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Breaking Free from Trauma Bonds

While it’s becoming the norm in society to hide our inner demons, everyone has trauma at varying degrees. It’s in your refusal to heal the trauma that forces you to repeat your toxic cycles. You must be willing to learn from your past, do your inner shadow work, & heal from your suffering. It took me a long time to heal from my trauma of my mom & sister “abandoning” me & giving their attention & love to my brother. I have history of attracting emotionally unavailable men & being a bully to their new love interests to ruin the connection & take back the love that was once mine. A trauma bond is created through intense emotional ups & downs. It causes overexposure of hormones in a victim’s brain similar to addiction, bonding them to their abuser. Today, let’s reflect on my past trauma bonds & share some advice to help set you free.

Trauma Bonds

Trauma bonds can be with anyone in your life. It could be through emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or even threats of abandonment. It involves feeling emotionally attached & unable to walk away from individuals who can hinder your livelihood. This includes your ability to find a place to live or support yourself, & preventing you from seeing children, family, or pets. In the past, I let men abandon me. They come back into my life promising to stay, not cheat on me, & give me the love & attention that I deserve. It’s through repeated cycles of abuse & devaluation then love bombing with positive reinforcement that creates this type of emotional attachment.

Over time, victims grow to associate love with abuse. In the past, I looked for validation to prove that I was worthy & deserving of love. In my mind, if I can make an emotionally unavailable man commit & fall in love with me then I can finally be happy. The trauma from abuse creates powerful feelings that you may struggle to make sense of throughout your lifetime. Because the cycle of abuse follows a period of compassion, kindness, intimacy, & adoration. While it’s natural to develop a bond with someone who treats you with care & kindness, be aware that abusive relationships can begin with an endless shower of affection. Once you’re already in a commitment & devote yourself to this person, they show their true colors. The key indicator of a trauma bond is that no matter how long you are together & try to work through your issues, abuse still exists within your relationship. Even if your loved one no longer hits you or cheats, they alter their abusive tactics over time. Abusers are often clever. They switch to more effective & less obvious forms of abuse, such as manipulation, guilt-tripping, or putting you down.

My Trauma Bonds

My exes ghost me for days, weeks, or months. They vaguely break up with me so that they can sleep with whomever they want without feeling guilty. Because no matter how terribly they treat me, I’d still be there. I’d wait for them with my arms wide open & my heart on a silver platter. Deep down, you know if you’re suffering from mental abuse & manipulation. Are you getting empty apologies without a change of behavior? Don’t fall for the cycle of abuse & intimacy, then fool yourself into thinking that this is what love feels like. Instead of recognizing the red flags, victims expect unhealthy relationship behaviors. Imagine thinking “my partner never cheats, hits me, verbally puts me down, or threatens to break up with me, so they don’t love me.”

Unconditional love involves loving & accepting a person for being exactly who they are & the choices that they make. But that does not involve tolerating abuse, disrespect, or neglect. Someone who truly loves you does not allow anyone to hurt you. And they especially wouldn’t proactively choose to hurt you themselves. Learn to recognize when someone you love is abusive. Then, decide to walk away for good for your own mental health & safety.

The Cycle of Trauma

It’s in the endless cycles of apologies, gifts, & loving promises that confuse victims in hopes that their partner makes a permanent change of behavior until it starts all over again. Hormones play a huge role in trauma bonding too. Gifts, apologies, & physical intimacy produce adrenaline, cortisol, dopamine, & oxytocin. These feel-good hormones create a false sense of excitement, love, passion, & pleasure. This causes you to want to keep making your abuser happy so that you continue to get that rush of dopamine, oxytocin, etc. because you’ve become so accustomed & addicted to it. 

It’s as if this individual controls you to the point where you don’t know how to resist or break free anymore. And if you do manage to leave, you may feel incomplete or lost without them. Victims often choose to go back, because this abusive cycle is the only type of love they’ve ever known. It feels comfortable & familiar, so despite their better judgment, they don’t know how to live without it.

Other signs of trauma bonds include:

  • Being unhappy & not liking your partner anymore, but still staying, because you’re unable to end things.
  • When you try to leave or consider leaving, you feel physically & emotionally sick.
  • When expressing that you want to leave, your abuser cries & promises to change without actually changing.
  • You only remember the “good” days, & use them as proof that they do truly care about you, blocking out the rest.
  • Excuses are made to defend their abusive behaviors when others express concern for your well-being.
  • You continue to trust them & hope to change them with no progress.
  • You willingly protect them by keeping their abusive behavior toward you or others a secret.

If you or someone you know is a victim of trauma bonding, here’s how to help & break free:

Keep a journal

If you need evidence of the cycle of abuse, write down things that happen each day to help you identify patterns & notice abusive behavior that may have not seemed abusive at the moment.

When you’ve confirmed that abuse did occur, note what happened & whether your partner said anything afterward to excuse their behavior.

Consider the relationship from a different perspective

If someone else you know & love were in your shoes, what advice would you give them? Would you tell them to leave that relationship? If so, you have trauma bonds with your partner.

Talk to loved ones that you trust

While it’s not easy to open up about abuse & you may have gotten angry or brushed off friends & family when they expressed concern in the past, your loved ones can offer a unique perspective. Listen & make an effort to consider the accuracy of an outside perspective.

Avoid self-blame

Regardless of the past, the abuse was NEVER your fault. Despite what you may or may not have done, how deeply you fear loneliness or a life without them, or how many times you’ve gone back to them, you do deserve better.

Cut off contact completely
  • Once you decide to leave, stop repeating the toxic cycle of abuse by stopping all communication.
  • If you co-parent or have shared pets, establish a plan to maintain only necessary contact.
  • Create physical distance by finding a new safe place to stay, if you live together.
  • Block them on social media, & consider changing your phone number, email address, etc., if necessary.

Key Takeaways

If they continue to insist that they’ll change, by going to therapy or doing anything you need, as long as you just come back, remind yourself of how many times they’ve already promised to change without actually changing. When you’ve repeated a toxic cycle three or more times, don’t fool yourself into thinking, the “umpteenth” time is the charm.

If you have no resources, call a Domestic Violence Hotline, especially if your relationship is violent. If you’re not in the United States, feel free to google a local hotline that you can reach out to for help.

I personally hate the saying “If you can’t handle me at my worst, then you don’t deserve me at my best.” The truth of the matter is that if someone can’t handle you at your worst, it’s because they have strong, healthy boundaries. The bottom line is you need to love yourself more than anyone else because trauma bonds through abuse & manipulation are not unconditional love. Don’t let someone discard you as if you & your feelings don’t matter – stand up & protect yourself, even when it feels impossible & you relapse. I will never repeat my toxic cycles with emotionally unavailable men again. An emotionally unavailable man is actually just a boy who refuses to take accountability for his actions, grow up, & keep his promises to someone that he cares about. I need & want a man who will give me the unconditional love that I deserve, without all the drama. Learn from your past makes, recognize your trauma bonds, & move on for your own mental health & safety.

XO Denise



Dr. Carmen Bryant

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