading it and take care of yourself.
“Well, why didn’t you just leave?”
“How could you continue living with such a person even after they did this to you?”
“Why couldn’t you just speak to someone like a friend or relative?”
If you have ever been in a toxic and abusive relationship that you couldn’t (or didn’t want to) let go of or had someone you know continue to suffer in such relationships, questions like the above are common.
The abuse can take multiple forms – from a romantic partner, friend, sibling, parent, or relative. The nature of abuse can range from violent to non–violent – from sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. Yet, whenever someone talks about abusive relationships, the nature of the questions is always the same.
Apart from financial and cultural barriers, an often overlooked emotional aspect that chains victims to their abusers is a concept known as trauma bonding. One of the most damaging and insidious parts of abusive relationships, trauma bonding, is the psychological response to abuse, where the victim forms emotional bonds with the abuser due to their shared traumatic experiences.
Trauma bonding is a serious issue that, if not addressed in time, can perpetuate a continuous cycle of abuse and prevent the victim from seeking the required help. To increase awareness around the issue, let us dive deeper into what is trauma bonding, its causes and warning signs, and how you can break free from it.
What Is Trauma Bonding?
A trauma bond is a form of deep emotional attachment related to different forms of abuse where the victim develops a sense of relationship and belonging with their abuser. In layman’s terms, trauma bonding is an unhealthy pattern of attachment based on constant ups and down, hot and cold behavior, and negative behaviors associated with small positive reinforcements.
The power dynamic in cases of trauma bondings is tilted in favor of the abuser. The victim tends to rely on the abuser for validation and support. This leads to extreme forms of codependency and anxious attachment issues making the victim believe that ending the relationship would be terrifying and life-altering.
Trauma bonding is not necessarily constricted around romantic relationships. It can occur in any relationship – between siblings, parent-child, boss-employee, or friends. Relationships based on trauma bonding can feel safe and normal on the surface but are actually built on various levels of manipulation and dysfunction.
Signs Of Trauma Bonding
There are many different levels and layers of trauma bonds. While some are obvious and apparent, others can be much more subtle in nature. The signs of trauma bonding include:
- justifying abusive behavior as an expression of love and care,
- saving or covering for your abuser,
- tolerating abuse in order to gain validation and love,
- feeling like you owe something to your abuser,
- hiding your real feelings around them,
- being unable to leave the abusive relationship even if you want to,
- blaming yourself for their actions,
- trying to change their behavior,
- growing numb to the abuse you are subjected to, and
- changing your behavior to avoid enraging your abuser.
How To Break Through Trauma Bonding?
While we have spent plenty of words trying to explain how difficult trauma bonds are to break, it is not exactly impossible. Albeit challenging, constant efforts and the right guidance can help you break through trauma bonds. The only requirement is that you have to be really willing to. Once you have made up your mind, here are a few tips that can help you break off these toxic attachments.
1. Try to start living in reality.
One of the main reasons why people continue to live in abusive relationships is their tendency to believe in alternate realities and made-up scenarios. At the very first step, try to let go of these tendencies about what could have been or what you could do differently, etc. Make a commitment to yourself to stay put in the reality of your situation. Even if you don’t choose to leave the relationship immediately, the best you can do yourself is to stop dwelling on what is not happening.
2. Create a safe exit plan.
In any situation, prioritize your personal safety and well-being first. This also includes finding a passage to leave the relationship behind and also finding a safe space for yourself. Try to execute this plan the minute you have your financials sorted.
Read more: How To Harness Post-Traumatic Growth?
3. Build healthy connections.
Finding love and support from the people who genuinely care about you during such a difficult time is significant. While in abusive relationships, the victims can often feel dissociated and alone. Garnering support from the right people can break this pattern of loneliness and make you feel empowered. If you feel difficult to open up to people you know, opening up to people with similar experiences can be a good way out. Thankfully, various support groups can help you out.
4. Let go of the self-blaming tendencies and trust yourself.
The most important thing you remember while working your way out of trauma bonds is to know that the process is not going to happen overnight. What you are experiencing currently will not go away in one night. As you work your way through this difficult process, take one day or even one moment at a time. There is no well-defined way to heal through this, so you take as much time as you need, pal.
Additionally, try to work on the self-blaming tendencies that may have developed within you throughout this time. Acknowledge that you have been through a difficult time and trust yourself to find your ground again.
Note: If you are in an immediate crisis, use the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522.
Trauma bonding is a complex and often misunderstood aspect of abusive relationships. Breaking free of such bonds is challenging but always know that resources and help are available for you. We hope this post will help find some support and guidance for anyone dealing with trauma bonding.
Therapy is an effective tool for dealing with trauma bonding. Access to therapy is now easier than ever with the advent of online therapy platforms. To learn more about them, click here.
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