Warning Signs of Abusive Relationships: Trauma Bonding
Why don’t you leave? For people in abusive relationships, the answer to that question often boils down to trauma bonding.
What is trauma bonding? It is loyalty and commitment to the person and relationship despite the abuse. A central aspect of trauma bonding is the denial of a problem, despite the evidence of one.
If you suspect you might be trauma bonded and in an abusive relationship, but you’re not sure, consider the following warning signs:
- Is everyone (friends, family members, etc.) concerned for you? Have they all attempted to have a talk with you about how this relationship is unhealthy?
- Have you thought about ending the relationship because you know that’s the right thing to do, but feel like you can’t live without this person, despite the poor treatment you have endured?
- Does your belief in this person match his or her behavior? In other words, when you consider what you believe about this person – that he or she loves you and is your soul mate, for example, does that match what he or she does?
- Do you fight about the same things over and over again?
- Do you feel stuck or trapped in this relationship?
- Do you find yourself explaining or defending his or her actions? If you look back over the past weeks or months, do you see a pattern in which you tend to defend what he or she said or did, even if it was unkind or hurtful?
- Do you still desire closeness or intimacy with this person, despite feeling hurt?
How Do You Determine If Your Relationship Is Abusive?
Sometimes it can be hard to determine if the relationship you are in is truly abusive. Abusers are experts at making you question yourself or feel responsible for relationship problems, when the reality is that the abuse is the problem.
Here are some indicators that your relationship may be heading in an abusive direction:
- Your partner makes fun of you. In a healthy playful and intimate relationship, both partners may equally tease and poke fun at each other and no one is hurt. If you feel hurt, or your partner cannot tolerate being teased back, consider this a warning sign.
- Your partner refuses to communicate with you by overtly avoiding you — either by turning off his or her phone or otherwise being unavailable by working long hours, or generally being hard to reach.
- Your partner is relentlessly critical of you: your appearance, your political views, your decisions, etc.
- Your partner acts controlling and unkind, then hooks you back in with inconsistent gestures of warmth and kindness. The good times can seem worth staying for but they are impossible to predict and increasingly rare. Your hope that another good time is right around the corner is the foundation of your trauma bond.
- Do you feel like your whole relationship is based on hope, or a promise that one day things will be different?
- Do you find yourself hiding your emotions when they don’t match your partners? If you feel like you need to hide your own feelings because feeling differently from your partner might make him or her angry, consider this a warning sign.
Getting Out and Getting Help
No relationship is perfect, with both people attuned to each other all the time, but healthy relationships are free from fear and denial. Being open about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and supporting each other are the hallmarks of healthy relationships. Powerful and passionate bonds develop in healthy relationships, but healthy relationships typically do not develop from trauma bonding.
If you recognize yourself in any of the listed scenarios of trauma bonding, seek support from family, friends, therapists, and/or self-help groups. With support, you may feel more capable of getting out of a bad situation. Although it might seem impossible now, living a happy life without your abusive partner is not only possible – it is imperative.
Choose a better life. Choose recovery.