Survivors of abusive relationships often choose to stay in the relationship with their abusive partners due to trauma bonding. Are you experiencing this too?
Trauma bonding is an inevitable aspect of any abusive relationship. However it can often be difficult for the abused to identify while they are still in the relationship. As our narcissistic partner manipulates and controls us constantly, we often become stuck in a toxic cycle of abuse and seeking validation.
What is trauma bonding?
“Trauma bonding is loyalty to a person who is destructive,” explains abusive relationship recovery coach Sharie Stines, Psy.D. The more your toxic partner controls and abuses you, the more you will seek love, respect, and validation from them. In a romantic relationship, when one partner is repeatedly abused by the other over a long period of time, trauma bonding can occur. However, it can also take place in non-romantic relationships as well, like between friends, family members, and even coworkers.
The abuser will manipulate the abused partner in such a way that they will believe that abuse is normal in relationships. The abused will believe that it is their fault that their narcissistic partner is abusive. That they deserve to be abused by their toxic partner. As the relationship progresses and evolves, the abused partner will become more insecure and increasingly seek validation and admiration from their narcissistic partner. As a result, the toxic partner will feel even more empowered, leading the way to further control and manipulation.
“We become addicted to seeking a positive response” from our abuser, writes author and licensed marriage and family therapist Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT. She adds that trauma bonding occurs “due to repeated cycles of abuse in which the intermittent reinforcement of reward and punishment creates emotional bonds that resist change. It explains why abusive relationships are the most difficult to leave.” We become increasingly codependent on our abuser and eventually lose our sense of self in our attempts to please our narcissistic partner. The more we try to please them, the more they abuse us, and the harder it becomes for the abused partner to leave.
Signs of trauma bonding
Sometimes it can take months, if not years, to recognize that you are trapped in such a type of a relationship and bonding. This is why it is crucial that you learn to identify some of the signs of trauma bonding.
Here are some of the common signs you need to look out for if you are in an abusive relationship according to Sharie Stines:
- Although there is a steady pattern of abuse and non-performance, you keep on believing their lies and promises despite all signs pointing to the contrary.
- Even though you may not be affected by a certain behavior, action or incident, your friends and family appear to be shocked, appalled or disturbed by the fact that you accepted it from your partner.
- You feel helpless, trapped and stuck as your narcissistic partner continues their destructive and toxic behavior.
- You try to play the “rescuer” by attempting to change your toxic partner into a “better” person. You try to help them get over certain bad habits, addictions and be less destructive and non-abusive without making any progress.
- You and your partner engage in the same toxic arguments and fights for the umpteenth time. You fight about the same topics and same issues leading to the same outcomes.
- Although you may not trust or respect your partner or even like them anymore, you feel you cannot detach yourself from them.
- Every time you attempt to leave your narcissistic abusive partner, you end up missing them. The discomfort of being without your partner is so intense and you long for them so much that you falsely believe it’s better to tolerate their abuse than to be without them. You believe that they are the only person who will love you.
Trauma bonding is addictive
It’s like an addiction that you just can’t kick. “Usually trauma bonds occur in relationships involving inconsistent reinforcement, such as those with addicts and alcoholics or in domestic violence situations,” writes Sharie Stines, Psy.D. It can also be observed in dysfunctional marriages as there are certain periods when the relationship appears “normal” to both partners. This type of bonding is also evident in religious cults, hostage situations, child abuse as well as toxic work environments. Sharie adds “The environment necessary to create a trauma bond involves intensity, complexity, inconsistency, and a promise. Victims stay because they are holding on to that elusive “promise” or hope. There is always manipulation involved.”
As the abused partners are desperate for the payoff, they are willing to accept and tolerate all types of toxic and damaging behavior. It is the elusive promise and the constant hope of experiencing happiness and fulfillment of certain personal needs of the abused partner. This is the reason why such bonding becomes addictive for the victim.
Read also: How to Leave A Narcissist or Abuser