When love hurts consistently all because of your beloved, it’s a sign of Trauma bonding.

Trauma bonding is when you establish an emotional bond with a physical or emotional abuser.

At first, your partner appeared too good to be true, showering you with gifts and affection. Ultimately it has become increasingly obvious that something is not right. The once-blissful relationship is now a roller coaster of feelings and emotions. Romantic touches become violent. Bitter insults replace loving words.

Your partner asks forgiveness. The concern that you’ve overreacted becomes unbearable—after all, there are some incredible memories. This habit is not the normal ups and downs of a healthy relationship. It’s the resemblance of a trauma bond, and it’s time you break free from this kind of toxic relationship.

Know Trauma Bonding

Trauma bonds form when an individual experiences strong love and emotion followed by abuse, neglect, and mistreatment, according to the Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) Foundation.

Incapability to visualize a future without the abuser establishes a sentiment often mistaken for love or being caught up in the relationship.

“A person’s perception of worth diminishes, and their self-esteem goes out the window,” says Shari Botwin, a licensed clinical social worker and author of Thriving After Trauma. “They feel like they won’t be able to make it in this world without this other person.”

The Abuse Cycle

“The alternation of the honeymoon period with negative attention strengthens the trauma bond,” says Kaitlin Casassa, a licensed independent social worker and PhD student in social work at The Ohio State University. Working with sex-trafficking survivors, Casassa says this love-bombing incorporates gifts or assurances of being the favourite, and it’s followed by abuse.

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Encountering trauma “together” gives rise to the victim feel understood by the perpetrator. Feeling noticed or admired repeats the cycle, periodically in a new relationship. “People are drawn to similar unhealthy relationships due to the intense nature of a trauma bond,” says Sabra Cain, a licensed master social worker and call leader for the CPTSD Foundation. “It can affect someone’s sense of self and ability to see red flags in others.”

Why Such Trauma Bond is Formed?

Humans inherently form bonds from a young age to survive. This requirement may turn into toxic dependency, nonetheless, allowing trauma bonds to evolve with caretakers, romantic partners, or in other relationships. “Children bond with their parents because they require someone to put a roof over their head and food in their stomach,” Cain adds. “For adults in abuse situations, these can form due to a similar biological need of safety or even financial dependence.”

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How Body Takes a Toll of Trauma Bonding?

Botwin recalls a patient who froze whenever her phone lit up with a message from her ex. Consumed with anxiety, she couldn’t sleep, eat, or think. Regular abuse can take a toll on the body. A traumatic episode may activate a fight-or-flight reaction and explosion of adrenaline and cortisol, for example, followed by a period of comparative calm in the aftermath.

Apologies and physical passion can send out chemicals in the brain that establish feelings of satisfaction or pleasure, strengthening the feeling of connection with the abuser. Once the abuse returns, so do feelings of stress. Persistent stress and overexposure to stress hormones can take a toll on the body, increasing the risk for weight gain, heart problems, sleep issues, digestive problems, and more.

What is the Right Time to Leave?

Flowers and an immediate apology from a partner won’t solve the problem. Get an appointment with a therapist and pay attention in the sessions. Don’t ever tolerate blame games, and make sure your partner is open to changes in the relationship. The abuser must affirm wrongdoings and take measures to get support, Botwin explains. If physical mishandling is involved or the relationship drags down your mental health, Schiff adds, it is not worth staying.

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Why it’s not Easy to Leave?

After recognizing mistreatment, it may still be impossible to escape the relationship. Coercive trauma bonding “creates environments where fear overrides decision-making capabilities,” says Patricia Speck, a nurse practitioner and professor of nursing at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Withstanding abuse or fleeing can cause more damage, while the instability of the trauma bond becomes a new normal. Ideas about a healthy relationship may appear exhausting, and people are left to wonder if there is something better out there.

Trauma Bonding Signs

If you’re not confident whether you’re in a trauma bond, beware of some telltale symptoms that your relationship is poisonous. If your relationship has any of the factors below, you might be in a trauma bond.

Extreme ups and downs

One night your partner showers you with an appreciation for your clothes. Feeling confident, you later wear the same gear to socialize with friends only for your partner to call you “desperate for attention.” The dynamics of a trauma bond can abandon a person feeling confused, disturbed and inferior.

Power imbalance

A narcissist will carry stuff about the partners to retain power, building an environment where you don’t have access to your desires. You feel an obligation to abusers, with remarks like, “How could you behave towards me like this when I provide you everything?”

Too serious, too fast

A month into the relationship, you and your partner shift together. Minus family or friends in this new city, you are dependent on your partner. Progression in relationships can alter people into trauma bonds. “It seems like a whirlwind romance or love at first sight,” Schiff says. “The abuser uses this intensity to move things along quickly and hide what they don’t want you to know.”

Tarra Bates-Duford, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Raleigh, North Carolina, describes additional signs of trauma bonding:

  • Realizing someone is wrong for you but returning to the relationship regardless
  • Eliminating others from your life and relationship
  • Always worrying about committing or saying upsetting things
  • Invariably defending negative behaviour
  • Imposing someone else’s happiness before your own
  • Feeling undervalued or unnoticed in the relationship
  • Perceiving the abuser as a drug you are incapable to survive without

Breaking Trauma Relationship

Reassuringly, there are means to conquer trauma bonds. It may take effort, and it perhaps won’t be simple, but doing so may imply your security with your mental and physical health.

Value actions, not mere words

“You don’t understand how much I love you.” “You’re so valuable to me,” Botwin says her patients get these messages all the time. The gaslighting senses like the abuser are seizing accountability, but shifts in behaviour display actual responsibility. Don’t place importance on empty promises, and be conscious of treatment post apologies.

Set your boundaries

Safeguard yourself by establishing boundaries. Try resisting an abuser’s texts. It may look hard initially, but seek out a therapist or trusted soul to whom you can send the message or communicate instead of reacting. If the bond is with a family member or a partner who shares your home, find strength in telling “you need to stop,” or prefer not to confront toxic behaviour.

Think and speak positively about yourself

Hold on to the mentality that you are capable of a love that isn’t hurtful. Build self-esteem by creating a list of your encouraging qualities or things you deserve in a partner. Read this list aloud to feel more optimistic, hopeful and confident in it.

Be guilt-free

You should not think that you are responsible for someone else’s actions. Trauma bonds can happen to anyone. “It’s not an indication of any kind of shortcoming. It’s a normal adaptive reaction to a set of conditions,” Casassa says. Give yourself some time to grieve the loss of a relationship and heal without being too tough on yourself.

Consult a health care provider

If you don’t have access to a therapist, Speck proposes seeking a health care provider. A practitioner can utilize a standard checkup to check in with you, assure you’re safe, and help you conquer negative situations if needed.

Make a safety plan

The security plan should encompass shelter, contact information for your supporters, and information about local organizations and services. Be sure to preserve safety —this could imply having a backup shelter, changing home locks, changing your phone number, changing your work hours or home, or getting the authorities involved if you feel unsafe.