Have you ever been in an abusive relationship and unable to leave it? Or have you ever seen someone go through an abusive relationship and wondered ‘why won’t they just leave’? Well, things are not always as easy as leaving an abusive relationship. Sometimes the abused person in the relationship forms a strong emotional bond with the abuser in the situation. This is called a Trauma Bond.
A trauma bond is a deep emotional attachment that develops in a relationship characterized by abuse that’s emotional, physical, or both. In this lopsided power dynamic, the abuser maintains control through a variety of tactics that ultimately make the abused person believe that ending the relationship is a terrifying, or even impossible, prospect.
Often in romantic partners this starts because the start of a relationship would look good. The victim must have been love-bombed, which means he or she might have been bombarded with gifts or praise words or love-filled words. They might be referred to as soulmates very early on in the relationship. So, the victim believes this to be true and fails to see the reality of the situation.
They expect that things will get better. They expect comfort from their own abuser. And often are provided with this comfort, which is soon followed by more abuse. This continues as a cycle. It is often easy to leave a relationship if it is bad all the time. But when it alternates between abuse and kindness you get confused. The kindness phase makes you expect a permanent positive change that never comes. But you never leave the abuser either.
But falling prey to a trauma bond does not mean that you are weak. Many times, extremely capable human beings fall into trauma bonds. And this bond necessarily does not exist only between romantic partners. It can occur between any kind of relationship. Parents and children, between friends, in cults etc. Stockholm syndrome is also a kind of trauma bond.
These bonds also rest on an underlying imbalance of power. In this dynamic, you might feel as if they control you to the point where you no longer know how to resist or break free. Even if you manage to leave the relationship, you might have a hard time breaking that bond without professional help. You might feel incomplete or lost without them and eventually return, simply because the abusive cycle is familiar, and you don’t know how to live without it yet.
Here’s a look at some other characteristics of traumatic bonds:
- You feel unhappy and may not even like your partner any longer, but you still feel unable to end things.
- You fixate on the “good” days, using them as proof that they truly care.
- You make excuses and defend their behaviour when others express concern.
- When you do try to leave, you feel physically and emotionally distressed.
- When you say you want to leave, they promise to change but make no effort to actually do so.
- You continue to trust them and hope to change them.
- You protect them by keeping abusive behaviour secret.
Seek professional help if you think you are in a trauma bond with someone. Oftentimes it can be very challenging to admit to yourself that you need help and seek out help. However, the results can be very much positive and can help your life in various ways.