Have you ever been in a relationship that you knew was unhealthy but you stayed anyway because the passion or intensity it brought was so addictive? Maybe you feel drawn to someone who keeps manipulating, disrespecting, and abusing you. Or, maybe you keep wondering why you’re attracted to people who treat you badly and cause you pain and you find it hard to break free from them. You’re experiencing trauma bonding and it’s a very serious problem.
You try to cover for them. When you’re trauma-bonded to a person, it can prevent you from seeing their toxic behaviors in a clear light. You’ll go to great lengths to disguise their true colors to those around you. You’ll lie to yourself and others that their actions are more innocent than they look and that they’re not really hurting you. If they physically abuse you, you tell anyone who asks a different story about how you sustained your injuries. You start to feel like it’s your job to keep their dirty secrets.
You settle for crumbs of affection. I used to go out with an emotionally unavailable man and the moments when he showed that he cared for me were the most precious of all. It didn’t matter that he neglected and treated me poorly the rest of the time. I lived for those rare moments when he made me feel truly special. Those tiny glimpses of what could be felt so satisfying because I was used to him starving me of love and affection.
You make excuses for the pain they cause you. Trauma bonding can make you rationalize the harm that the toxic person does to you. You start to agree with the reasons why they treat you badly. You blame yourself for displeasing them. You blame their rough childhood, mental illness, the pressure they’re facing at work. You do a lot of mental and emotional gymnastics to avoid placing the blame where it belongs—with the person hurting you.
You distance yourself from people who try to help you. When your friends, colleagues, or family try to point out what’s wrong with your relationship, you push them away. You accuse them of being jealous and of trying to break up your relationship. You start to see them as the enemy because they’re encouraging you to leave the terrible relationship. You might even get hostile or defensive when someone tries to intervene directly and save you from the abuser.
You normalize the abusive or toxic situation. Maybe this person showers you with gifts or affection after they’ve treated you badly. When this happens repeatedly, you start to feel like the abuse is something to be expected, like it’s just a part of the relationship. You minimize their actions until it just stops feeling like such a big deal when they verbally harass you, hit you, shut you out, or disappear and reappear back in your life without an explanation.
You become addicted to drama in your relationships. Relationships built on trauma bonding usually involve a roller coaster of emotions. One minute, the other person is acting erratic, threatening to leave you, or making you fear for your life. The next, they’re reassuring you of their love for you and treating you like you’re the best thing to ever walk the earth. Your brain can get used to this hot and cold emotional mess. You start looking forward to the storm just so you can experience the calm that comes after.
You compromise yourself to keep them happy. If you’re excited and the abuser is sad, you hide your happiness. If they’re happy and you’re not, you put on a fake smile and cover up your sadness. You go overboard to help them no matter the difficulty it causes you or how many times they’ve hurt you before. You continue to trust them again and again once they show the slightest hint of remorse. It doesn’t matter that they’ve proven themselves unreliable. It doesn’t matter that you have to go against your values, beliefs, and every sense of self-preservation – all you want is to please them.
You feel powerless and stuck. When you’re in a trauma bond, you might feel like you can’t do anything to help your situation. The other person keeps letting you down or hurting you, but you can’t find the strength to leave. When you think about ending things, you feel sick. When you manage to crawl away, your longing for them drags you right back. You feel loyal to them even though they’ve exploited or abused you. It’ll be difficult to break the bond, but talking to a therapist or your loved ones can help you find a way out.
You end up feeling like no one else can fulfill your needs. When you’re attached to a person despite the harm they do to you, it can feel like what you share is love. It can be so intense, passionate, and satisfying that you end up convincing yourself that you’ll never feel that way with anyone else. You think that only them can give you what you need. But that’s just a lie to keep you hooked. Someone else can give you those same things without any of the pain.
You forget your value and worth. When they came into your life, you probably felt empowered, self-assured. confident, and in control. But over time, they’ll slowly chip away at these things until you’re left feeling undeserving of basic care, affection, and respect. You end up spending all your time seeking their approval, but you never feel like you’re good enough for them. You start to accept whatever they give you as the love that you deserve. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.