Trigger Warning: Rape, Sexual Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Trauma Bonding
Trauma bonding is something that compels many people in toxic or abusive relationships to stay in them. Choosing to stay in the cycle of abuse seems easier than being able to leave the relationship for these people. The emotional attachment formed in these relationships is nothing but a response to trauma and is accurately called trauma bonding.
What is trauma bonding and why does it develop?
A trauma bond can be simply described as a relationship shared between an abusive person and the person receiving abuse. This gradually takes place within days, weeks, months, and even years when the abused person develops a feeling of sympathy or affection toward their abuser. This reaches such a point that they fail to recognise the negative impacts of the relationship and choose to accept it in their regular lives.
The National Domestic Violence Helpline has said that most trauma bonds are formed out of unhealthy attachments. These might be romantic or platonic, or bonds of any other nature.
When the person one is attached to turns out to be their abuser, that is where a trauma bond starts. For example, survivors of abuse may often try to find solace in someone who was the very cause of the problem. Finding stability in such relationships is a distant dream.
Another reason for trauma bonds is dependence. Relying on one’s own abuser to fulfill emotional needs is a very common pattern among survivors of violence. This is especially seen between children and caregivers, or even between married couples where the woman remains financially dependent on the husband.
In these dynamics, the victims confuse abuse with love and care which hazes out their concept of what is bad and what is good for them. Even if they gain an understanding of their trauma and abuse, it becomes difficult for them to change the situation because of their dependence. As a result, a trauma bond develops.
All these reasons gradually form a cycle of abuse from which escaping becomes a challenging thing. Patterns of abuse follow in every relationship that is based on trauma bonding. Abusers may seek forgiveness and promise to change for the better.
This makes victims keep hoping for a day when they shall receive the love they deserve. However, reality checks appear when the perpetrator repeats the same forms of abuse after a certain period, and the victim’s desire for peace is never met.
This continuous cycle of attention, followed by abuse, and then forgiveness eventually strengthens trauma bonds. Persons on the receiving end of this cycle might see “suffering as a price to pay for kindness”.
Signs of trauma bonding
Trauma bonds do not necessarily develop exclusively in romantic relationships, although that is a case widely reported and studied. It is also very rampant in child-parent relationships where the children are exploited by abusive parents.
Some situations which may facilitate bonds shared over trauma include interpersonal violence, incest, domestic abuse, abuse towards the elderly, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, exploitative employment, kidnapping or hostage-taking, and the like.
Traumatic bonds usually start with a power imbalance between two people. A simple dynamic of friendship, relationship, or guardianship can suddenly change into that of a controller and a controlled one. Some key signs that characterise trauma bonds are as follows:
- Unhappiness in the partner’s presence, yet not finding a way to communicate true feelings and exit the relationship
- Leaving this sort of relationship feels physically and mentally exhausting. There is reluctance in the victim’s efforts to quit the relationship.
- Trying to be defensive of the abuser’s treatments in front of friends, family, and well-wishers despite knowing the harmful impacts of them. Some victims may even turn hostile if approached with intruding questions about their condition.
- Self-worth issues where the victims are convinced by their abusers that they deserve to be treated like this. This quickly turns into a cycle of self-blaming where victims make up reasons to blame themselves for every abusive situation caused.
- Fixating on old memories and good days as proof of giving more chances to the abuser and believing in the possibility of new good memories. The present reality usually sharply contradicts these fixated good memories.
- Believing in the abuser’s promises without seeing any of them materialising in the real world. These promises mostly include their prospects that feed into the victim’s dreams, giving them hope for a distant change.
- Victims protect their abusers by keeping their abuse a secret.
There are undoubtedly countless other noticeable points seen in a person surviving an abusive relationship through traumatic bonding. They vary from person to person and also differ in their magnitude of effect.
Why is it difficult to break trauma bonds?
Trauma bonds appear very subtly in people’s lives and despite having complete awareness of it, they are hard to avoid or escape. It often is not possible for victims of such abusive behaviour to walk out of the door easily.
For example, mostly in cases of children, they can’t leave their parents even if one of them is disruptive at home. Similarly, women who are financially dependent on their husbands and have the responsibilities of a mother and housewife hardly have a choice in changing their situation of abuse.
The abusive cycle may seem too familiar and comfortable in their lives, which stops them from living without it. Even if a relationship is quit by a victim, the impacts of a trauma bond do not leave them and their future relationships with other people. Being able to quit trauma bonds is also a matter of privilege that many don’t have.
As mentioned earlier, trauma bonds invariably involve an aspect of the power imbalance between the two people. This also makes it a very gendered problem, wherein women and people from marginalised genders, who generally lack social capital, become very prone to abuse by those who have more power than them.
Therefore, identifying and breaking trauma bonds is a much more layered, complex endeavour which intersects with gender and social structure. It is necessary to talk openly about such patterns of abuse and facilitate healing through professional, emotional, and social aids.
Also read: Does Trauma Have A Feminist Face?
Featured Image Source: The Mighty