Breaking free of the chains of trauma bonding
If you ever found yourself falling in love in an abusive relationship then you understand what it’s like to be trauma bonded with an abuser. You might have found it difficult to break free from trauma bonding with an emotional abuser. When you cannot break away from a trauma bond, it is easy to confuse abusive as love and become stuck in an abusive relationship. Here are several reasons why its hard to break the chains of trauma bonding.
What is trauma bonding? Traumatic bonding occurs as the result of ongoing cycles of abuse in which the intermittent reinforcement of reward and punishment creates powerful emotional bonds that are resistant to change. Therefore, in order to avoid the punishment, the reward of love can form an attachment that is difficult to break.
When you are abused and get rewarded with love, you can soon forget about the abuse and put up with it.
The Stockholm Syndrome depicts those who were kept hostage who developed strong feelings for their captors, forming a bond that allowed them to feel rewarded when they were kept alive. They were able to please the captors which allowed them feel safe, by forming an attachment to them. This can mean denying the trauma in order to cope with the life-threatening situation. Therefore, blocking out the trauma and staying attached to an abuser allows a survival mechanism to kick in.
In trauma bonding this same coping mechanism allows the victim to stay attached to the abuser in an abusive relationship. These self-protective coping mechanisms or defences prevent the victim from recognizing the abuse, preventing them from breaking free from trauma bonding.
If you ever found yourself drawn to abusive relationships and haven’t been able let go, then maybe you got some love, as a reinforcement for putting up with it.
When you’ve been longing for love, you can become captivated by the charms of someone abusive and believe that you are being loved, ignoring the signs of abuse.
How to detect if you are trauma bonding in an abusive relationship?
If you’ve fallen in love quickly, and all of sudden found your partner to act abusively towards you, then you can be trauma bonding with an abuser, especially if you felt so attached and you couldn’t break away from the toxic relationship.
In a healthy relationship the love builds gradually once you connect to your partner and get to know them. It is not always so intense and heated at the beginning.
If you are becoming attached through trauma bonding you might notice that the feeling of love is magnified and feels so intense, so you believe you have strong feelings for that person. But, this bond can blind you from the abuse, when you attach through the wound.
When you find yourself putting up with abusive behaviour and cannot let go, you are most likely relating through a trauma bond due to past childhood attachment wounds.
Trauma bonding occurs when the attachment relationship is created through repeated abusive exposure with a caretaker, causing this abusive relationship to become internalized as a learned pattern for attachment.
If you experienced abuse from a caregiver then you may have learned to associate love with abuse. You might have felt attached to your abusive caretaker when they give you love and approval, so you learned how to adapt your behaviour to meet their needs.
If you were abused as a child, you might have felt berated, abandoned and unworthy for misbehaving and upsetting your parent. Deep down, you believed that it‘s your fault for causing trouble. So, you wanted to make it up to them so that you can to feel attached and good enough. You pleased the caregiver in order to comply to their needs in order feel the love you wanted from them.
You inherently believe that you are ‘bad’ and deserve the punishment, so you want to be ‘good’ for your abuser, so that you can feel loved. You become drawn to abusive partners where you replay this pattern.
You may not always be aware that you feel this way, because the feelings are deep in the subconscious.
You can end up taking the blame for abuse, believing it is all your fault for misbehaving, and end up pleasing the abusive partners in order to feel good enough for them, and avoid the abuse.
The wish for reunion with the loved object actually ends up destroying you, reliving the abuse that was already done to you. The hope for unmet love becomes the fantasy that blinds you and prevents you from protecting yourself.
When you blame yourself or think something is wrong with you, you end up believing the abuser and putting up with the abuse, because you’ve internalised that it is all your fault.
You relive this pattern of putting up with abusive relationships in order to be reunited with the internal parental abuser.
A woman who felt loved by a narcissistic father feels drawn to men who violate her, because it ties her with the love that she received from her father. She wishes that she could get the love he gave her in the form of trauma bonding with abusive partners. Many individuals will connect with their partner through the wound, by trying to get back the love they yearn for. In this way, they stay trapped in their past and are unable to move on, until they let go of these patterns in relationship counselling.
A woman may feel good pleasing an abusive partner and meeting all his needs in order to avoid the fear of losing him and not getting the love she yearns for. When she pleases him she feel good about herself and loved, forgetting about the actual abuse.
