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Trauma Bonds and How You Overcome Them by Soteldo Therapy

Updated: Mar 28

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Trauma bonds underpin toxic relationships. When you experience trauma with someone, a special connection forms between you. This is what constitutes a trauma bond. Consequently, mental, physical, and emotional conditioning occurs. The scenario is like Stockholm syndrome, where the victims of a hold-up, kidnapping, or hijacking form a special bond with the captors. They emphasize with them by trying to establish why the motivation of the instigators. In some cases, the victims actually perceive the instigators as 'good people' with 'good reasons'. They then defend their captors from criticism or even help them evade arrest.

Why does this happen? After a traumatic experience, your brain's defence mechanism enters survival mode. In the process, you will hold onto others even if they are toxic, abusive, and retrogressive in your life. Moreover, you will use the positive aspects of the position to rationalize the relationship and overlook the abuse.

The elements of a trauma bond include:

  • Emotional component

  • Chemical/Physical component

  • Psychological component

  • Behavioural component

  • Addiction component

The definition of bonding

Bonding is a state where people become attached. It is caused by emotional and chemical processes. Our bodies release chemicals as a response to experiences that we are bound to have in our daily lives. For instance, when you are in a relationship, activities such as cuddling may make your brain release hormones such as serotonin, dopamine, vasopressin, cortisol, adrenaline, peptides, endorphins, oxytocin, norepinephrine, etc. These chemicals can condition us to sync with our close associates, hence creating a bond. In some instances, the bond can be so great to the extent that it leads to telepathy between you.

The definition of trauma

The lingua franca for trauma is an event that leads to a tragic and undesirable outcome with visible harm. However, the full definition of trauma is an occurrence that the brain cannot register and process. We have an innate ability to cope with experiences that we deem undesirable. In some instances, the incidents may be overwhelming. In this case, the brain cannot generate a healthy defence mechanism, which is what constitutes trauma.

We all have different thresholds for trauma. Hence, you can find out that people may be exposed to the same peril, and the reactions and consequent effects will be of significant variance. Violent crime, neglect, silent treatment, constant arguments, assault, or disrespect can disorient your life and make you angry, dejected, and not appreciated, which constitutes a traumatic experience.

The three types of trauma include:

  • Complex trauma

• Acute trauma

  • Chronic trauma

Complex trauma entails an adverse reaction to multiple incidents of different occurrences. It is long-term in nature and triggered by numerous events.

Acute trauma is caused by a single incident that overwhelms the brain.

Chronic trauma entails multiple incidences of the same nature of a peril.

Often, you have encountered people who have been unable to end their relationship despite the intense abuse. However, breaking from a trauma-bonded relationship is not easy because of the aspect of a traumatic bond. When two people stay together for long, enmeshment occurs where boundaries cease to exist or become blurred, and feelings, sentiments, and opinions become shared. In such an arrangement, the abuser assumes complete control, and the victim rationalizes the mistreatment despite consciously being aware that something is amiss.

The genesis of trauma bonds

You can be faced with adversity or misfortune. The danger doesn't have to be actual; you can also subconsciously perceive it or exaggerate it. All these are the causes of a trauma bond, and some of the real-life examples include:

  • When you are exposed to an irregular pattern of treatment that oscillates between kindness and abuse by someone

  • When you believe that the adverse situation facing you cannot be contained

  • When your perspective is out of touch with reality and under a gaslighting situation where the abuser controls your perception.

The inconsistent behaviour characterized by outbursts of anger is mainly expressed by narcissists who then blame the victim for triggering them. Due to chemical bonds, the victim is often under intense pressure to go out of their way and salvage the situation to avoid further abuse. In most cases, the mitigation effort bears fruits, and the narcissist soon regains their good self. However, this is often short-lived, and the pattern perpetuates.

The effect of such a toxic and inconsistent relationship can be equated to opiate addiction. The victim is always 'chasing the dragon' to experience the high moments and may end up wanting more of these 'highs'. The effect is that they forget themselves and are programmed by the abuser.

