Trauma doesn’t only affect an individual. Sometimes, it spreads outward. One of the ways this happens is in the case of trauma bonding.
What Is Trauma Bonding?
Trauma bonding is when two people who have experienced traumatic events gravitate toward each other. In this relationship, both people are triggered by each other’s trauma, creating a painful and unhealthy cycle. Furthermore, those with PTSD tend to struggle with emotional regulation. Trauma bonds create a volatile environment, leading to irrational reactions, emotional outbursts, and even violent behavior. When trauma goes unaddressed, it directly influences our behavior. Some people may do unkind things in order to feel a sense of control they didn’t have in their own traumatic experience.
On the other hand, some trauma victims tend to fall into the “fawn” response. They may try to endlessly please a partner, even if that partner abuses them because they believe the problem lies within themselves. If they could only be better, their relationship could be a happily-ever-after.
Often, people engaged in a trauma bond realize the relationship’s negative effect on them. However, they find it difficult to leave because there are good times between episodes of turmoil. This fosters an environment for the development of abuse.
How Does Trauma Bonding Affect Relationships?
Before looking at these aspects of trauma bonds, it’s important to note that these relationships are complicated. These abusive behaviors stem from skewed beliefs stemming from trauma—rarely are they enacted purely out of a baseless desire to do harm. While that doesn’t make these behaviors okay, recognizing the nuances helps to understand how to break unhealthy cycles.
One aspect that commonly shows up in trauma bonds is gaslighting. Gaslighting is when an abuser denies certain events occurred, tries to convince the other person that things happened differently, or generally tries to deny the other person’s reality. The gaslighter protects themselves by gaining a sense of control, while the receiver is lulled into a false sense of reality. Over time, this type of emotional manipulation can make people feel as if they are “going crazy.”
Another tactic seen in trauma bonds is love-bombing. This is a manipulation tactic that keeps partners from leaving an abuser. This takes the form of a flood of affection. There may be an excess of adoration, apologies, elaborate gifts, etc. The victim is reassured the abuser will change and is given a sense of hope that ultimately doesn’t come true.
Another thing that keeps a trauma bond active is low self-esteem. As seen in the previous sections, low self-esteem plays a significant role in manipulating others and/or being manipulated. Because trauma also comes with depression and anxiety, it can significantly impact a person’s sense of self-worth. They may believe that they do not deserve better, a thought process that tends to be enforced by an abuser.
Breaking the Cycle
Trauma bonds do more harm than good. While it seems impossible to escape the cycle at times, healing is possible. Some people may feel shame asking for help or talking about their situation with a loved one. Reaching out for support from domestic violence aid groups can help, especially if you’re in an unsafe situation. There is nothing to be ashamed of, and reaching out for help shows strength.
Therapy is incredibly helpful in addressing and healing from your underlying trauma. In therapy, you learn skills to help make the memories less distressing. You also learn to reframe your core beliefs into something positive. In time, you’ll recognize what healthy relationships look like.
The hardest part of breaking free is getting started. If you’re experiencing a trauma bond situation, don’t hesitate to reach out for support. Reach out to us today for a to get started with counseling for relationship issues– we can help you get on a path to self-confidence and healthy love.