Trauma Bonding

I had a dream last night that I was sitting on my front porch reading a book and my ex was making dinner in the kitchen. A man walked up and began attacking me. He was hitting me repeatedly and I was screaming for help. He just looked at me through the window and laughed as this man beat me. I’ve often had dreams like this since I found out about his latest affair. They usually all involve someone hitting me or raping me with him just watching and laughing. All sense of safety, security, and protection just vanished in a moment. 

Let’s talk about trauma bonding today. Trauma bonding can occur with feelings of attachment and dependence that come with a cycle of abuse and remorse. When your abuser is also your source of comfort and relief, it creates an incredibly strong bond. This bond is felt on both sides and makes it very hard for either one to let go. During times of trauma and high stress, our body’s fight or flight response kicks in and has us searching for safety. When that safety finally comes in the form of our abuser, through an apology or a hug, we feel the relief in our brains and bodies and attach ourselves to whatever is helping us feel that relief. Much like a child won’t let go of the firefighter who brings him out of a burning building, we become chemically attached to our source of security. When this happens over and over again, the abused can begin to feel like they have to have their abuser to feel safe. The stronger the commitment of the abused, the deeper and more intense the bond that forms. 

This chemical bond can become addictive. In an abusive relationship, the abused is getting overexposed to the hormones oxytocin and dopamine, the bonding and pleasure hormones, and can become dependent on them. In a non-toxic, normal relationship, you still have the pleasure hormones, you just don’t have them attached to the lack of safety and the stress that comes before the pleasure. This lessens the intensity of the bond, making the possibility of an addiction to the feeling less likely. In other words, in an abusive relationship, our bodies begin to crave the trauma, so we can then feel the pleasure and protection that comes after. It explains why there is usually always sex after an argument or a fight. 

Below are some signs that a bond might be forming through trauma, abuse, or manipulation:

  • The relationship is moving at an accelerated pace
  • You feel very close even though you haven’t known each other for very long
  • You make huge life changes for a relatively new relationship
  • You put time and effort into the romantic relationship at the cost of friendships and family and other relationships
  • You have an extreme fear of leaving the relationship
  • You feel like they’re the only one who can fulfill your needs.

Gaslighting, manipulation, lies, and deceit can all cause trauma. Many people don’t view these things in the same category as physical abuse, but the psychological effects are the same. They can all cause you to question your reality and maybe even begin to see someone else’s reality as your own. It can cause you to live in a world that’s not yours, but theirs. They will isolate you from the people that you trust, those that you know love and care about you. Rely on those people to help you walk away from your abuser. Let them hold you tight to the reality that you know to be true. 

Zoppi, Lois. “What Is Trauma Bonding?” Medicalnewstoday.Com, Healthline Media, 27 Nov. 2020, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/trauma-bonding#Why-does-it-happen?

Yurcaba, Jo. “How To Tell If You’re In a Trauma Bonding Relationship—and What To Do About It.” Well+Good, Well+Good, LLC, 13 Oct. 2020, www.wellandgood.com/trauma-bonding-relationship.

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