It is hard to understand why victims of abuse make excuses for their abusers for so long, and even “desire” to stay around the behavior. Let me introduce you to trauma bonding. “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” according to Wikipedia.
In my own experience, I can attest to this dangerous bond. It’s what kept me excusing evil behavior for far too long. It’s what kept me from realizing that I wasn’t the one keeping the relationship from moving forward in healing and reconciliation. It is what kept the hope alive in my mind that all would be okay soon when that wasn’t the reality in the way I had hoped.
PsychCentral says: “Trauma bonding is loyalty to a person who is destructive. The environment necessary to create a trauma bond involves intensity, complexity, inconsistency, and a promise. Victims stay because they are holding on to that elusive “promise” or hope. There is always manipulation involved. Victims are prey to the manipulation because they are willing to tolerate anything for the payoff, which is that elusive promise and ever present hope for fulfillment of some deeply personal need within the victim.”
Signs of Trauma Bonding
PsychCentral helps us determine the signs of trauma bonding, whether in ourselves or others.
- There is a constant pattern of nonperformance, yet you continue to believe promises to the contrary.
- Others seem disturbed by something that has happened to you or was said to you, and you are not.
- You feel stuck because the other person keeps doing destructive things, but you believe there is nothing you can do about it.
- You try to change the person into becoming less destructive by trying to get them to stop an addiction or become a non-abuser.
- You keep having repetitive, damaging fights with this person that nobody wins.
- You seem unable to detach from someone even though you can’t trust them or really don’t even like them.
- When you try to leave this person you find yourself missing them to the point of longing that is so awful that you believe it is going to destroy you.
Trauma bonding is dangerous, and it feeds right into the abusive cycle. It causes us to treat the other person like a drug. We continue to go back, thinking that things will be different. If/when we get away, the detox is real, just as if we were coming off of drugs or alcohol. This is mainly because our brains often become addicted to these people in the same way they would/do become addicted to drugs.
When someone is bonded in this way to their abuser, we must realize that they most likely won’t accept if we try to help open their eyes to reality. This is referred to as cognitive dissonance.
True Love and Distance
If we realize that we are truly in a dangerous and harmful situation, and are trauma bonded, making distance to grasp reality is often the best recommended step. As Christians, this is a hard concept to grasp and implement.
We want to remain biblical in our separation of others, and it’s definitely a fine line. I would never recommend a separation in a marriage situation without prayer, and seeking outside, Christian counsel. Many Christians don’t understand the importance of being separate from unrepentant, destructive people because we have mistaken the true meaning of the word “love” in these situations. It’s complicated, but at the end of the day, if you’re not certain whether you are loving someone well or not, always ask yourself, “Am I doing what is best for them?”.
We may not always know what is best for someone else, but we can use the process of elimination. We start by looking at our own motives, which is something we have control over evaluating and changing. If we are doing something for someone to get something out of it, then that is a wrong motive. If we are trying to make a person change to the way we want them to be, our motives are wrong. The more we look at our own motives and actions that need changing, the clearer a lot of these decisions become.
The victim is never responsible for the abuse that they have endured, but oftentimes (speaking as a former victim) victims are contributors to the continuing of abuse, whether it is by the same person or jumping into other abusive relationships.
All this to say, healing is necessary, but it may be one of the most difficult things you will ever have to do. When trauma bonded, you are addicted to the abuser and their unpredictable behavior. It is so worth it to make it to the other side as a more healthy and whole person. We may never reach full healing here on earth, but there is healing to be had regardless.
The first step to healing is recognizing that there is a problem to begin with, and acknowledging the problem for what it is. The second step to healing is accepting that we only have control over changing self, and actually implementing needed changes. These first two steps, and any following steps God reveals to us can only be done with His help and direction. We can’t expect to find change or have success in it lasting if we aren’t seeking God or spending time with Him in His Word and prayer.
No matter the obstacle(s) we face, God is good, and has everything we need to get through. There is no guarantee of the outcome going the way we expect, but there is a guarantee that God has our best at heart. Escape trauma bonding by bonding to God and His truths and promises.
- Cognitive Dissonance
- Gaslighting – What You Need to Know About This Psychological and Emotional Abuse
- The Three Stages of Abuse
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National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1−800−799−7233