What Is Trauma Bonding?
If you’ve experienced abuse, you might know the confusing paradox of still feeling deeply connected to the person who hurt you. You may feel a profound sense of guilt, remorse, safety, or love towards them. Yet, even if you recognize the abuse as unacceptable, it can still be hard to step away from the situation or take care of yourself.
This conflicting experience is known as trauma bonding, and it can make leaving these relationships challenging. Likewise, even if the abuse happened long ago, it may still have a significant hold on you now.
Trauma bonding isn’t your fault, but it’s important to be aware of its impact and how you can heal.
Why Does Trauma Bonding Happen?
Why do high-achieving successful people stay in toxic marriages? What keeps people loyal to a dangerous cult? How can a molested child feel any sort of connection with their perpetrator?
The answer often lies in trauma bonding, where victims experience positive emotions towards abusers. This phenomenon can occur in any relational context, and it also doesn’t matter how mild or severe the dysfunction feels.
Trauma bonding is especially prevalent when the abuser makes significant efforts to appear forgiving or safe. Therefore, victims of cults, human trafficking, incest, or religious trauma may be particularly susceptible.
What Are The Common Signs of Trauma Bonding?
Trauma bonding can be insidious. You may assume you’ve taken healthy steps to accept your situation or forgive your abuser. But in doing so, you might be rationalizing their behavior more than you recognize. Here are some common symptoms of trauma bonding:
- Repeatedly defending their behavior
- Feeling hostile towards people who dislike your abuser
- Blaming yourself for what happened
- Believing that the abuse was not intentional
- Assuming things will get better
Trauma bonding often results in people isolating themselves from loved ones. You may worry about others judging you, leading you to avoid them altogether.
Trauma bonding also isn’t inherently logical. For example, you might know that the behavior wasn’t okay. But you might justify that your perpetrator had external stressors like a mental health issue or past history of trauma that perpetuated the abuse.
How Can You Heal?
Recovering from trauma bonding can be challenging. However, it’s possible to heal from your abuse and live a fulfilling life. To do so, you may need to make some significant changes in your everyday routine. Here are some steps to consider.
Make a Safety Plan
If you are concerned that your safety is in imminent danger, you need to take care of yourself and any dependents immediately. Timing may be crucial, so don’t overlook this step.
Your safety plan should include contact information for trusted friends and family. It should also include information about accessible resources (like emergency money, extra clothes, and a burner phone) as well as potential locations where you can live if your current residence is dangerous.
Stick To the Facts
It’s easy to lose yourself in complex emotions that reinforce the trauma bonding. So, as much as possible, try to remain unbiased and objective when recalling your narrative.
When you notice yourself trying to minimize or suppress what happened, try to pretend that you are a journalist covering a story. Stick with the who, what, where, when, why, and how. This exercise forces you to truly recognize the magnitude of your past events.
Practice More Self-Love
Nobody is immune to trauma bonding. It’s reasonable to want to give someone the benefit of the doubt, but it’s also common for us to blame ourselves when things go wrong.
Blaming yourself may inadvertently reinforce trauma bonding. Likewise, it tends to make healing even more challenging (because you still may be telling yourself you deserved what happened).
Instead of turning the rage inward, try to practice gratitude and self-care. At first, it may be difficult to treat yourself kindly, but you are responsible for taking care of yourself during this process.
Healing from abuse often means reducing or eliminating contact with your perpetrator. This gives you a chance to recollect yourself, build a new support network, and heal.
If you still need to be involved in each other’s lives (i.e., you might be co-parenting), it’s imperative that you set and implement boundaries for yourself. These boundaries may be physical, emotional, or financial.
Trauma bonding can complicate nearly every area of your life. Over time, it may erode your self-esteem and exacerbate symptoms of other mental health conditions.
Therapy offers a safe, nonjudgmental space to process your trauma. Healing takes time, but feeling supported and learning how to cope can help you stay on the right path.
We know talking about your pain can be scary. At Willow Counseling, we will make every effort to understand and guide you. Contact us today to schedule your initial consultation.
Willow Counseling, PLLC – Nashville, TN
Willow Counseling, PLLC exists to provide quality trauma-informed mental health counseling to the Nashville community, recognizing the interconnectedness of our emotional, spiritual and physical selves. We work together to alleviate symptoms, learn better coping skills, relieve burdens, remove the pain of trauma, and so much more. However, our greatest desire is for you to know what it means to feel purpose and joy again and to recognize the strength and worth you have to offer the world.