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5 Signs Of Trauma Bonding
Do you feel loved one minute and devalued the next?
Do you want to stay in a red-flag relationship when everyone else tells you to leave?
Are you scared of leaving someone who treats you unkindly?
These can be signs of trauma bonding – a cyclical attachment style prevalent in abusive relationships.
What Is Trauma Bonding?
Trauma bonding is a complex attachment style where you feel a bond to someone, even if they are abusive towards you. Trauma bonding usually occurs when someone alternates between kindness and abuse.
It is natural to develop a bond when someone treats you with kindness and affection. However, there may then be abuse (verbal, physical, psychological, for example), and your loyalty towards this person may prevent you from removing yourself from the situation or creating healthy boundaries. You can feel powerless and blame yourself for the situation.
Trauma bonding is where you can recognise the abuse but feel unable to leave. A good indication of trauma bonding is if a loved one were in a similar situation, you would advise them to leave.
Trauma bonding can often occur in romantic relationships but can also occur in any dynamic where manipulation is used. It could be with family members or caregivers, cult leaders, or hostage situations.
The Science Behind Trauma Bonding
Trauma bonding works because it focuses on the short-term memory and fight, flight or freeze response. When you suffer abuse, this causes stress and your sympathetic nervous system kicks in to provide a fight/flight response. It shuts off the pre-frontal cortex, which focuses on the long-term. Instead, it puts all your energy into just getting through the trauma.
Then, when the abuser offers positive reinforcement such as comforting you afterwards or apologising, your brain sees this as the end of the stress. The brain sees the abuser as the person who provides immediate comfort and safety. This deepens the bond and makes the brain unable to see the big picture or long-term implications.
5 Signs Of Trauma Bonding
1. They’re In Control
It is common to feel powerless in trauma bonds and that they have all the power.
Because of their control, you may not know how to break free, or it may be that you feel lost without them. It may feel scary to take back your own control, and you might feel more comfortable being controlled.
2. You Excuse Them (Or Keep It Secret)
If others question their behaviour, you make excuses for them, defend their behaviour or try to protect them by keeping their abuse a secret.
3. There’s A Cyclical Pattern
Trauma bonding often follows a cycle of treating you kindly and showing affection with gifts, time together and praise. They may then be abusive but quickly apologise and excuse their own behaviour. They may promise to change and start acting kindly, where the cycle then begins again.
When they are nice, they regain your trust to deepen the love and the bond so that you start suppressing the memory of their abusive behaviour. With this, it can feel unexpected when it happens again.
4. You Think You Can Change Them
The abuser may be quick to apologise and promise to change. Consequently, you may believe that you can change them by adjusting your behaviour to help them change. You try to focus on the good times and ignore any negative behaviours.
5. You Love Them, But Don’t Like Them
Trauma bonding can also show you that you don’t like or respect your partner anymore, but you still love them or feel unable to cut the ties. You may have tried to leave them in the past, but leaving feels physically and emotionally impossible, draining and distressing.
If you need support in breaking a trauma bond, I am here to support you with professional therapy to build your self-confidence, establish boundaries and move on from trauma. To find out more, I offer free phone consultations. Just email email@example.com to book your free no-obligation call.
If you want to find out more about Trauma Bonding, look out for my next post where I’ll be sharing the ways you can break free from the bond.