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