6 Signs of Trauma Bonding

6 Signs of Trauma Bonding

Breaking the Bond: Understanding and Breaking Free from Trauma Bonds

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Have you ever found yourself in a relationship where despite being mistreated, you felt strongly bonded to the person responsible for your pain? If so, you may have experienced what is known as trauma bonding. This psychological phenomenon occurs when a person feels intensely connected to an abusive partner, parent, or friend. The abuser often alternates between showering their victim with positive attention and treating them poorly, creating a powerful psychological bond. This bond can lead to a range of negative consequences, including low self-esteem and the development of mental health disorders such as depression. Recognizing the signs of trauma bonding is crucial in order to break free and regain control of your life.

Justifying or Defending the Person’s Behavior

One of the key signs of trauma bonding is the tendency to justify or defend the abusive person’s behavior. Survivors of domestic violence or abuse often describe their abuser as displaying “perfect” or “wonderful” behavior 90% of the time, with only 10% of the time being problematic. This overall “good” behavior is what allows the bond to form in the first place. As a result, victims may find themselves making excuses for their abuser’s unhealthy traits or behaviors. They may find themselves saying things like “oh, they’re just having a bad day” or “I shouldn’t have spent money on myself.” This pattern of justifying and rationalizing the abuse can trap victims in a cycle of trauma bonding.

Constantly Thinking About Those Who Hurt You

If you find that you incessantly think about someone who has caused you harm, even after they are no longer in your life, it may be a sign of trauma bonding. Despite the abuse, you may find it hard to stop thinking about them or fantasizing about being with or around them again. This persistent preoccupation can be a powerful indicator of a trauma bond.

Constant Desire to Help the Abuser

A clear sign of trauma bonding is a constant desire to help the person who has harmed you, despite their history of abuse. This can manifest in various ways, such as offering to shovel their driveway after a snowstorm, helping with their bills, or paying for their groceries, cell phone, or internet service. This unwavering willingness to provide support and assistance, even at great personal cost, is a hallmark of trauma bonding.

Unwillingness to Leave the Abusive Relationship

Being unable or unwilling to leave a relationship despite being mistreated is another common sign of trauma bonding. While leaving an abusive situation can be incredibly challenging, with mixed emotions, fear of starting over, financial uncertainty, and other considerations making it difficult, choosing to leave is crucial in preventing the escalation of abuse. Breaking the trauma bond may require seeking support from a mental health professional and developing a safety plan.

Covering for the Abuser’s Behavior

Covering for an abuser’s unhealthy behaviors is another characteristic of trauma bonding. This can take many forms, including making excuses for them, becoming defensive when speaking to friends and family about them, and even distancing oneself from loved ones. Even after leaving the relationship, victims may remain silent about the abuse, often due to feelings of shame, fear of not being believed, or fear of retaliation.

Inability to Express True Feelings or Opinions

Feeling like you can’t be your authentic self around an abusive partner, friend, or family member is a sign of trauma bonding. This may manifest as an unwillingness to share your feelings, opinions, or thoughts. Over time, you may find yourself conforming to their thinking in order to please them or prevent their anger. Losing your sense of self in this way reinforces the trauma bond and reinforces the power dynamics within the relationship.

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Breaking the Trauma Bond

While breaking a trauma bond can be extremely challenging, it is possible with the right support and strategies. The National Domestic Violence Hotline suggests several approaches to help break the bond:

  1. Focus on the truth: If your partner shows no genuine efforts to change or improve themselves, it’s essential to believe what you see or don’t see over their empty promises. Confronting the reality of the situation is a crucial step towards breaking the bond.

  2. Focus on the current situation: Nostalgia and reminiscing about the good times can reinforce the trauma bond. Instead, focus on the present and how the current situation makes you feel. Keeping a diary can help organize your thoughts and untangle the emotional web.

  3. Learn about self-care: Often, victims stay invested in abusive relationships because their abusers provide some form of comfort, despite the abuse. Engaging in self-care routines can help reduce dependency on the abuser for emotional support, making it easier to break free.

  4. Practice positive self-talk: Being in an abusive relationship can seriously damage self-esteem. Engaging in positive self-talk and recognizing when you are being overly self-critical can help improve your self-image and give you the confidence you need to leave the situation.

Recognizing the signs of an abusive relationship and learning about healthy relationship dynamics can also help you prevent falling into a trauma bond in future relationships. Identifying the warning signs early on can empower you to make healthier choices and protect yourself from further harm.

If you require immediate assistance with domestic violence, please reach out to any of the following resources:

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233
  • Loveisrespect.org: Text LOVEIS to 22522 or call 866-331-9474
  • National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: Resource List

Seeking Help and Creating a Safety Plan

If you suspect that you may have a trauma bond with someone, seeking help from a mental health professional can provide invaluable support. A trained therapist can help you identify the abuse, develop a positive self-esteem, and connect you with resources to help you leave the abusive relationship. To find a counselor, you can ask your primary care provider or utilize the American Psychology Association (APA)’s therapist locator.

If you are currently living with an abusive partner, it is important to develop a personalized safety plan. While these plans may vary, they generally include steps to help you escape the abusive situation and ensure your safety. Some key elements of a safety plan may include:

  • Identifying safe friends or family members to stay with
  • Making arrangements for leaving, including securing money, finding a safe place to stay, and informing your workplace
  • Researching local support organizations and gathering their contact information
  • Taking measures to maintain your safety after leaving, such as changing phone numbers, locks, and work hours
  • Documenting evidence of the abuse for potential legal actions

Remember, breaking free from an abusive situation is a courageous and difficult process, but with the right support, resources, and personal commitment, you can reclaim your life and build a healthier, happier future.

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