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Understanding trauma bond relationships



 Understanding trauma bond relationships (Photo: iStock)

A trauma bond relationship is a connection between an abuser and their victim. The abuse is usually perpetrated by narcissists, male or female.  

There are several phases to a relationship progressing to full-blown toxicity. The initial stages are somewhat normal, there are no warning signs- except that the abuser may be ‘super-nice’-say and do all the right things. You may feel that there is something quite superficial about them. Like a strangling gut feeling from this ‘deal that is too good’. Nonetheless, the illusion of a ‘perfect partner’ keeps you glued to them.

The narcissist will most likely prey on a person they perceive has low self-esteem and use validation as a weapon. Something extremely predisposing about the latter. After that, they will do everything, playing the role of an ‘ideal lover’. The first stage is known as ‘love bombing’.

Each day he or she draws you closer, and soon your world starts revolving around them. Since they present themselves as extremely smart, pertinent and capable. You will soon find yourself running to them for answers, opinions, and financial help.

That is exactly where they want you, right under their thumb before they pound you into a pulp. Their demeanour will have you put your full trust in them. The second stage is called ‘trust and dependency’.

As soon as the victim gets caught in the net, the abuse starts. Of course, it doesn’t start with blows and punches, it often starts with a snide remark, an unobtrusive insult or a subtle threat. Since this person had been extremely nice prior, the victim will ignore the red flags.

They will continue to manipulate, gaslight, insult and batter their victim which is often followed by a ‘honeymoon’. That is when the abuser ‘compensates’ the victim, where they become ‘nice again’, ‘trick or treat’, give money, buy flowers, cards and chocolates, and perform acts of service to bait the victim back into their web-a process known as ‘hoovering’.

Narcissistic abusers are masters of idealisation and devaluation. You will be on top of the world one minute, under the bus the next and back up, an endless spiral of misery. The main characteristic of trauma bond relationships is cycles of intense highs and lows. The third stage is known as ‘narcissistic abuse’.

Addiction is the subsequent stage. That is where the person becomes addicted, the body is under constant stress and craves dopamine- with the abuser being the reservoir. They use positive reinforcement- a similar principle that works in all forms of addiction. That results in an opioid-like dependency.

Stockholm’s syndrome is another thing that keeps the victims attached, this is where they start empathising and defending their abuser. It is named after a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1973 where a few people were held hostage for almost a week. Upon rescue, they tried to shield their captors with whom they had already formed an amicable relationship.

What you can do when trapped in a trauma-bond relationship:

Talk about it

Abuse has a way of turning a person into a shell of themselves, locked in their cocoon. The person becomes closed off and unconsciously withdraws socially. Probably because of the internalised stigma, shame and guilt. Talking has a way of healing wounds, it is cathartic.

Drop the self-blame

You will probably blame yourself for the experience. The abuser wants you to believe that it is your own fault, they gaslight you. You need to understand that it is not so. That you are not the only one, many others find themselves in similar situations.

Understand the ‘hook’

You must identify what you are losing, your sanity for a start. Most victims hang on to an illusion or a fantasy about their abuser. They think that he or she is their saviour, or probably an all-knowing deity who holds all the answers to their question. You must take a step back and look at things objectively. Kidlin’s Law states that a problem written down clearly and honestly is halfway solved.

Learn to grieve

You can grieve about the pain incurred, the heartbreak, the tears and the future with someone you probably still have feelings for. it is okay, crying is also cathartic, and burying everything and pretending it didn’t happen will only rise psychological conditions in future.

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