We bond with our partners through the highs and lows of relationship. Dancing together, making love, gazing into each other’s eyes: we love the highs as the “feel-good” hormone of oxytocin flows through us. And while we may not love the lows, like mourning the loss of a loved one, being in a car accident, or going to the ER at 3 am, these experiences strengthen our bond as well.
In healthy relationships, the affection and trust, as well as the bond, between partners is fortified through these highs and lows. The healthy bond is also what motivates and inspires couples to work through conflict and struggle.
Yet there is another kind of bonding that occurs in abusive relationships. It’s referred to as trauma bonding and is defined as “a strong emotional attachment between an abused person and his or her abuser, formed as a result of the cycle of violence.”
This is when the unpredictability of the highs and lows, like the anger followed with apologies; and the contrast between the hitting and the hugging, the yelling and the silence, is actually both stimulating and familiar to the abused person. It’s almost like there is a craving for that kind of intensity as it wakes abused individuals from the numbness of past and present trauma and abuse. And it is familiar to what they experienced before, so they see it as the norm and make the mistake of believing they either deserve it or that this is just the way it is.
Trauma bonding occurs in many domestic abuse cases: a woman repeatedly returns to her husband who beats her and their children. She is in some ways a hostage in her own home. Her way of surviving is to have empathy for her husband and most times, she makes herself wrong and sees him as right. This is an unconscious strategy used to survive. She believes that if she joins with her abuser by taking on his same perspectives and values, the tension and overwhelm of the threat of abuse gets minimized.
But staying locked in the trauma bond only perpetuates the abuse and keeps her locked in the invisible cage of abuse.
If you’ve ever been abused, or are currently in an abusive situation, you may be experiencing trauma bonding. What does this look like?
8 Signs You May Be Locked In A Trauma Bond:
- You defend your abuser
- You don’t talk with others about what goes on between you and your abuser
- You blame yourself and believe you deserve the abuse
- You perceive a lack of abuse as an act of kindness
- You believe that he will change if you are patient and understanding
- You believe that if you give him what he wants you will survive
- You become what he wants and desires
- You want to leave the relationship yet seem unable to separate from the abusive cycle (which perpetuates your own judgment and blame of yourself)
How many of these signs do you recognize in your own current situation?
Whether you recognize one or all of them, please know you are not alone. There is support available to unlock yourself from the trauma bond.
You can call the domestic abuse hotline which is available 24/7:
1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.
For more information on how to unlock yourself from a trauma bond (which is similar to the Stockholm Syndrome, which I share more about in this resource), I invite you to check out my radio show on this topic: Get Unlocked & Get Free Of The Cage Of Abuse
You are not alone. You are not to blame for the trauma bonding you may currently be experiencing. There are people who can help you. It is, however, up to you to ask for that support. There is so much more available to you beyond the abuse, beyond the trauma bonding. Will you reach out and accept the support that is available to you?
Photos by Run Jane Fox,