After you read that title, you're probably wondering what is trauma bonding? It is clear that bonding with other people is a biological and almost instinctual thing. It is a somewhat of a long process and takes time. People are able to bond over all kinds of different reasons and those reasons can grow stronger over a time.
For example, I bonded with my husband over what I thought were similar interests and of course what I thought was love for one another. We spent a lot of time together, made love, went out on dates, and I thought we grew together as a couple. We went through some bad experiences together and I thought our bond grew even deeper (Silly me). At the time, I didn’t know that I was being used and manipulated, but I digress.
Bonding makes people even more important to each other and doesn’t allow outside forces in. People lose friends and family because all that they are focused on is this relationship with this one individual. They fight and make up. They argue and make up. One punches the other in the face, apologizes and all is good in the world. Someone in the family suddenly passes away and this makes for a bonding experience. Bonding is not something that can be easily lost, if at all, unlike love, trust, or attractions.
Understanding trauma bonding can help you move on from a bad relationship and still live a full and happy life.
1. Bonding and WHY It Can Become Dangerous
So, what is trauma bonding? The above experiences are sometimes what makes an abusive relationship almost impossible to get out of. The longer that relationship continues, the more toxic it becomes, and the harder it becomes to walk away. But why is it hard? Why is it hard to walk away from someone who hurts you, bullies you, and abuses you physically, but also verbally, mentally, emotionally, and psychologically? Because you are afraid to lose that bond. I was once afraid to leave my first relationship even though it was full of abuse and degradation, but I felt like I didn’t deserve any better, and on top of that, I had formed such a strong bond with this guy that it was almost impossible to walk away. But I had to leave, I was younger and he was older. I suffered tremendously but it was so HARD to leave him. It was hard, but I did it. It is not always wise to judge whether the decision to leave is the right one because it is hard, it will ALWAYS be hard and cause horrific pain. My marriage, or lack thereof, is really no different.
2. How a Person Grows up
It is said that growing up in an unsafe home or in unsafe situations can contribute to trauma bonding. People who have family of origin issues bond with those like themselves. For me, I supposed it was that first relationship that made trauma bonding in my marriage so easy to fall into. That first relationship when I was 16 years old made way to the shit storm that is now my life. I haven’t experienced the same things that my husband has, but we bonded over some similar experiences. This is not love, even though it might feel like it. This is toxicity at its worst. In a way, his cheating made me numb to all intimacy.
I was shattered to my very core. Numb was good at the time. When a person is traumatized they respond to dangerous situations in order to make them feel alive, it’s akin to an individual cutting him or herself so that they can FEEL. Trauma bonding is neither rational nor normal. It’s even harder to explain to someone who has never been through it. The best way to describe it is if an individual chooses to stay with someone who beats them everyday, but they stay because they believe they need that individual (this is not only trauma bonding but it is also co-dependency).
3. Why do People Develop These Bonds?
-Survival: people who develop these bonds are merely trying to survive.
-Internal consistency: cognitive dissonance and a lot of mental gymnastics.
4. You Are in a Trauma Bonding Experience if
-You stay in a relationship with a person who abuses you or treats you badly
-You cover up or make excuses for your abuser
-You isolate yourself because your partner or spouse asked you to or made you
-You give up your sense of self to please your spouse or partner in the hopes that they will throw you a crumb of love
-You stop listening to advice from friends and family
-You try to get your spouse/partner to “see the light”
-You lose your sense of self
5. Leaving a Trauma Bonded Relationship
Leaving a traumatic relationship will leave the individual who is leaving burned out. It's just not possible to stay. When the separation is done, cut off contact - block phone numbers, get a P.O. Box, etc.
Once you've separated yourself from the destruction, then the real work can begin (counseling, al-anon meetings, people that love too much etc.) and it is intense but quite interesting. Don't be afraid that you are unable to relate to anyone at this point. All you crave is that toxic love that you left behind. You will feel alone, desolate, and just totally empty. You will want to go back to your abuser. The urge will be that strong. Going back won't fix you or the problem.
You must abstain from that intensity so that the distress you feel will be better endured. Start small. Block him or her. Start journaling everything that you want to say to him or her but won't. Write that person a letter and afterward, shred or burn it. Just get that monkey off of your back. White-knuckle it if you have to. Go to therapy, as it will provide a safe and supportive place in which you can gain clarity and self-understanding and make necessary changes to your life. Pleas know that trauma bonding can become very dangerous very quickly. The faster you get out, the better off you'll be. Easier said than done. But what do you value?