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Traumatic events can take many forms, and trauma can affect people in different ways. While many people get treatment for PTSD or anxiety after a traumatic experience, trauma bonding is another concerning side effect of some forms of trauma that many people may not expect. Today we’re going through the negative effects of trauma bonding and how to break it.
What Is Trauma Bonding?
Trauma bonding is the unhealthy emotional attachment or connection that the victim of abuse has for their abuser. Trauma bonding can happen to both children and adults and can be a result of physical or emotional abuse. Although the victim is stuck in a toxic and abusive relationship, they still feel a kinship with the other person and may be surprisingly loyal to them. Trauma bonding is similar to Stockholm Syndrome, where a hostage will start to develop feelings of affection for their kidnapper.
Common trauma bond signs to look out for in a relationship include:
- The victim covers up or makes excuses to others for the abuser’s behavior
- An abuse victim lies to loved ones about the abuse
- A victim doesn’t feel comfortable with or able to leave the abusive person
- An abuse victim thinks the abuse is their fault or that they deserve it
There are many types of abusive situations from which a person can develop a trauma bonded relationship. Emotional attachments are common in abusive situations, as the victim often feels as if they can’t leave the other individual.
Trauma bonding is another way for the brain to cope or survive in abusive situations. Also referred to as paradoxical attachment, trauma bonding can occur due to various situations, such as:
- Domestic abuse
- Elder abuse
- Human trafficking
- Sexual abuse
It can be difficult to understand how someone in such a terrible situation could have feelings of love, dependence, or concern for the person or people abusing them. Trauma bonds form out of the basic human need for attachment as a means of survival.
Add in a cycle in which the abuser promises never to repeat the action, occasionally gives gifts, or does something kind in an attempt to cover up their actions, and you have a complex situation that affects even those who seem very emotionally tough. Because these ties are often strong enough to keep the victim in the same relationship for years or even the remainder of their lives, mental health treatment along with other forms of support are crucial for getting the person out.
The Effects of Trauma Bonding
Those who do not know what a trauma bond is don’t realize that the biggest problem with a trauma bond relationship is that the victim becomes trapped in a toxic relationship and will not leave. Especially in terms of emotional abuse, the toxicity in the relationship may be more subtle.
They may dismiss or downplay the harmfulness of their situation and instead attempt to make the most of it. This type of thinking means that they will continue to put themselves in harm’s way, whether it is physical or emotional abuse.
Trauma bonding may also impact the person’s attachment style and lead to other unhealthy relationships. For young children, this could mean relationship problems in adulthood.
For adults, trauma bonding may even lead them to push away their other loved ones for fear of judgment. Addiction may also be a part of a trauma bond relationship.
While the addict may have gone to a behavioral health center and gotten sober, it doesn’t seem to last. Their constant cycle of relapse and sobriety may cause their loved ones to stick around when they shouldn’t and could also create a codependent relationship.
Substances like drugs and alcohol may also be used as coping mechanisms for symptoms of trauma, which is why there’s a legitimate link between PTSD and addiction.
To put it plainly, common negative effects of trauma bonding include:
- Isolation from loved ones
- Mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and/or depression
- A pattern of unhealthy relationships
- Substance abuse
- Lowered self-esteem
- Self-harm or suicide
- Increased likelihood of intergenerational abuse
Trauma affects the brain, as well, not only in chemical imbalances that could contribute to mental illness but also in physical changes such as changes in the amygdala, hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex.
How to Break a Trauma Bond
Trauma bonds can become strong and hard to break, but doing so is necessary if the victim wants to start moving forward with their life. These tips on breaking trauma bonds could help you or a loved one finally escape.
Examine the Relationship
The first step to breaking a trauma bond is to acknowledge that it exists. Take the time to honestly examine your relationship with the other person and do your best to look at it from an outsider’s perspective. Analyze the red flags, look at how the relationship makes you feel, and think back to other similar relationships.
Get Some Separation
Some people are in trauma bond relationships and do not even realize it. The best way for them to see the light is for them to get some separation. Removing themselves from the toxic person can help them finally see the relationship for what it is.
Make a Safety Plan
The first rule in breaking trauma bonds is to make sure you’re not putting yourself in harm's way. This means creating a safety plan.
If you’re currently in an abusive relationship or a trauma bond, you should leave it when you have a safety plan set in place. This involves having somewhere safe to go with support.
Remember that you don’t need to figure this out on your own. There are various support hotlines available that can help you through the process of breaking a trauma bond and offer 24/7 counseling online and over the phone.
Join a Support Group
If you feel at all stuck in your relationship and like you cannot escape, a support group could be the answer. Hearing from other people who are going through similar situations or have escaped a toxic relationship can help you realize that you are not alone and there is hope.
Therapy or Treatment
While a support group may be beneficial for some, if your situation is more severe, you may need more help to remove yourself from the harmful relationship for good. Finding a therapist or starting a formal trauma treatment program can help you break the cycle of thinking that is keeping you in this relationship and help initiate the healing process.
Trauma Treatment at Banyan
If your relationships are negatively impacting your mental health, it is time to get help. Our Banyan behavioral health center offers Florida mental health treatment for all kinds of disorders, including those tied to trauma.
We offer various resources and treatment methods to help individuals impacted by trauma recover, regain control over their lives, and live happily and safely. Our PTSD treatment could help you or a loved one work through their problems and find relief.
To get started at our treatment center for mental health or just to get more information, reach out to Banyan Mental Health now at 888-280-4763.