What is Trauma Bonding? – Definition of the traumatic link relationship
Whether you realize it or not, you’ve probably seen a million depictions of what could be considered a trauma-related relationship. There are obvious cases, as in The beauty and the Beast, when Belle falls in love with her captor (also known as Stockholm Syndrome). But traumatic bonds — or the bonds forged between an abused person and their abuser — appear regularly in popular narratives, even if they’re not exactly on the surface. see such as abusive relationships.
Take Notebook. While it might be a classic for a generation of girls like me who grew up idolizing it as the pinnacle of true love, this 2004 film was rife with relationship toxicity, even traumatic bonding. Noah showers Allie with love and attention repeatedly, only to pressure and manipulate her when things don’t go her way. It reads to the audience as unwavering passion and dedication, but it masks something darker: Noah’s Need for Control.
Seattle-based relationship, intimacy, and sex therapist Claudia Johnson roughly defines a trauma-related relationship as one in which there is a repeated pattern of victimization followed by a display of affection. In popular culture, this is sometimes referred to as a “hot-cold” or “love-hate” relationship – a dynamic of pushing back and backing off. And while this behavior is often mistaken for romance and lust, Johnson says it can have serious consequences.
“It’s a question of power,” says Johnson. “And for the abused person, their sense of love and care is tied to the abuse – the verbal, physical, or emotional patterns.”
She adds that it often looks like a partner committing abuse, then makes a point of coming back to their partner with apologies, and sometimes gifts or promises about the future. “They might say, ‘I love you and care about you, that’s never gonna happen again. And then whenever it does,” says Johnson. “It’s that pattern of behavior in a way that hurts the person and then shows those glimpses of, But I still care about you. Please forgive me.”
Although mainstream narratives have trained us to view these unstable ups and downs as perfectly benign, if not downright desirable, the bonds built on inflicted trauma can be dangerous.
Read on to learn more about what the experts have to say about trauma-related relationships.
What is a trauma-related relationship?
Founder of the International Institute of Trauma and Addiction Professionals, Dr. Patrick Carnes, PhDcoined the term trauma bonding in 2016, and traumatic links defined as “dysfunctional attachments that occur in the presence of danger, shame or exploitation”. These attachments are often compounded by traumatic humiliation and repetition, Johnson says. The abuse is repeated, which leads to shame for both the abuser and the abused. And breaking the cycle of violence becomes more difficult as everyone’s identity is increasingly based on shame, she says, eroding any grounded sense of self.
Before Carnes popularized the term “trauma bonding,” the extensive experience of sympathizing with one’s attacker was referred to as Stockholm syndrome, a phenomenon named after a group of hostages in Sweden who refused to testify in court against their attacker. abductor. But while Stockholm Syndrome involves the drama of a kidnapping, most trauma-related relationships feel far more familiar to the average person. There can be no abduction, restraint or physical domination. Traumatic ties, more broadly, may involve emotional or financial abuse, or something less apparent to an outside viewer.
In a romantic relationship, a traumatic bond can often involve one partner treating the other poorly, making them feel less than good. Occasionally, however, they will offer a positive affirmation or encouragement; maybe they’re buying their partner flowers or performing some larger gesture meant to communicate their remorse for hurting them in the first place.
This model has been replicated and romanticized time and time again in popular media, from 50 shades of gray at Gossip Girl, Dusk, A star is bornand even some elements of The word I (hello Bette and Tina). Johnson adds that there may be specific cultural expectations about trauma-related relationships that make it harder for a person to identify with the signs and may influence a person’s understanding of abuse.
“Personally, as a Latina, there’s almost this celebration of relationships that are very hot and cold, very loud and passionate, someone would say maybe abusive to some degree,” Johnson says, of her own upbringing and of its frame of reference. “If that’s what you’ve been exposed to, if that’s what you watch, if your friends say, ‘Oh, he’s so romantic’, when he or she is just mean, but they think it’s out of love, it’s hard. The cultural component is definitely important.
What relational dynamics is the traumatic bond often associated with?
