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Why Trauma Bonds Make it Hard to Leave an Abuser

So often, victims of domestic abuse are asked why they didn't leave their abusive partner--why did they stay for so long. According to statistics, on average, a victim will make seven attempts to leave an abuser before ending the relationship permanently. Why is this? Abusers use techniques to control, manipulate and threaten their victims. One of those techniques is by creating a trauma bond.


What is a Trauma Bond?


A trauma bond is a cycle of physical and emotional abuse that creates a strong attachment between an abused person and their abuser, reinforced by periods of love and affection and then periods of devaluation and emotional abuse.


The intense ups and downs in a relationship cause your brain to become addicted to high highs and low lows. Healthy relationships give you a steady supply of dopamine. Trauma bonding withholds it and then gives you a sharp increase. For someone who becomes addicted to these spikes, they will associate this as love, and a healthy, normal relationship will feel boring.


Some people experienced trauma bonding as children by abusive parents, and repeat these patterns into adult relationships:

  • Their parents abused them and rejected them, and they associated love with abuse, learned to shut down their feelings, and blamed themselves when bad things would happen.

  • They internalized that love hurts or that love is "hard".

  • Once the child grows up, they might meet a partner who is abusive (emotionally, physically, psychologically), and will again shut down their feelings, needs and wants.

  • They will blame themselves for their partner's behaviors and strive to be "good enough" for their partner.

  • The abusive partner will reinforce this attachment by alternating between kind acts and acts of rejection.

  • The adult victim will make excuses for their abusive partner, because their inner child is subconsciously trying to feel "good enough" for their parents.


Signs You're Trauma Bonded

  • The relationship is all high highs and low lows

  • You hate them and love them in equal measure

  • Your partner's needs are more important than your own

  • You believe if you love them a little bit more, you can change them

  • You stop reacting to unacceptable behavior (cheating, abuse, etc)

  • They promise they will change but never do

  • You believe no one else will want you

  • You think you can't survive without your partner

Signs of Healthy Bonding

  • The relationship feels steady with some dips

  • There are boundaries and trust in the relationship

  • Both of your needs are important and respected

  • You can still love them even when you're angry with them

  • You are able to have honest communication

  • Your needs are met

  • You are your own person and can focus on growing separately and together

How to Get Help

  • Leave the relationship

  • Go no contact - block all forms of communication, if possible

  • Use the "gray rock" method if you do communicate with your abuser, be boring, emotionless and non-reactive like a gray rock

  • Focus on your mental health and self love

  • Lean on your support system--if your partner isolated you from friends and family, try to reconnect with them now

  • Go for therapy

  • Make a list of all the ways this person violated your boundaries and disrespected your relationship--when you feel your trauma bond pulling you back to your partner, read your list over and over until the feeling subsides--these are the withdrawal symptoms of your addiction