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If You've Never Heard of 'Trauma Bonding,' This Explainer Is for You

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People often don’t realize they have formed a trauma bond. It’s possible that many of us have had at least one such relationship in our lives. The first step to breaking free is acceptance of such a bond. I wrote the following to explain what a trauma bond is, how it forms and some resources that might help if you’ve experienced this.

• What is PTSD?

What Is Trauma Bonding?

Trauma bonding is loyalty to a person who is destructive. It occurs because of cycles of abuse followed by intermittent love or reward. This treatment creates a powerful emotional bond that is extremely hard to break. People often don’t realize they are in a trauma bond, while others outside the relationship can clearly see it’s destructive patterns.

According to Dr. Patrick Carnes, these types of destructive attachments are known as “betrayal bonds” and can take place in any context where a relationship can be formed. They can occur in romantic relationships, friendships, within the family, and the workplace.

The 7 Stages of Trauma Bonding

1. Love BombingThey shower you with excess love, flattery, and appreciation in order to gain your affection.

2. Trust and Dependency: They try do everything to win your trust and make you depend on them heavily for love and validation.

3. Criticism: They gradually start criticizing you. They blame you for things and become more demanding.

4. Gaslighting: When things go wrong they tell you that is your fault. They make you doubt your own perceptions and manipulate you into believing their narrative.

5. Resigning to Control: You no longer know what to believe, but your only way of experiencing the good feelings of Stage I is by giving in and doing things their way.

6. Loss of Self: When you fight back, things get worse. You settle for anything to have some peace and make the fights stop. You lose all your confidence.

7. Addiction: You get addicted to the highs and lows. Your body is on a constant cortisol high (stress) and craves dopamine (pleasure). This creates a cycle of dependency that feels a lot like a drug addiction.

Signs of Being in a Trauma Bond With Someone

— A pattern of non-performance: the person constantly promises you things and constantly lets you down.

— You feel that you don’t even like or trust the person anymore but you cannot leave.

— Your friends and family have advised against the relationship, but you stay.

— Others seem disturbed by things that happen to you but you brush it off.

— You have tried to leave, but it makes you feel physically ill, like you will die or your life will be destroyed if you do.

— You know the person is “sometimes” abusive and destructive, but you focus on the “good” in them.

— You feel protective about the person because of their “difficult past” or “childhood” and find yourself caring for them despite their abusive behavior.

— You know you are being manipulated, but you’re often in denial and block out or quickly forget bad things.

— The relationship is intense and inconsistent. You do everything to please them and are unconditionally loyal while getting nothing but heartbreak in return.

— They say things you want to hear to resolve issues temporality — “I have learnt my lesson,” “I will prove my love for you everyday,” “Life is impossible without you.”

— You are driven to the point of self-destruction and often harbor thoughts of self-harm.

If You Identify Yourself in a Trauma Bond, Remember:

The first step forward towards breaking free from a trauma bond is recognizing it, reconnecting with reality and deciding to leave.

Trauma bonds can occur because of childhood or unresolved past trauma. Because of its addictive nature it can be difficult to break free on your own. It is recommended that you seek the support of a psychotherapist or recovery expert.

All genders can be victims of a trauma bond.

Resources and Further Reading

Getty image via tolgart

Originally published: September 11, 2020
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