If you were abused, then, you most likely felt unworthy or blamed yourself as the problem. It’s easy to put up with abuse and blame yourself, if you hold onto these negative views about yourself.
If you believe you are the person at fault and blame yourself, then the abuse becomes a form of self punishment for the things you do wrong.
When you’ve internalised the repeated abuse from a caretaker, you can end up abusing yourself by being addicted to abusive relationships, destroying your actual self.
In order to feel loved with the abusive caretaker, you end up denying the abuse by burying the pain and turning this anger towards yourself, as a form of self-hatred.
To protect your relationship with the caretaker, you internalise the abuse inside yourself, so it forms the way you feel about yourself.
Internalising the abuse can distort how you see yourself, believing you are not worthy. This is not your true self, and gets in the way of moving forward, unless you work on yourself.
You put up with things that are destructive towards you, since you believe it is what you deserve. You have no other template for love.
You can end up repeating this pattern of protecting the abuser, so that you feel loved by avoiding abuse in relationships.
Protecting yourself from the abuse may have helped you to survive your childhood, but it works against you now.
As long as a partner is abusing you, you do not have to beat yourself up, because they already do.
Attracting an abuser keeps you attached to the parental abuser, in the hope of being loved within the trauma bond.
When you justify the abuse by blaming yourself, you end up denying the abuse. Like the child, you protect your abuser, so that you can feel attached.
You end up living the fantasy of being loved, which is much more preferable then not being loved at all.
If you became aware of the abuse, this would stir up the original feelings of abandonment from the lost love object. Therefore this would be defended against by denying it and blaming yourself.
Breaking the trauma bonds
If you let go of this fantasy that you are loved, it will bring you closer to the fear of losing the loved object, awakening the feeling of not being good enough, and reactivating the same attachment pattern with the abusive parent. So, you cannot let go of the abuser, and must be good to get them back. It feels like survival.
The person being abused cannot let go of her abuser due to the trauma bond. This is why it’s difficult to break the chains of the trauma bond, because the person feels abandoned when they are not closely attached to the abuser.
Love is not meant to be abusive, it is not supposed to be based on pleasing someone, but being yourself. Mastering self-love means letting go of the ties to the abusive parental object, in order to free yourself from the abusive attachment patterns of seeking love and approval.
How to break free from the trauma bond?
- Breaking free from the trauma bond means acknowledging that the relationship is abusive. You will not feel safer if you please your abuser, nor will you get the love you are looking for.
- The survival mechanisms protect you from recognizing the abuse, so denial sets in, and this can keep you stuck in an abusive cycle, rather than doing something about it.
- Minimising the abuse and placating the anger only keeps you stuck in the cycle of abuse.
- Change occurs by letting go of the trauma bond and breaking the fantasy that you are loved, and seeing the relationship for what it really is.
- Replace the relationship with things you love, invest in yourself, so you can rebuild your life, and let go of toxic bonds that destroy you.
- Ask yourself what you are getting out of the relationship and how being abused makes you feel, so honour yourself.
- Break the trauma bonds by reaching out to your supports and remind yourself that you are not to blame.
- Seek therapy to help yourself to break free from the trauma bond and rebuild yourself
Breaking free from a trauma bond in an abusive relationship will bring up the associated pain of losing the loved object, but it is necessary in order to move forward and rebuild ones life.
The antidote for change is working on yourself in order to overcome the negative self beliefs that bind you with the abuser.
Staying in an abusive situation will not make you safe, it will expose you to more abuse and diminish your sense of self. Furthermore, it can be far worse if you expose your child to abuse, because the trauma bonds repeat themselves.
When the old survival mechanisms kick in, it causes the victim to placate the actual abuser and put up with abuse. It inevitability exposes them to more abuse, rather than making it safe for them.
How to break the cycle of abuse in trauma bonding
Breaking free of trauma bonding means breaking the denial that prevents you seeing the abuse, overcoming the patterns of attachment to an abuser, stop meeting their needs to feel loved and letting go of the fantasy of being loved. Breaking free from toxic abuse means loving yourself and protecting yourself from abuse.
Nancy Carbone is a relationship therapist with a M Soc.Sc (Couns). If you want to break free from trauma bonding contact Nancy for a counselling session, or sign up on her newsletter for free advice and tips on relationship matters.
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