The element of addiction

Addiction is a disorder that alters the neuropsychological function of the brain. It undermines self-control and willpower. And the allure of short-term gratification is compulsive and out of control in most cases. Drugs such as heroin have been known to lead to addiction by completely altering brain faculties' behavioural, emotional, and chemical aspects.

In most trauma bonded relationships, there is an element of arousal addiction. When arousal addiction intertwines with trauma, the brain registers emotional chaos, although there may be no "obvious drama." Nonetheless, your brain will manifest symptoms that are similar to opiates abuse, such as anxiety, gastrointestinal disturbances, irritability, cravings, sleep disturbances, heightened reactivity, and more.

Arousal addiction is a behaviour that is acquired from the environment. A person who has been abused or neglected is more vulnerable since it normalizes some types of abuse and toxicity. Furthermore, a traumatic bonding also entails an aspect of push-pull chaos, which is referred to as an arousal jag. Ultimately, the abuser and the recipient of the abuse end up in a mutual dependency. It is, however important to note that a person may be addicted to a person who they don't like.

This is why some people may stay in a relationship where they are mistreated as the addiction dynamic characterized by chaos forms strong bonds. On the other hand, 'normal relationships' are deemed uninteresting, routine, and non-intriguing, without the spark that creates a strong bond between people.

Since you consciously dislike the person or the relationship, it is the intrigues of the cycle and pattern of events you become addicted to. You can view the person as the trigger of the addiction. This is what defines a toxic relationship where you cannot unhook yourself. Hence, whenever you encounter the person, your addiction is rekindled, ending up in a traumatic bond.

To break the relationship, you need to establish a solid will to make positive changes. It entails a decision-making process that is continuous and not just one-off. You also need to be aware that the addiction is alluring. However, this cannot be further from the truth, hence the need for strong willpower to untangle yourself.

Identifying trauma bonds

The test for a trauma bonded relationship is to examine your sentiments towards the person. Does the person fulfill your needs? If you are receiving the short end of the stick and your expectations are not being met, you should establish the reasons for your continued stay in the relationship.

Some people defend the actions of the abuser. In some common instances, people who are victims of domestic abuse may report their partners to the police but withdraw the charges a few hours later, sitting misunderstanding. Others are fully aware that they have to leave the relationship, but they keep postponing on flimsy grounds.

All these are the tell-tale signs of trauma bonding. The bond can be broken when there is a separation that at first may be hard to bear or fathom.

Another factor that supports a trauma bond is cognitive dissonance. This is a defence mechanism that distorts facts. The person knows that the relationship is harmful, abusive, and detrimental. However, they lessen the facts by saying, 'no relationship is perfect, and they stay. A typical example of cognitive dissonance in a relationship is abuse;

On one hand: The person is belligerent to me.

On the other hand: The person confesses that they love me, and they try to make up for the abuse.

Fact 1: True love is not abusive.

Fact 2: Abuse in a relationship is a pointer that you are not loved.

In this case, cognitive dissonance is an intertwining of these two facts. It is manifested as excusing abusive behaviour or rationalizing some aspects of your relationship which are evidently not favorable to you. Since the idea that you are not loved is painful and unfathomable, you tend to reframe the facts, and you may end up attributing the tribulations to yourself and making more efforts to try and quell the disquiet and tension.

  • When your efforts to leave the relationship become futile despite being aware that you do not respect, love, or like your partner

  • When the mere thought of leaving the relationship sounds detrimental and unfathomable

  • When you are unable to disentangle yourself from the person or the circumstances of your trauma bond

  • When you rationalize the reasons for your continued stay in the relationship and do not have a concrete reason why you are in the relationship, you still find yourself unable to

Unchain yourself.

You are in a trauma bond, and you should go separate ways.

Confronting a trauma bonding

You are now aware of a trauma bond, and you have analyzed your situation. The next step is to accept your situation as it is. You can use the following strategies to confront the trauma bond.

Radical honesty: You should find a way to love yourself more. In so doing, you will be able to put yourself first. Once this is done, you will be able to logically evaluate your relationship and analyze other people's contributions to your relationship.