In short, trauma-related relationships are the brain’s way of coping with violence. “It’s a psychological response to trauma,” says Johnson. They can manifest themselves in different ways, from the most mundane to the most extreme. Many cults have been described as trauma-related forms of relationships, in which cult members develop loyalty and sympathy for their leaders, even to the point of self-harm and, in some cases, suicide.
Domestic violence and incest are also often associated with traumatic bonds, in which the abuser is the person or one of the people to whom the abused feels closest. When a person’s own identity is taken up in that of their attacker, the traumatic bond can be reinforced.
Sometimes the term “trauma bonding” refers to the process of forging a connection with someone based on your shared traumatic history. In that context, Johnson says, it can actually be a very powerful relationship builder and pathway to healing from abuse. But in Dr. Carnes’ context, trauma-related relationships are functions of violence itself.
What are the signs that I might be in a trauma-related relationship?
Johnson says traumatic bonds can form in all kinds of non-romantic relationships, between family members, bosses and their employees, friends and others. But where romance is involved, there are clear signs to look for: love bombardment, gaining trust, criticism, gaslighting or manipulation, and giving up control.
She defines love bombing as “the extreme display of affection, but with the intent to manipulate and deceive the other person”. It could be a yellow flag at the start of a relationship that can indicate a possibly abusive connection down the line.
Once an abuser has passed the love bombing phase, they will do whatever they can to gain their partner’s trust. “The greater the trust, the more the person will be open and comfortable with it, which will put them in a vulnerable position,” Johnson says.
Once this trust is established, criticism may begin to creep in on their partner’s abilities, appearance, attitudes, or beliefs. This can lead to gaslighting, giving the abuser the ability to manipulate their partner’s sense of reality, blaming any relationship problems on the abused partner.
And finally, ceding control can make the abused partner feel like “walking on eggshells,” Johnson says, “so as not to activate the partner. [or] make the aggressor uncomfortable.
“At this point, they may begin to rationalize or defend their partner’s behaviors,” she explains. “So if someone calls it, like family or friends, saying, ‘I don’t like the way they talk to you, I don’t like the way you’ve been treated’, the person abused person may begin to isolate or separate from these relationships,” which can be even more dangerous, as the abused person has now lost their social support network.
What should I do if I think I am in a trauma-related relationship?
If you suspect you might be part of a traumatic bonding dynamic but aren’t entirely sure, Johnson says it’s important to try to reconnect with who you were before this person came in. in your life. Can you access this part of yourself? How were you? Who have you enjoyed spending time with and how? What did your self-care routine look like?
“If you are able to recognize that there are a lot of things you haven’t done in a while, or a lot of friends or family members that you no longer connect with, that would be a sign “, she says.
In these relationships, a large part of a person’s identity and what they like to do can be tied to caring for the person who is abusing them. To break this dynamic, she recommends trying to ground yourself in the present moment.
“Reconnect with yourself and start looking at your core values and the things that make you,” she adds.
If your partner regularly inflicts abuse and tries to push it back with kind gestures, it builds sympathy and can give you hope for the future. “If you are more future oriented than present and you hope that they will change,” it may be a sign that yours is a traumatic connection.
“You really know what [your partner] look like when they shine, when they are kind and loving,” she adds. “But in the present, how do you feel now?” Even though you know they have the potential to adopt non-toxic behaviors, trust your instincts in the moment.
If you are in immediate danger, you can take action for your safety. If you’re worried about your partner tracking your internet usage, regularly clear your browser history and try safe browsing practices, like using a VPN; otherwise, safe computers are usually available at your local library, shelter, or workplace. Johnson says it’s best to avoid using shared computers when researching things like travel plans, housing options, legal issues and safety plans. If internet use is an obstacle, there are numbers to call or text (below) for 24/7 help.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 via:
Live Chat: https://www.thehotline.org/
Text: Text LOVEIS to 22522
For more information on resources, including in-person support and temporary housing, you can visit:
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: https://ncadv.org/resources
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