Do you think you can’t leave your abusive partner? Do you feel hopeless when you return to a relationship filled with pain? Or, do you dwell on your toxic ex and struggle to stay away? Then you may be caught in a carefully crafted trauma bond – but you don’t need to be Houdini to escape.
What is trauma bonding?
Traumatic-bonding is an intense attachment to your abuser. It happens when you feel emotionally and physically dependent upon a dominant partner – who dishes out abuse and rewards so you believe that he’s all-powerful.
“powerful emotional attachments are seen to develop from two specific features of abusive relationships: power imbalances and intermittent good-bad treatment.”(Dutton and Painter, 1981)
Are you struggling to understand why it is so hard to let go of a violent or abusive relationship? Here are three signs that trauma bonding may be holding you back.
1. You’re in a violent or otherwise abusive relationship, and you don’t know you’d survive without him.
Trauma-bonding manifests in an intense attachment to the individual who is causing you pain. At this point, you feel your mental and physical well being depends on your partner – and that’s not surprising. You put his (or her) needs above your own, every time. He dictates when you are scared, and when you feel safe. He sets the rules, you’re punished if he thinks you’ve broken them. Often, you’re caught out because he doesn’t tell you his rules, or he changes them without notice. This is not accidental – he’s doing it deliberately to de-stabilize you and to demonstrate his power as the ultimate Rule Maker.
2. You live for the good times.
He is also a source of relief and comfort, because when he decides to reward you he may not hit or shout at you. He may even apologize for his behavior and be extra-loving for a while. This too is intentional.
Trauma bonding is formed from intermittent punishment/reward behavior patterns.
Unfortunately, your relief is only temporary as the tension quickly begins to build again and you wait for the inevitable outbreak of abuse. There is a grossly uneven balance of power in your relationship, rather like a twisted parent/child relationship in which you are a puppet and he pulls all the strings. Small wonder then, that it is hard to imagine a world in which he isn’t there to govern your behavior and emotions
3. When you do leave him, you fall to bits.
Thoughts of him dominate your every waking moment. You struggle to sleep, and when you do drift off in an exhausted fog, you dream of him. You ache to go back to him. You know you dare not. You remonstrate with yourself, believing yourself a pitiful masochist for missing someone who treats you so abominably (wrongly, by the way: blame and shame belong on his shoulders, not yours). You shed weight. Despite that cannonball of clotted dread in your gut, you scour social media for news of him, hoping he’ll burst back into your life.
You’re literally craving your next ‘fix’. Some describe the trauma bond as akin to addiction, in which you are emotionally and possibly even physiologically attached to your abusive partner. The experience of going ‘cold turkey’ can therefore be mentally and physically traumatic, requiring grueling and dogged effort to get away from him – and to stay away. However hard that trauma bond tugs on you to return, remember this:
Your resolve to live abuse-free could save your life, and it will in time enable you to be happier, healthier, and safer.
Have you felt the pull of the trauma bond? How did it make you feel, and what impact did it have?