Radical Acceptance: This process entails seeing facts as they are and avoiding any excuses for your toxic relationship for whatever reason.

Fearless ownership: Once you accept the situation and see facts as they are, you empower yourself to retake control of your perceptions and actions.

Take charge of your wellbeing by owning your:

  • Thoughts

  • Feelings

  • Actions

  • Thoughts

  • Feelings

  • Actions

Once you assume your lost personal agency, you will be able to make independent decisions and be honest, candid, and logical. Although this may be daunting since your brain has already conditioned itself to a survival mode to survive the abuse, you should take candid steps and be realistic, absorbing any self-blames that feed the addiction.

Differentiate the fantasy from the reality

Fantasies are a coping mechanism that we develop to wade and wallow in the miasma of desperation following a misfortune. These fantasies usually revolve around hope or wish that the situation will improve in the future. Sometimes, people even think they can fix the issues bedevilling their relationship. Hence, the fantasy enables a victim to create an idealized version of the perpetrator and tolerate the abuse hoping that things may change for the better.

Breaking a trauma-bonded relationship takes a different approach from estrangements and typical breakups. This is because the aspect of addiction or arousal jag is complicated and requires tact to break.

For the breakup to be effective, there is a need for a NO CONTACT approach. This is an effective strategy that enables people to break the bondage by relearning and changing their feelings and perceptions. If you have to be in contact, it is ideal to use a third party or limit the contact the best way you can. If you are unsure how to do this, start by setting boundaries.

How to release the anger and free yourself

Write a letter to the person: Put all your thoughts, feelings, and ideas about the future in writing.

Once you get everything out of your chest, shred, bury, burn, or delete the letter.

Perform a cord-cutting ceremony: This will symbolize the beginning of a new life and the transition from your trauma bonded relationship to bliss.

Stop viewing yourself as a couple but as an individual: Visualize your life in the absence of the other person. Think about the prospects revolving around you.

Explore your triggers in a healthy way

Post-break-up grieving and coping

Turning over a new leaf from a toxic relationship is not easy since you had stakes in it, and you also contributed your energy and resources for its wellbeing despite your aspirations not coming to fruition. Therefore, you should know that it's normal to experience pain after severing the relationship. This will allow you to grieve gracefully which is critical for a healthy recovery. You should also differentiate your grief as either processing or ruminating to be able to move on. The period for your grief is short-lived. Therefore, you should hope for a better future.

Remember, the psychological and emotional challenges that you are dealing with may have started earlier, and the breakup is only making you aware. It would help if you also took this opportunity to establish the cause of your psychological and emotional tendencies. The diagnosis will enable

you to better understand why you were in a trauma bonded relationship and the reasons why you had an addiction or an arousal jag for the abuser.

To fully detox from the relationship, the first instinct is to shun the person which is an effective solution for healing and avoiding a relapse of the addiction. For starters, you can start by establishing milestones to achieve in your day-to-day living in the initial periods of your life in freedom. With a goal in mind, set milestones that will enable you to grieve and live well. For example:

  • It's 1:00 PM, I will avoid calling the person between now and 7:00 PM.

  • I will not check the person's social media page on my lunch hour break from work.

You can then shift the timelines for these milestones and be able to reach your goal of severing ties faster.

Processing versus rumination

  • After establishing your triggers, view the experience of your trauma bonded relationship as a lesson.

  • Do not avoid the triggers but explore them in a way that maximizes your self-interest.

  • Be a good observer and explorer rather than reacting spontaneously to situations.

  • Recognize and accept your feelings.

  • Do not dwell on facts by ruminating on them; process your experiences by establishing their cause and effect, and draw positive lessons.

Harness the power of your choices

To overcome the feeling of hopelessness, discover your choices. You are not powerless, and you should therefore oversee your life. You can make your own independent decisions without waiting for authorization and validation from anybody. You are also capable of making good decisions, and you don't need to seek ideas from others. Choices bear results, both positive and negative. Learn from both. Once you regain your personal agency, you will have the power to act in your best interest giving an abuser no space to manipulate and traumatize you.

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