You may be in a "trauma bonding" relationship and not even realize it. The cycle becomes so normal to you that episodes are just another part of life. And yet you're left feeling beaten down. Useless. Depressed.
What is trauma bonding? I'm here to explain. It's a type of relationship (often between significant others) that happens much too often and goes unnoticed.
Trauma bonding is loyalty to a mentally or emotionally destructive person.
The repeated pattern of mistreatment, put-downs, yelling, and negativity proceeds comforting by the abuser. S/he apologizes for acting out. You might voice feelings of abuse to your abuser, and they may promise to change. Your abuser says it's okay, s/he will be kinder next time. But they never do.
You might try to change your abuser's behavior through conversation. You may persuade him/her to be less destructive or less of an addict.
Other people, friends, and family are often disturbed by the actions or words of the trauma bonding abuser. But you don't realize the actions and words are harmful. They're just a normal part of life.
Sometimes a victim realizes their abuser is destructive, but you feel stuck - as though there is nothing you can do to leave.
Trauma bonded relationships often involve repetitive, damaging fights that no one wins.
You seem unable to detach from this person even though you can't trust him/her or don't even really like them. Then, when you try to leave, you find yourself missing them. It's as though you're attached to their mistreatment.
Trauma bonding occurs in relationships with inconsistent reinforcement, such as relationships with addicts or alcoholics, domestic violence situations, dysfunctional marriages, cult-like religious organizations, kidnapping or hostage situations, child abuse and incest relationships, and unhealthy work environments. Any relationship where the "normalcy" comes and goes for a few days between episodes.
The environment involves intensity, complexity, inconsistency, and a promise.
You stay in the relationship because you're hanging on to that empty promise. Your abuser apologizes, saying s/he'll behave better next time, then abuses a short time later.
Victims of trauma bonding are looking right at their abuse but not seeing it. They won't realize it until they've spent time away and "detoxed" from the situation.
Next, here are a few situations depicting trauma bonding. Do they sound familiar?
1. Your boyfriend yells at your for overcooking dinner. He calls you stupid. He says you should give up. He'll do all the cooking from now on. You sit in the living room, cry, and apologize. After a few minutes, he sits on the couch and asks why you're crying. You sniffle and say you did your best at cooking. He says it's okay - you'll try harder next time. He says he yelled because he had a hard day work. Life seems "normal" for the next two days. Then you get home from work late because your shift ran over. He yells because you didn't call to say you'd be late - even though you were busy and couldn't make a phone call. You retreat to another room to cry. The cycle repeats.
2. You're talking to a friend about a fight you had with your significant other. You mention that s/he saw you talking to a man in a store. The man was an old high school friend. Your S.O. didn't listen and accused you of cheating or wanting to leave. You say to your friend that you need a way to assure your S.O. that you're not going anywhere. Your friend looks shocked. She asks if your S.O. accuses you often. You say yes, but you're used to it, so you don't see the issue. Your friend is uncomfortable with how your S.O. treats you.
3. You spend a week on vacation with a few girlfriends. A few days into the vacation you're relaxed and having fun. Your S.O. calls and begins to tell you that you're worthless because you haven't called to check in. He insisted you call every evening to say what you've been doing. You forgot to call last night. Now your S.O. is mad. He doesn't care that you're having fun. You hang up the phone and suddenly realize just how terrible he treats you.
That being said, once you realize you're in an abusive, trauma bonding relationship, the first step to getting out is contacting someone. Anyone other than your abuser. If any of those situations sound familiar to you, you may be trauma bonding with someone.
As soon as possible after s/he has an episode, contact someone. Go to another room and make a phone call. Send a text message if you need to be quiet. And if you can, physically leave and talk to someone. Designate a confidant and describe the episode to them. Let them tell you that behavior is not healthy. Let them tell you that you have the power to leave this abusive relationship. The first and most important step is to contact someone before your abuser comforts you.
People everywhere need to be aware of trauma bonding. So many victims of trauma bonding don't even realize they're being abused. The episodes seem like a normal part of life. Awareness and realization are crucial to stopping trauma bonding before it starts. And if you notice a friend in a trauma bonding relationship, help them. Speak up. You could save their life.