Tracy Guy

Trauma Bonding- What It Is and How To Break Free

Tracy Guy
March 5, 2024

Trauma bonding, also known as Stockholm Syndrome or traumatic bonding, is a psychological phenomenon that occurs in abusive or coercive relationships, where the victim forms an emotional bond with their abuser. Despite the harmful or abusive behaviours of the perpetrator, the victim may experience feelings of attachment, loyalty, and dependence towards them.

Trauma bonding typically develops as a result of the following factors:

  1. Intermittent reinforcement: Abusive individuals often alternate between periods of kindness or affection and periods of manipulation or abuse. This intermittent reinforcement creates confusion and uncertainty, leading the victim to develop a heightened emotional attachment in anticipation of the abuser’s intermittent displays of affection.
  2. Isolation and dependency: Abusers often isolate their victims from friends, family, and support networks, creating a sense of dependency on the abuser for emotional and practical needs. This isolation can reinforce the belief that the abuser is the only source of support and validation, deepening the trauma bond.
  3. Survival instincts: In some cases, trauma bonding may be a survival mechanism in response to perceived threats to one’s safety or well-being. Victims may bond with their abusers as a means of self-preservation, seeking to mitigate the risk of further harm or abandonment.
  4. Cognitive dissonance: Victims of abuse may experience cognitive dissonance, where they hold contradictory beliefs about their abuser and their relationship. Despite recognizing the harmful nature of the abuse, victims may rationalize or justify their abuser’s behaviour, attributing it to external factors or believing that they somehow deserve the mistreatment.
  5. Cycle of abuse: Trauma bonding can become reinforced over time as victims become entrenched in the cycle of abuse, which typically includes phases of tension building, acute violence or abuse, and reconciliation or “honeymoon” periods. The intermittent reinforcement of affection and remorse during the reconciliation phase reinforces the trauma bond and perpetuates the cycle of abuse.

Breaking free from trauma bonding with a narcissistic ex-partner can be challenging, but it is possible with time, support, and self-reflection. Here are some steps that may help:

  1. Educate yourself: Learn about trauma bonding and recognize that your feelings of attachment to your ex-partner may be a result of trauma bonding. Understanding the dynamics of trauma bonding can help you gain perspective and clarity about your experiences.
  2. Seek support: Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or a therapist who can provide support, validation, and guidance as you navigate the process of healing from the trauma of the relationship. Joining support groups for survivors of abuse can also provide a sense of community and solidarity.
  3. Set boundaries: Establish clear boundaries with your ex-partner to protect yourself from further harm or manipulation. This may involve limiting or cutting off contact with them, blocking them on social media, and avoiding situations where you may be vulnerable to their influence.
  4. Focus on self-care: Prioritize self-care activities that promote your emotional, physical, and mental well-being. Engage in activities that bring you joy, relaxation, and fulfilment, whether it’s spending time with loved ones, pursuing hobbies, or practising mindfulness and self-reflection.
  5. Challenge negative beliefs: Recognize and challenge any negative beliefs or self-blame that may have developed as a result of the abusive relationship. Practice self-compassion and remind yourself that you deserve to be treated with respect, kindness, and dignity.
  6. Seek professional help: Consider seeking therapy or counselling to work through the trauma of the abusive relationship and develop coping strategies for managing the emotional aftermath. A therapist can provide a safe and supportive space for processing your experiences and rebuilding your sense of self-worth and autonomy.

Breaking free from trauma bonding with an ex-partner is a gradual and ongoing process that requires patience, self-compassion, and perseverance. Remember that healing takes time, and it’s okay to seek support from others as you navigate your journey towards recovery and reclaiming your sense of agency and empowerment.

Book a counselling session with Tracy here.

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