All About Trauma Bonding

All About Trauma Bonding

Have you ever been in or see a loved one stay in a relationship that is toxic or unhealthy?
Sometimes, it is hard to leave a relationship, even if it appears damaging. Often times, it is more
likely that someone outside of a relationship is better able to recognize the signs of an abusive
relationship. At times, abuse is something that can be difficult to detect from inside of a
relationship. There are a couple reasons for this, but a main cause has to do with something
called trauma bonding. Trauma bonding is the attachment an abused person feels for their abuser,
specifically in a relationship with a cyclical pattern of abuse. Trauma bonding often happens in
romantic relationships; however, it can also occur between colleagues, family members, friends,
in human trafficking situations, and in elder abuse.

What is Trauma Bounding?

Trauma bonding happens when an abuser uses manipulation tactics and cycles of abuse to make
the victim feel dependent on them. Over time, this creates a strong bond between the abuser and
the victim, which makes it very difficult to leave. In trauma bonding, there is strong cycle of
abuse. After causing immense harm of some sort, an abusive person may promise to change or
never do harm again. Some may be especially kind and do excessive gestures to keep the person
in the relationship. This gives the abused person hope that there will be change in the
relationship. In addition, it gives the abused a false sense of love, safety and security in the
relationship by using reinforcement with the brain. Much of trauma bonding involves the abuser
trying to manipulate and control the person who is being abused in the relationship. Some
common control tactics include: intimidation, emotional abuse, isolation, blaming, gaslighting,
decision making, minimization, and threats.

Common Signs of Trauma Bonding

  1. Abuse: Abuse means treating another person with violence, cruelty, harm, or force in any
    capacity. Emotional, physical, verbal, sexual, and phycological abuse are all common
    when dealing with trauma bonding.
  2. Imbalance of power: Often times, there is a feeling of an imbalance of power with the
    relationship. The person who is being abused may feel helpful or like they are unable to
    leave the relationship because they are scared of the outcome. There are many forms of
    imbalance of power including: physical, emotional, financial, and psychological.
  3. Wanting to “please” the abuser: Since control and power play a big role in trauma
    bonding, it is not uncommon to want to please the abuser. Often times, people who are
    victims of a trauma bond tend to have people pleasing tendencies to begin with and are
    more empathic and vulnerable. During the cycle of abuse when the victim feels as though
    they have pleased the abuser, the brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine.
    Dopamine is the “feel good” neurotransmitter, which provides a desire of a wanting to
    please again the future.
  4. Loss of self: Often times people who are able to leave a toxic relationship, later report a
    loss of self during the relationship. An abuse victim might cover up or makes excuses to
    others for an abuser’s behavior or keep the abuse a secret. There is a loss of confidence
    and esteem and the victim might think the abuse is their fault.

What to Do

  1. Plan for safety: If currently in an abusive situation, leave it when there has been a safety
    plan created. This involves having somewhere safe to go with support. Turn to loved ones
    and trusted people. Get law enforcement in place as needed.
  2. Cut all ties: It is recommended by trauma professionals to cut all ties with the abuser and
    do not contact them under any circumstance.
  3. Practice positive self-care and talk: Speaking kindly to yourself and doing your best to
    believe that the abusive situation was not your fault are helpful tools to break your bond
    from your abuser. It is recommended to reach out to a mental health professional to help
    provide support to process though the trauma.

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