7 Stages of trauma bonding
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The thought of a person developing an attachment to their abuser is often difficult to grasp. This comes with little surprise because even people in such situations do not readily realize that they have been trapped in the vicious cycle of abusive relationships.
However, it is a real thing and this emotional attachment is called a trauma bond. And just like getting out of any other situation in life, the first step on how to break a trauma bond is the acceptance that such a bond existed and recognition of even the most subtle signs of abuse.
What is a trauma bond?
A trauma bond is an emotional bond that an abused person has with their abuser. These destructive attachments can develop after a stressful event in the relationship, or even in any stage of dating.
Trauma bonding ends up almost like an addiction, in which there is a pattern of abuse followed by remorseful behavior. And just like addiction, the 7 stages of trauma bonding involve a repeated cycle of abuse and alternating kindness. Afflicted people may realize that the relationship has caused negative changes in their life, yet find it extremely hard to sever the connection between them and their abuser.
What are the stages of trauma bonding?
Understanding the phases that set fertile grounds for an abusive relationship to begin is necessary for victims to see the situation they are in and learn how to break trauma bond. The stages of trauma bonding are listed below.
Gaslighting is a type of emotional abuse in which the abuser makes the abused question their own reality, beliefs, and even sanity. This technique of psychological manipulation typically occurs in abusive relationships. Victims of gaslighting often second-guess themselves as a result of constantly being fed false information, making an attempt at breaking trauma bonds more difficult.
2. Love bombing
Love bombing refers to behavior patterns in which someone overwhelms another person with displays of affection and admiration. It uses loving words, flattery, and excessive attention as tactics to manipulate the recipient into making them feel dependent on their abuser.
3. Emotional addiction
Emotional addiction means that the highs and lows of the relationship become addictive to an individual. Their body constantly produces cortisol (stress) and craves dopamine (pleasure). This results in a cycle of dependency that closely resembles drug addiction. The abused person may be aware that they are in an unhealthy relationship yet feel like they cannot leave it.
The showering of over-the-top attention and affection previously displayed is slowly replaced with criticism. Criticism is a stage where the abusive partner criticizes and blames the other person for things they very well know are not the latter’s fault. This leaves the recipient of abuse with confusion on how all the blame, lying, and denial was shifted onto them.
5. Loss of Self
When one tries to push back against the destructive behaviors of their abuser, the situation gets worse. To de-escalate arguments, an individual settles for anything just to keep the peace at the expense of their self-confidence and sense of self.
6. Trust and dependency
This stage involves winning over an abusee’s trust to try and manipulate them into being dependent on their abuser for validation and attention. This dependency bond develops as a result of the prior displays of love and affection that only serve to reinforce the power that the perpetrator has over the victim.
7. Resigning to control
Trying to work things out through an open discussion does not work anymore and only ends up with your partner creating a litany of complaints meant to shift blame onto you. This gets frustrating and exhausting over time, so you compromise to resolve conflict by having it their way. You end up convincing yourself that giving in to your partner may be the only way to go back to the old times, where there was still love and affection.
How to break a trauma bond?
Breaking a trauma bond can be done by first acknowledging that such a bond exists, living in reality, and then making a firm decision to leave. The first step to emerging from any unhealthy relationship, whether with a person or with addictive substances, is being honest with oneself and acknowledging the seriousness of the situation.
Acknowledging that you are being subject to poor treatment and manipulation can help you get your start in breaking a trauma bond. Recognizing the abuse that is happening may open a person’s mind to the fact that no one deserves to be in an abusive situation.
The next step is to live in reality and refrain from fantasizing that the situation could still be how it was during the good, old times. Living at the moment involves reminding oneself to pay attention to what they feel at the moment as well as how their emotions are affecting them, and not holding on to what could possibly happen the next day.
Lastly, exit the relationship and cut all ties with your abuser. Although leaving an abusive relationship is never as easy as “just leaving,” getting out of the circumstance is a necessary step to regaining your sense of self, developing self-care practices, and seeking help from a mental health professional who can offer guidance and support during recovery.
Trauma-informed therapies and support groups may be effective in addressing trauma bonding. Trauma-informed care is an intervention that focuses on how traumatic experiences impact an individual’s life. Behavioral approaches that may be used as strategies in trauma-focused therapy include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), prolonged exposure therapy (PE), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), among several others.
And while there are no specific support groups intended for trauma bonding, there are many others designed to support toxic relationship survivors, such as Codependents Anonymous (CoDA).
How long does it take to break the trauma bond?
The length of time it takes to break the trauma bond may vary from person to person and may take some time, especially without professional help. This is mainly due to its addictive nature and the fact that it leaves an individual with deep psychological trauma.
Therefore, professional support from mental health experts and building a support network are necessary for putting an end to an abusive relationship. With the help of a therapist, one can learn the patterns of abuse that set the stage for trauma bonding, and they can have more clarity about their situation.
Therapy can also teach an afflicted person how to build new, healthy relationships and ways to maintain better boundaries. On the other hand, support groups provide a safe place for people to ease their emotional burden and offer social support that is necessary for complete healing.
Can a trauma bond become healthy?
No, a trauma bond cannot become healthy. A trauma bond is characterized by a cyclical pattern of abuse and remorse followed by intermittent reinforcement, which are positive behaviors showered by the abuser during the early stages of the partnership.
As the abuse starts, however, these reinforcing behaviors gradually decrease, leaving the victim in a continuous cycle of seeking their abuser’s approval in hopes of getting the good treatment again. Intermittent reinforcement is also a key contributing factor as to why no matter how often a person asks themselves how to stop trauma bonding, they feel as if they are unable to leave the toxic relationship.
This occasional display of positive behavior is used by the abuser to strengthen the trauma bond, causing the victim to settle for the bare minimum and trapping them in the vicious cycle of narcissistic abuse.