Trauma bonding is the intense emotional bond that can form when someone is repeatedly exposed to abusive behaviors towards them.  There is a wide gamut of abusive behaviors which can occur when trauma bonding occurs.  Some of the abusive behaviours that can occur when trauma bonding occurs include:

emotional manipulation

guilt trips

– gaslighting

verbal abuse

financial abuse

controlling behavior’s

jealousy

isolation

withholding affection/intimacy

physical violence

 sexual violence

The above is by no means meant to convey an exhaustive list of all possible behaviors, but hopefully it does give a sense of the array of different behavior’s which can occur.  How trauma bonding differs from typical abuse patterns is that frequently the abusive behaviors are intermingled with acts of kindness and favorable personal attention – particularly at the beginning period of a relationship.  Trauma bonding often happens because the abuser is very good at creating a sense of dependency. They may do this by alternating between periods of kindness and periods of abuse. This back-and-forth can make it very difficult for survivors to leave the relationship, even when the abuse is severe.  The abuser almost has a sixth sense of knowing when to give just enough positive reinforcement which then gives abused a false sense of hope that things will improve or change.

I was involved in two eerily similar scenarios involving ex-partners which demonstrates the tenacious quality which comes along with trauma bonding.  Both of my ex-partners were well matched on demographics, i.e., the same age, both university educated, each had middle class parents and so forth.  Both were very pretty, intelligent, and good to talk to.    The relationships occurred roughly within 5 years of each other, consequently they occurred within the same era.  I went out with each of them for approximately the same amount of time. Suffice to say they had a lot in common.

Both partners were abusive – they shared several commonalities in this regard.  When one relationship broke of the amount of time it took to get over that relationship was somewhere in the region of six to eight months.  In the other relationship it took well over a decade to completely disentangle myself from it.  And no, it wasn’t that I loved one more than the other.

It was not the only difference, but it was one of the major contributing factors – one relationship had very little kindness, affection, and personal affection towards me.  Predominately it was not a very good relationship and once the relationship ended it was reasonably easy to see that.

The other relationship was more complex because it started off predominately as a good one. There were periods were the relationship thrived and where we get on like a house on fire. Hence a strong bond towards her had developed. But as time moved on, my partner exhibited abusive behaviors intertwined with the occasional positive behavior.  The occasional positive behavior was akin to a breadcrumb – just enough to keep me entranced in the relationship, but never enough for her to be fully invested in me or the relationship.  The cycle is one of abuse, devaluation, and positive reinforcement. It is a very confusing and painful experience for the survivor.

There are many reasons why a person might stay in a trauma bonding relationship, even though it is often harmful. Some common reasons include:

Fear of abandonment: This is often one of the biggest factors keeping someone in a trauma bond. The fear of being alone can be so great that it outweighs the fear of being hurt.

Low self-esteem: People who have low self-esteem may believe that they deserve to be treated poorly, or that they will never find anyone else who will accept them.

Guilt: Guilt is a common emotion after leaving an abusive relationship. Survivors may feel guilty for leaving their partner, or for not being able to fix the relationship.

Hope: It is often difficult to give up hope that things will get better. Survivors may cling to the hope that their abuser will change, or that they will be able to help their abuser change.

Love: In some cases, survivors may truly believe that they love their abuser, despite the abuse. This can make it very difficult to leave the relationship.

Blame themselves for the abuse

There are a few key things to keep in mind if you think you might be experiencing trauma bonding:

Trauma bonding is not your fault. You are not responsible for the abuse.

Trauma bonding does not mean that you are weak or flawed.

Trauma bonding can happen to anyone, regardless of strength or character.

Trauma bonding is an indicator that you have been through a lot of past traumas. It’s important to seek out professional support so that you can heal from the trauma.

Most of all remember that you are dealing with a master manipulator be it conscious or unconscious manipulation. It is also likely (but not necessary) that they suffer from a personality disorder of some description.