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How I Broke My ‘Trauma Bond’ With My Narcissist Ex-Boyfriend

Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced domestic violence or emotional abuse, sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering.

You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by selecting “chat now” or calling 1-800-799-7233.

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Disclaimer: These tips on how to break a traumatic bond are what worked best for me. I am sharing these steps to give advice. I am in no way a professional. If you have questions or think you are in a harmful situation, please reach out to a professional therapist or call your local police department.

Traumatic bonding happens when we are in an abusive relationship but feel unable to leave.

In psychology, “bonding” refers to the positive sense of connection and attachment that grows between people when they spend a lot of time together. If you or someone you know has been in an abusive relationship, you have witnessed the strength of this type of connection. Maybe you or someone you know is trying to get out, but seems incapable of leaving. I felt this way for a really long time when it came to my abusive relationship. I felt like I was unable to leave him even though he chose someone else to be with. What kept me from moving on and letting the trauma win was dwelling on the past abusive situations and only focusing on the good.

I didn’t know much about what a trauma bond really was until I was doing research on abusive relationships. I have been trying to understand why it took so long for me to leave him and move forward, and after doing research and reading up on trauma bonds, I figured out that T and I were attached because of the trauma we endured together.

Can I give you a bit of a back story? Alright, so if you have read my post previous to this one you already know a little bit about T. He was my abusive ex-boyfriend who manipulated me into letting him use my body until he found someone new, but before he did all that we endured a pretty traumatic relationship. During our short relationship, he sexually abused me and assaulted me. Yikes, right? Even after all this stuff happened and we broke up, I stuck around because I was so “in love” with him. Looking back, though, I know I wasn’t in love. No matter what happened, like him hitting me or verbally abusing me, I had to stay with him and beg him to be with me again. After he got with his new girlfriend, he started saying “I’m going to leave her for you” and made fake promises to me and ended up with me being disappointed and depressed.

OK, so before we keep going, we need to identify the signs of trauma bonding:

  • You feel stuck and powerless in the relationship but try to make the best of it.
  • Deep down, there are moments you don’t even know if you like or trust the other person, but you can’t leave.
  • The relationship is intense and complex and involves a promise: “I promise things will get better,” “I promise when I get a job things will be different,” “I promise I’ll marry you one day.”
  • You know they are “sometimes” abusive, but you focus on the “good” in them.
  • Or, you think you can somehow change them so they aren’t emotionally or physically abusive.
  • Your friends and/or family have advised you leave the relationship but you stay.
  • You find yourself defending the relationship if others criticize it.
  • You have tried to leave, but you feel physically ill if you do, or like you will die or your life will be destroyed.
  • The other person constantly lets you down but you still believe their promises.

Sounds familiar, right? Yeah, that’s because I outlined some of those signs in the paragraph above. I wish I knew that I was trauma-bonded to this person because maybe that would have helped me get out sooner. I went through so much shit with this person and really thought things would change for us. I gave him my whole heart and more, and when he left, I was left feeling confused and helpless.

When I decided I was going to stop chasing after him, he didn’t like that. He came crawling back because I wanted to get justice for what he did to me. I always thought I deserved justice, even if it was going to be hard to get. After trying so hard to get justice I finally realized that we were traumatically bonded and that make me quit trying to get back at him. I knew that if I wanted to fully get better I needed to break this bond and not look bad so that is what I did.

What I had to do was “starve the narcissist.” Here is how I did that:

  • I found self-worth and self-love.
  • I showed no emotions toward him.
  • If he texted me, I would give him short responses.
  • I haven’t seen him for a year now, and if he asks to see me I would say no so I could have no interaction with him at all.
  • I stopped contacting him. I stopped initiating the conversation. I also stopped replying. That annoyed him.

Yes, those steps are easier said than done, but they are possible! The first step to letting go is finding love in yourself because if you don’t love yourself, you can’t take out the trash and keep surrounding yourself with the negativity. It took me a very long time to get to where I am now with my progress so please don’t feel bad if you aren’t where you’d like to be with finding self-love because it will come in time. Once you find self-worth and self-love, it will be smooth sailing with every other step!

Showing no emotions toward him was tough. Every time he would text me I would want to text him in all caps “yelling” at him for what he did to me, but I had to stay calm and collected and not show him my true feelings because narcissists feed on your emotions and use them against you. I’m going to add step three into this paragraph too because I think they go hand in hand together. Every time he texted me, I would give him short responses. I used to text him “leave me alone” about five times a day and every time I did that, he would respond with, “Why,” which would piss me off and make my insides burn with anger. He knew that texting me “Why” would make me angry so I stopped giving him the opportunity to just text me “why” anymore. Whenever I chose to reply, keeping it short would keep me from giving him the reaction he craved from me.

For a really long time, I was begging him to see me and try to fix things with me. After about four months of begging, I stopped and got tired of him and his broken promises. That’s when I decided I didn’t care about seeing him anymore and I was going to cut him out completely. Even though at first I wasn’t able to cut him off, and I still don’t know why, I was able to keep no physical interaction between us. But I should also thank him for that because he kept showing me up whenever he said he was coming over. By showing me up, he helped me move forward and break the bond by not caring anymore. It only takes so many fake promises to finally drain you and say, “fuck it and fuck you.”

What really annoyed him was when I stopped replying to him. He hated not having control over me and control over the situation and by not contacting him, I was guaranteed to have full control over this. When a narcissist loses control, they don’t know what to do. You took control of the situation and they lost power over you so now they are frantic and trying to get you back. But, ladies and gentlemen, stay strong because you already gain control so don’t fall back into the trap! Narcissists and abusers are sly and charming. They know how to use their words to lure you back in. Stay strong and keep your power. Don’t initiate a conversation and don’t reply to them. That is when you will break this traumatic bond between the two of you and you can move forward with your beautiful life.

Unfortunately, we seem to learn we are in trauma bonds when it’s “too late.” We’re already sucked in by their lies and manipulation but what I will say is that it is never too late to break the bond and leave them in the dust. They don’t deserve an explanation on why you’re leaving them or why you have finally found the power to love yourself because they are not worth it. Finding self-love and self-worth is step one, and the most important step, for many other things that I want to highlight on this blog but for now it is the first step to breaking the bond between you and a narcissist. I had to break my bond using strength and courage while loving myself more than him, and it worked.

Please keep in mind that these steps are given as advice to you because they worked the best for me! In no way are my words fact. I do hope that my way works for you if you are looking for a way out or looking for a way to help a friend or loved one, but if you have questions or are in danger please reach out to a professional therapist or your local police department.

A version of this story was previously published on the author’s blog, Midwest Depressed.

Photo by Mark Pan4ratte on Unsplash

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