A trauma bonding relationship occurs when one person in the relationship does something that could be perceived as traumatic or abusive and the other person stays in the relationship regardless of their feelings about it. If you feel like you’re being gaslighted or walking on eggshells, you might be in a trauma bonding relationship with your partner, also known as an emotional abuse relationship. Here are some tell-tale signs of an unhealthy trauma bonding relationship to look out for.

What is Trauma Bonding?

The term trauma bonding was coined by Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., author of Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction. It refers to an attachment formed between two people where one person has been manipulated into believing that they are dependent on their partner or are hooked on them. The abused person often feels as though they need to be with their abuser because they believe that without them, they will not survive or be able to function normally. They may feel as if they have no other options for support and love. They also may feel like it’s too late to leave their abusive relationship because it would be too painful and cause them trauma (hence why it’s called trauma bonding). This can happen whether you’re in a romantic relationship, friendship, family member, co-worker, etc. All types of relationships can become trauma bonded when there is abuse involved.

In order to understand how trauma bonding works, it helps to understand what happens during traumatic experiences and how our brains respond to these situations. When we experience trauma, we go through what’s known as fight or flight mode. During fight or flight mode, our bodies secrete hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol which help us either run away from danger or fight against whatever might hurt us. Adrenaline increases heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure and metabolism while decreasing blood flow to all non-essential organs. Cortisol increases blood sugar levels so that your brain gets more energy. However, since neither fighting nor running away is typically an option when we’re being emotionally abused by someone close to us, our bodies remain in fight or flight mode until we get out of that situation.

Signs you are entering a Trauma Bonding Relationship

Signs you are entering a trauma bonding relationship include your partner making you feel as if they have power and control over your life. This is often accomplished by gaslighting, or manipulating your perception of reality. Gaslighting can be overt, such as when your partner tells you that what happened didn’t happen or that it never happened that way. It can also be subtle, such as when they make jokes about your reactions to their abuse. Your abuser may use these tactics to convince you that they’re always right and that nothing is ever their fault. They might even tell you that you deserve their behavior because of something bad that happened to you in your past. These statements are not true; no one deserves abuse. If someone makes you feel like you deserve mistreatment, then they are abusing power and control over your life. A person who wants to help others would want them to live free from harm; an abusive person will want them under their thumb so they can maintain power over them. Understanding how abuse works can empower you to stand up for yourself and get out of a harmful situation. The first step is recognizing when power and control has been taken away from you. Only then can you regain your independence.

Recovering from Trauma Bonding Relationships

Recovering from Trauma Bonding Relationships is not easy. It takes time, patience and understanding. Many people don’t understand why they can’t just walk away or forget about their abuser. The truth is that when you are in a trauma bonding relationship with someone, it is like an addiction. You will do anything to be with them because you are addicted to their power and control over you. The longer you stay, the more powerful your bond becomes until it feels like there is no way out of your situation. The best thing you can do for yourself is get help so that you can learn how to break free from your abusive partner. If you have been abused by a partner who has gaslighted, belittled or manipulated you, then it is likely that they have created some sort of trauma bond between the two of you. This means that they have trained your mind and body to react on cue whenever something happens within your relationship. You need to realize that if you continue to allow these negative reactions to occur, then you will never be able to leave your partner. So if you want a happy life where you feel safe and secure, then it is time for you to take back control of your life and start taking steps towards freedom today!

How to Stop Feeling Attached to Your Partner

How to Stop Feeling Attached to your partner. The Power and Control Wheel is an illustration of how a trauma bonding relationship works. It describes many forms of abuse, including physical, sexual, emotional, verbal and financial. In addition to these abuses, it also explains other forms of abuse such as stalking and intimidation. This wheel can be used by victims or survivors of domestic violence as well as friends or family members who want to help them. Power and control is the pinnacle of all abusive relationships. Power refers to one person having control over another person through threats, intimidation, manipulation or other means. If you feel like your partner has power over you because they threaten you with harm, blackmail, and/or to leave the relationship if you don’t do what they say, then that’s a form of power and control.

My "therapy den" is a safe place where you can work toward healing from trauma bond without fear of judgement. No journey is too big or small.

While power and control are two separate elements of abuse, they often go hand in hand. For example, a man may emotionally abuse his wife by calling her names while simultaneously isolating her from her friends and family. Power and control are key components of any abusive relationship.

There are several different types of power:

  • Isolation - Keeping someone away from their friends and family so they have no support system.

  • Financial Abuse - Controlling a person's access to money or assets.

  • Emotional Abuse - Using words or actions to cause fear, humiliation, shame or embarrassment.

  • Verbal Abuse - Yelling, screaming insults, name-calling and using put-downs.

  • Sexual Abuse - Coercing someone into unwanted sexual activity through threats, pressure or use of force.

  • Physical Abuse – Hurting someone physically by punching, slapping, kicking or using weapons against them. Stalking - Following or spying on someone.

  • Intimidation - Threatening harm to oneself or others.

These are just some examples of power and control tactics; however, each individual relationship will display power and control differently.

If you think you might be in an trauma bonding relationship, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I feel afraid of my partner?

  • Do I ever avoid certain topics when talking to my partner for fear of angering him/her?

  • Does my partner tell me what I can and cannot wear?

  • Does my partner keep track of where I am or who I'm with?

  • Has my partner threatened to hurt me or themselves if you leave?

  • Has my partner threatened to hurt my children, pets or other loved ones if I leave?

  • Has my partner ever hit, slapped, kicked or otherwise physically hurt me during an argument?

  • Has anyone else noticed strange behavior from my partner (i.e., extreme jealousy)?

  • Have there been times when we were not getting along but later made up by having sex?

  • Have I given up activities or hobbies that were important to me before meeting my partner?

  • Are there secrets between us that neither of us will discuss with anyone else?

  • Does my partner constantly check up on me by asking personal questions about where I've been and whom I've seen?

  • Do I feel uncomfortable answering those questions?

  • Are we both always right in our arguments, even if only one of us is actually right?

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