Trauma Bonding why we Stay by Debra Sutton

Traumatic bonding occurs as the result of ongoing cycles of abuse in which the intermittent reinforcement of reward and punishment creates powerful emotional bonds that are resistant to change.

These bonds are hard to break free from especially if you grew up in an abusive household. The victim will seek comfort from the person who is abusing them.

As you try to rationalize to make sense of what you are experiencing cognitive dissonance sets in as to lessen the effects of the abuse. You will reason with yourself example: At least he is a good provider. I know he is a good person deep down inside. No one knows him like I do.

There is a basic cycle that the mind uses to resolve trauma. It consists of shock/denial, anger/blame, grief/fear, bargaining, and acceptance/resolution. The middle elements (anger/blame, grief/fear, bargaining) may not happen in any particular order, and may not always occur with every trauma. Trauma that is not resolved often stops or freezes at some point in the cycle.

Shock/denial is a common freezing point — how often have you heard “problem, there is no problem.” Anger/blame is also very common — how often have you met someone who is still angry about an incident or occurrence. These, and others, are all examples of people who have frozen at some point in the trauma cycle. (The trauma cycle is best documented as it relates to grief, but is a part of how people deal with every conflict or injury).

By understanding trauma and the trauma cycle we can begin to work through what happened, and come to an understanding of why we stayed. So many of us blame ourselves for staying in the abuse. There were powerful dynamics at play as to why we stay in abusive situations. The push and pull of reward and punishment. If a person is subjected to the ongoing cycle of abuse and this abuse continues a trauma bond will occur.

Cycles of abuse include:

Three phases in the cycle of violence: (1) Tension-building Phase, (2) Acute or Crisis Phase, and (3) Calm or Honeymoon Phase. Without intervention, the frequency and severity of the abuse tends to increase over time.

Those who have been abused will look to their abuser for comfort, approval, validation, love, and security. This makes no sense to the outside observer. Family members will not understand why we continue to put ourselves in harms way. While we are in the abuse we will not have a clear picture as to the powerful dynamics at play. Once we are out of the abuse and our minds begin to clear we will begin to understand what happened to us. As we work through the trauma it is important to be kind, loving, and patient with ourselves. It is important to recognize the abuse, the cycle of abuse, and why we stayed. It’s also important to see the abuser will never change, the abuse will only get worse with time. Staying in the abuse shows the abuser he can get away with treating you this way and he will always up the ante to inflict harsher abuse. Once out of the abuse stay out. No contact is the best way to go, for those with children limited contact.

~Debra Sutton


The Resolution Cycle is addressed (in greater depth) at:

By Stephen R. Marsh

Signs you are Trauma Bonded:

by Kiri Blakeley

1. You think being treated badly is normal. If you tell your friends and family how your husband [or wife] speaks and behaves toward you, they are concerned for you. Yet you think nothing is wrong.

2. Fighting. You have repetitive fights about the same thing, over and over, and no one ever wins, there’s never any insight. If you do feel that you “got somewhere” with the fight, that’s all wiped out when you have the same fight about the same thing again — probably the next day.

3. You defend your abuser/user.You find yourself complaining to friends, family, or therapists about how your wife [or husband] is treating you, but then instantly begin to defend him or blame yourself, i.e., “Well, if I didn’t nag him [or her] her so much, he [or she] wouldn’t have hit me,” or “If I wasn’t so fat, he [or she] wouldn’t need to cheat.”

4. Loss of free will. Everything in your mind tells you to leave your spouse, but you find yourself unable to make any kind of change.

5. You’re in love with the fantasy, not the reality. You find yourself incredibly attached to the “storyline” of “how things should go” or “how they should be” despite the fact that the reality of the relationship bears little resemblance to it.

6. “Auuuughhh!!!” You often feel like Charlie Brown, who repeatedly kicks the football that Lucy holds, only to have her pull it out at the last minute. The idea that THIS TIME he [or she] won’t pull the football continues to have power despite his [or her] always pulling the football and you always landing on your back.

7. Conversion. You keep trying to “convert” your spouse into someone who treats you right, “convince” him [or her]  to behave differently, or “prove” yourself to him [or her]. You think if only you can “prove” yourself, everything will be different. You try to get him [or her] to “understand” that what he [or she] does/says is hurtful to you. If only he [or she] would “understand”!

8. You don’t like him [or her]. You “love” your spouse, but you don’t like, respect, or even want to be around him [or her].

9. The next generation. Although you can’t leave your spouse and even say you don’t want to, you’d be horrified if your daughter [or son] brought home a new boyfriend [or girlfriend] and declared he was “just like daddy [or mommy].”

10. Obsession. If you do manage to break away from your spouse, you obsess and long to the point of nostalgia about the horrible relationship you got away from and that almost destroyed you.

All people who trauma bond to their Abuser and accept hoovering gestures from them as signs of apologies are at risk for being psychologically and emotionally conned back into willingly participating in trauma bonding behavior.

Peace, Love, and Light-Debra

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