Why Trauma Bonding Stops You From Leaving Your Abusive Partner

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How Trauma Bonding Makes It Difficult To Leave An Abusive Relationship
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Break the cycle of abuse in trauma bonding.

If you ever found yourself falling in love with an abusive partner, then you understand what it's like to be trauma bonded with an abuser.

It's difficult to leave an abusive relationship when trauma bonding makes it's easy to confuse abuse as love so you become stuck.

What is trauma bonding? It occurs as the result of ongoing cycles of abuse in which the intermittent reinforcement of reward and punishment creates powerful emotional bonds that are resistant to change.

Therefore, in order to avoid punishment, the reward of love can form an attachment that is difficult to break.

When you are abused and get rewarded with love, you can soon forget about the domestic abuse and emotional abuse and put up with it.

RELATED: What Is Trauma Bonding? The Scientific Reason So Many Women Stay Stuck In Emotionally Abusive Relationships

The Stockholm Syndrome depicts those who were kept hostage who developed an alliance and strong feelings for their captors, forming a bond or an attachment to them.

Therefore, this allowed the hostages to cope in a life-threatening situation by blocking out the abuse in order to stay attached to an abuser, allowing a survival mechanism to kick in.

In trauma bonding, this same coping mechanism allows the victim to stay attached to the abuser in an abusive relationship.

These self-protective coping mechanisms prevent the victim from recognizing the abuse, preventing them from breaking free from trauma bonding.

If you ever found yourself trauma bonding and it was difficult to leave an abusive relationship, then maybe you coped by ignoring the abuse.

Perhaps you received some love, as an intermitted reinforcement for staying in the relationship. 

When you’ve been longing for love, you can become captivated by the charms of someone abusive and believe that you are being loved, ignoring the signs of abuse.

How do you detect if you are trauma bonding in an emotionally abusive relationship?

If you are becoming attached through trauma bonding you might notice that the feeling of love is magnified and feels so intense, so you believe you have strong feelings for that person.

But, this bond can blind you from the abuse, when you attach through the wound.

When you find yourself putting up with abusive behavior and cannot let go, you are most likely relating through a trauma bond due to past childhood attachment wounds.

According to attachment theory, the child develops adaptive behaviors in order to get their attachment needs met.

As a protective mechanism, the child can shut out the abuse in order to restore the feeling of being loved.

As a relationship therapist, I have observed how the relationship with the parent is preserved when the child internalizes that something is wrong with them for causing the abuse.

So, they turn their anger towards themselves, rather than towards the parent.

The ability to shut out the abuse is a coping mechanism that allows them to protect their relationship with the abusive caretaker, causing them to overlook the abuse they've endured. This same mechanism reoccurs in adult relationships.

Trauma bonding occurs when the attachment relationship is created through repeated abusive exposure with a caretaker, causing the abusive relationship to become internalized as a learned pattern for attachment.

If you experienced abuse from a caregiver then you may have learned to associate love with abuse.

You might have felt attached to your abusive caretaker when they gave you love and approval, so you learned how to adapt your behavior to meet their needs.

If you internalized that you were ‘bad’ or deserve the punishment, you may have learned to be ‘good’ for your abuser, so that you can feel loved.

You can become drawn to abusive partners where you repeat this pattern for attachment.

The wish for reunion with the loved object allows you to relive the abuse that was already done to you.

The hope for unmet love becomes the fantasy that blinds you and prevents you from protecting yourself.

When you blame yourself or think something is wrong with you, you can think that it is all your fault, allowing yourself to be subjected to abuse.

You can relive this pattern of appeasing abusive partners, in the hope to be loved and good enough.

Therefore you are conditioned to expect love as a positive reinforcement, which keeps you holding on for more. No matter how much they abuse you, you can rationalize it, it will get better.

If you believe you are the person at fault and blame yourself, then the abuse becomes a form of self-punishment for the things you do wrong.

RELATED: 7 Limiting Beliefs That Attract Negative Men Into Your Life

When you've internalized the repeated abuse from a caretaker, you can end up abusing yourself by being addicted to abusive relationships, destroying your actual self. You become your own internal abuser.

You can end up repeating the pattern of protecting the abuser so that you feel loved by avoiding to acknowledge the abuse in relationships.

Protecting yourself from the abuse may have helped you to survive your childhood, but it works against you now.

It can cause you to put up with abuse, as a learned pattern of behavior or a form punishment that you feel you deserve for doing something wrong.

So, you learned to be good and get rewarded or love.

You can end up being blinded by the fantasy of being loved, which is much more preferable than not being loved at all, so the abuse becomes tolerated.

Why does trauma bonding make it difficult to leave an abusive relationship?

When you become abused or discarded, then love is withdrawn, so you can go back to your abuser and want more.

You end up doing whatever it takes to restore the intermitted feeling of love.

When the protective mechanism kicks in, you become hooked on an abusive relationship in order to obtain the love bombing effects.

Trauma bonding is the reason many end up going back to an abusive relationship and cannot let go.

Chasing this intermitted feeling of love can be an attempt to meet your unmet needs of love.

But it's not real love and only blinds you from seeing the abuse. Trauma bonding makes it difficult to let go of an abusive relationship in this way.

If you let go of this notion that you are loved, it will bring you closer to the fear of losing the loved object, awakening the feeling of not being good enough, and reactivating the same attachment pattern with the abusive parent.

So, you cannot end a relationship with the abuser and must be good to get them back. It feels like survival.

The person being abused cannot let go of the abuser. Due to the trauma bond, it is difficult to end an abusive relationship, because the person feels abandoned or unloved when they are not closely attached to the abuser.

The attachment bond itself and the pain of abandonment caused by loss of the person, are reasons why trauma bonding makes it difficult to let go of an abusive relationship.

How do you break the cycle of abuse in trauma bonding?

The survival mechanisms protect you from recognizing the abuse, so denial sets in, and this can keep you stuck in an abusive cycle, rather than doing something about it.

Minimizing the abuse and placating your abuser only keeps you stuck in the cycle of abuse.

Breaking the cycle of trauma bonding means acknowledging that the relationship is abusive. You will not feel safe if you please your abuser, nor will you get the love you are looking for.

Change occurs by letting go of the trauma bond, breaking the fantasy that you are loved, and seeing the relationship for what it really is.

The reason that trauma bonding makes it difficult to let go of an abusive relationship is due to the associated pain of losing the loved object and losing the attachment.

The antidote for change is working on yourself in order to overcome the negative self-beliefs that bind you with the abuser.

Staying in an abusive situation will not make you safe, it will expose you to more abuse and diminish your sense of self.

Furthermore, it can be far worse if you expose your child to abuse because the trauma bonds repeat themselves.

When the old survival mechanisms kick in, it causes the victim to placate the actual abuser and accept the abuse. It inevitability exposes them to more abuse, rather than making it safe for them.

You can overcome trauma bonding and leave your abusive relationship if you break the denial that prevents you seeing the abuse, overcome the patterns of attachment to an abuser, stop meeting their needs to feel loved and let go of the false hope that you're loved.

Letting go of toxic abuse starts with loving yourself and protecting yourself from abuse.

RELATED: Why Some Women Are Addicted To Abusive Men

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Nancy Carbone is a relationship therapist with a M Soc.Sc (Couns) who overcomes stuck relationship patterns. If you want to break the cycle of abuse from trauma bonding contact Nancy at Counselling Service Melbourne .

This article was originally published at Counselling Service Melbourne. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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