Many abusive relationships begin with a shower of affection and assurances of love. when the abuse begins, it may take one by surprise.
Afterwards, the partner might apologise, swear to change or insist he or she was just upset. The abused partner slowly regains a sense of trust until the cycle begins again. This is what experts call trauma bonding It is the emotional attachment an abused person feels for their abuser.
The bond is created due to a cycle of abuse, devaluation and positive reinforcement. After each abuse, the abuser professes to love, regret, and otherwise tries to make the relationship feel safe and needed. Attached to abuser Nkatha Kagia a freelance writer, shares that she has been in this kind of a relationship, a couple of times, but one still stands out the most.
“There is this guy I used to date. He used to make me suffer a lot. He would hurl insults at me such as how I’m not as beautiful as his baby mama. He would tell me how he doesn’t know why he was still seeing me. It was so hard to get out because I was really in love.
There was this one time I found out that he was having an affair with another chic, and I remember crying when I found out. And even after finding out, I begged him to leave her and come to me,” she shares.
While this man was abusive, Nkatha shares that he was extremely handsome and generous. He took her on holiday tours to destinations such as Diani, Gede, and Watamu among many others, he would buy her gifts too.
“He would buy me dresses, earrings — I actually pierced my ears because of the jewellery he would buy me. But he at the same time used to make me feel horrible about myself,” she adds. As a counselling psychologist, Muhoya Mathenge breaks it down; trauma bonding can occur in any situation of abuse, no matter how long or short an amount of time it lasts.
It’s that combination of abuse and positive reinforcement that creates the trauma bond or the feeling that the abuser isn’t all bad. After an incident of abuse, the period of calm that often follows can ease your stress and fear.
Apologies, gifts, or physical affection offered by the abusive person serve as rewards that help reinforce the rush of relief and trigger the release of the dopamine hormone. Since dopamine creates feelings of pleasure, it can strengthen your connection with the abuser.
You want the dopamine boost, so you continue trying to make them happy to earn their affection. Physical affection or intimacy also prompts the release of oxytocin, another feel-good hormone that can further strengthen bonds. Not only does oxytocin promote connection and positive feelings, but it can also ease the fear.
Physical affection from an abusive partner, then, might dim distress and emotional pain, making it easier to focus on the positive treatment.
“Trauma bonding can occur in the form of domestic abuse, incest, kidnapping, sexual abuse, cults, elder abuse and human trafficking. They are nothing to be ashamed of, as they result from our brains looking for survival methods.
It is also referred to as paradoxical attachment. It may 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,” says Muhoya.
The bond, he says, forms out of the basic human need for attachment as a means of survival. From there, an abuse victim may become dependent on their abuser. Add in a cycle in which an abuser promises never to repeat the abuse and gains the victim’s trust repeatedly, and you have a complex emotional situation that affects even people who seem emotionally strong. He shares how trauma bonding often happens because the relationship feels intense—and that intensity can be confused for love.
The irregular and unpredictable cycle of cruelty mixed with caring gestures are critical to forming traumatic attachments. No abusive person is mean or threatening all of the time.
The cocktail of fear and seduction ironically deepens attachment because it provides intensity that escalates attraction and arousal. When you don’t understand traumatic bonding, you often mistake intensity and passion for love. Frequent abuse can take a toll on the body. Chronic stress and overexposure to stress hormones can take a toll on the body, raising the risk for weight gain, heart problems, sleep issues, digestive problems, and more.
“The largest and worst impact of trauma bonding is that the positive feelings developed for an abuser can lead a person to stay in an abusive situation. That can lead to continued abuse at best, and death at worst.
Once separated from the abuser, someone who has trauma bonded may experience everything from continued trauma to low self-esteem. One study noted that the impact on self-esteem continued even six months after the separation from the abuser.
Also, the after-effects of trauma bonding can include depression and anxiety. Experiencing trauma bonding may also increase the likelihood of an intergenerational cycle of abuse,” he adds.
While trauma bonding can happen to anyone, there are some common risk factors that can make it more likely for a person.
These include: Poor mental health, low self-esteem, financial difficulties, no support system, past trauma, history of being bullied and lack of personal identity If you have been in such a traumatic relationship, therapy is a much-needed tool for recovery, but your experience of trauma bonding might be one where therapy alone isn’t enough. In these situations, communing with others who have also gone through something similar can be helpful.
“Trauma bonding is a human emotional response, not a character flaw. Sharing your experience may provide you with a sense of relief once you see how empathetic those around you are about it,” he says.
Also, know that you are worthy of a love that isn’t painful. Build self-esteem by making a list of your positive qualities or things you deserve in a partner. Breaking trauma bonds may take work, but doing so may mean your safety and your mental and physical health.
Signs you can trust your partner
Trust is one of the most important qualities necessary for a serious relationship—but it can also be difficult to know that you have it. How can you know that you can trust your partner and that they trust you? Here are some tell-tale signs, They share all their feelings: Being honest about all of his/her thoughts and feelings is one of the biggest signs you can trust your partner.
Openness and vulnerability in conversation—their willingness to really open up their heart and share what they’re really thinking, even if it puts them at risk for ridicule and being criticised for you—that is a scary thing in a lot of relationships.
That said, just because your partner doesn’t immediately jump to tell you her thoughts doesn’t mean she isn’t willing to share. Talking helps some people process their emotions, but other people need alone time to sort out their feelings.
Even if it takes a couple of hours (or even a couple of days) for your partner to open up, that emotional discussion shows a deep level of trust in a relationship.
They admit when in the wrong: When we hide things and lie and get defensive, we are afraid to let that person in. So, a sincere apology shows the desire to build trust in a relationship.
They ask questions, but don’t interrogate: Their questions about where you are going and what you are doing and who you are doing it with don’t come at you like flying gravel.
They are asking because they are interested and they care — not suspicious.
Conversation feels natural: A good liar knows that fibbers supposedly can’t look you in the eye, so a deceitful partner might overcompensate by looking you straight in the eye.
But when someone is telling the truth, they don’t have to be so dramatic. If trustworthy, people are casual and direct.
They give you the freedom to be yourself: They are not possessive of your time and energy. They don’t try to control your friendships, what you like to do or who you hang out with. When you open up and say what’s in your heart, they listen.
They support. They cheer. They don’t criticise or make fun of you. They want and encourage, you to be yourself. Because that’s the person they want to be with.
Other people trust them: This is huge. Their best mate, their friends, their co-workers, their mother: You have the impression that other people wouldn’t hesitate to trust them. if you get the impression other people don’t like or trust them, take note.