How can you tell if your relationship with your partner is toxic? Learn about what is a trauma bond exactly and the warning signs you may have one.
Below are some definitions, signs and information about how to deal from trauma bonding.
What Is A Trauma Bond?
A trauma bond is an attachment to an abuser in a relationship with a cyclical pattern of abuse. Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., coined the term in 1997. He defined it as an adaptive, dysfunctional attachment occurring in the presence of danger, shame, or exploitation in order to survive.
It is a trauma reaction created due to a power imbalance and recurring abuse mixed with intermittent positive reinforcement; in other words, good and bad treatment. The abuser is the dominant partner who controls the victim with fear, unpredictability, belittling, and control.
Behavioral psychologists call “intermittent reinforcement” conditioning (or “training”) behavior through the use of giving intermittent rewards. Positive reinforcement is when the abuser acts friendly, romantic, or vulnerable following abuse.
It’s easy to go into denial about the abuse to maintain a positive connection with the perpetrator and cling to the hope that the relationship will improve. Looking for rewards can become addictive, like constantly checking your phone or email.
This is how gamblers keep chasing an elusive win to get back their losses, even as they go into debt. Slot machines are programmed to encourage addictive gambling based on this phenomenon. This repeated pattern leads to a cycle of abuse.
There may be expressions of remorse or false promises that the abuse will stop. This is similar to the “merry-go-round” of denial that accompanies addiction where the addict promises to quit.
Surprisingly, research confirmed that the reward-seeking behavior continued even after the rewards stop coming! In studies, rats neglected their grooming and other self-care habits but kept pushing the reward lever like a slot machine.
You can get addicted to emotionally unavailable partners because they may periodically want closeness. You become dependent on and addicted to your partner’s attention and validation. You can become addicted to any sign of approval or bits of kindness or closeness that feel all the more poignant (like make-up sex) because you’ve been starved and are relieved to feel loved.
Similarly, the mix of positive and negative feelings toward a Jekyl and Hyde abuser creates confusion and makes it hard to leave. Narcissists might intentionally withhold communication and affection to manipulate and control you with rejection or withholding, only to randomly fulfill your needs later.
You become anxious and try even harder to decipher the narcissist and how to please him or her to get what you previously had but to no avail. Like the experimental rats, you get accustomed to long periods of not getting your needs met.
This is how you become increasingly childlike and dependent on the narcissist — watching and accommodating to avoid abuse and to receive the occasional reward.
Trauma Bonding Relationship: Stockholm Syndrome
The term “Stockholm syndrome” originated from a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden in the summer of 1973 when bank robbers held four people hostage for six days. This syndrome describes captives who sympathize with their abuser in life-threatening situations where they are isolated and can’t escape
Prisoners align with their captors. Any act of kindness or even the absence of abuse feels like a sign of friendship and being cared for. The abuser seems less threatening.