Have you ever wondered why you, or your loved one can’t leave the person who hurts them? Whether physical or emotional, it can be impossible to understand why someone won’t leave, and sometimes we can feel judgemental of that, which is understandable, even if it makes us feel bad for feeling that way.
We’ve all most likely heard of the term bonding. When done healthily, it allows us to love our children, parents, partners and friends with abandon, to trust our feelings and theirs, as well as our relationships. When there is a cycle of abuse, something called ‘Trauma Bonding’ can occur.
Trauma bonding is created when an abuser uses love, fear, sex, and excitement to essentially weave a toxic web around a person. Sadly, if you have grown up in an abusive family you’re more likely to find yourself trauma bonded to an abusive partner.
The intensity of abusive relationships is incredibly overwhelming. The belief that no one else either understands you, or your partner, or the relationship between you is intoxicating. The idea that you belong to something that others just can’t or won’t experience sets you apart and allows your brain to justify the abuse, because the good times are SO good that you get hooked on them, and are willing to tolerate the bad times for those good times.
So how do we escape trauma bonding? It’s the 64 million dollar question I’m afraid, but it is possible.
The first thing to do is to try and gain an outside perspective.
1. Write the story of your relationship in the third person, from the very beginning to the very end. Be totally honest about all the good, and all the bad. Include as much detail as possible. If you’re in therapy, share the story with your therapist, but if not, with a friend. It can help to think ‘what would I tell my friend if she/he told me this?’
2. Now write a story about the partner you would like. How would they make you feel? How would they treat you? What do I bring to a relationship? What do I do well, and what do I not do well? Is my current partner living up to those hopes? Do I want things to stay the same or change?
3. Being very honest with yourself, write down the pros and cons of the current situation.
4. And then write down the pros and cons of leaving your current situation.
5. Ask yourself, how will I feel in a year if nothing has changed?
6. Look at your attempts to change your partner. Have you tried to? Have you had to explain to them how their behaviour affects you? Has it had any impact? The only person we can control is ourselves, and recognising that we have no influence on someone’s ability to change is half the problem solved.
7. Own your part in it. No one has any right to abuse another, in any way shape or form. However, we have to acknowledge what we do to contribute to, or rather, allow the behaviours towards us. This statement may feel very victim shaming, although it is in no way intended to be. This is about separating our behaviour from theirs, and owning ours so we can facilitate change. Why didn’t we walk away the first time they hit us? Why did we tolerate verbal abuse? Why wasn’t I strong enough to say no? Understanding that can be a huge part of recovery, and prevention from getting into another abusive relationship.
8. Acknowledge your feelings. Often when we have experienced emotional/physical abuse whether from childhood or adulthood, we become very adept and practiced at avoiding or supressing our feelings. We squash them down so they become so buried we don’t even know what they are anymore. Often, they will manifest in other ways, through self sabotaging behaviours, or more than likely, anxiety and depression. Try writing them down, even if you can’t put a name to them, say how they make your body feel, and describe them in terms of colour, shape and texture. I will regularly ask clients to draw their feelings in an attempt to help them connect to them. Another thing that is really helpful is the word wheel which I have attached to the blog. Using that to understand our feelings can be very powerful and releasing.
9. Self care. Be kind to yourself. You are trying to undo something intangible and insidious, and it takes a lot of time. Find things that bring you joy, and allow yourself the time to indulge them.
10. Finally, finding a really good therapist with knowledge and understanding of trauma bonding is vital to recovery. A neutral person with no agenda in your relationship will help you understand yourself and help you establish strong resilient boundaries.
Please take great care of yourselves, and feel free to message or leave a comment if this has resonated with you.