Relationships are a complicated thing. Sometimes it seems as if we have little control over who we fall in love with. Our hearts may urge us directly towards someone, while paradoxically, our heads are screaming at us to run for the hills. If some pairings are matches made in heaven, their counterparts are matches made in hell. Some relationships can be toxic, unhealthy, and abusive, yet an individual firmly plants their feet and settles into the relationship for the duration. Why? You have to wonder exactly what makes these people stay. Are they scared, do they lack confidence, or are they unaware that the relationship is venomous? Are they emotionally exhausted, financially unprepared, or merely accepting their fate? It is likely that combinations of these possibilities are accurate, but another key factor is associated with the concept of traumatic bonding.
Traumatic bonding occurs in relationships that are formed and shaped from toxic and abusive experiences. In these relationships, an individual remains loyal to their partner despite the fact that their partner is negative and disparaging. Trauma bonds are prevalent in intense conditions and relationships that sporadically cycle between pain and tranquility. Trauma bonds develop from powerful, intricate, and conflicting environments where a promise is made. Individuals stay in abusive relationships as they maintain hope that the promise will eventually be fulfilled. Manipulation is always a key element in abusive relationships and individuals tend to tolerate it, as they wait expectantly for the promise to be granted. People cannot see trauma bonds clearly while engaged in abusive relationships and can only see them when bonds are broken after departing the relationship.
Trauma bonds are comprised of polarizing aspects of punishment and reward. The abuse cycle will vacillate, switching from punishment and abuse to sporadic rewards of warmth and kindness. An intense connection results from the sporadic highs and lows while an individual simultaneously awaits the next high. Intermittent reinforcement, the expectant hope of something better, and awaiting the fulfillment of promises are factors that keep a person bonded to an abusive partner. Trauma bonds may be so strong that an individual may not even attempt to leave the relationship, or if they do, they may end up returning to it shortly thereafter.
If you are in a relationship where traumatic bonding is prevalent, you will need help and support to break free from it. Abusive partners seek to maintain power at all costs and will utilize methods such as abuse, exploitation, or seclusion to gain it. Seeking assistance from a professional mental health counselor can help you improve self-esteem and acquire the necessary coping mechanisms to disengage from the relationship. Therapeutic interventions can provide you with insight as to why you got into the relationship in the first place and depict what made the trauma bonds so strong.
Develop a positive, strong, and healthy support system to replace and eradicate negative and unhealthy relationships in your life. As trauma bonds are broken, grieve the loss of your relationship, while maintaining mental and emotional strength and stability. During moments of weakness, ensure that you stay away from your abusive partner. Engage in consistent self-care activities to strengthen and improve levels of confidence and happiness.
Trauma bonds are powerful, real, and a key factor in keeping one connected to unhealthy relationships. Trauma bonds can easily triumph over heads advising us to get out of dodge. Trauma bonds can trump sneaking suspicions that the match was made somewhere far, far away from heaven. Thankfully, with proper help and support, trauma bonds can be broken and an individual can break free from the strict and detrimental confines of a toxic relationship.
Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.