A trauma bond is an emotional bond that gets formed between an abuser and their victim. An abusive relationship will rarely be 100% abusive. Usually, there’s a mix of abuse and positive bonding in an overall abusive relationship.
This keeps the victim stuck in the trauma bond, hoping to get the next fix of positive bonding. This cycle of abuse and intermittent reinforcement forces the victim to get addicted to the abuser.
A trauma bond usually develops in a romantic relationship, but it can form in any close relationship.
Trauma bond withdrawal symptoms
Like any addiction, a trauma bond is hard to break. If the victim decides they’ve had enough and takes a step towards breaking the bond, they get withdrawal symptoms not unlike those seen in drug addiction.
Following are the key symptoms of trauma bond withdrawal:
1. Emotional pain
Emotional pain during trauma bond withdrawal can manifest as sadness, depression, fear, or anxiety. Sadness and depression because you’re losing a relationship. Anxiety about what will happen in the future, and a fear of retaliation from the abuser.
Flashbacks and memories of abusive behavior increase emotional distress.
3. Obsessive thoughts
These thoughts arise from the cognitive dissonance that is inherent to the trauma bond. You find yourself vacillating between painting the abuser as good and bad because you have evidence for both.
Intense cravings to be with the abuser and re-experience positive bonding.
5. Idealization of the abuser
The cravings may be accompanied by idealization of the abuser- ignoring their negative qualities and focusing on positive ones.
6. Guilt and self-blame
As a consequence of idealization, you may feel guilty for leaving the abuser and even blame yourself for the abuse.
7. Mood swings
The cognitive dissonance of a trauma bond can be unbearable because it triggers not only conflicting thoughts but also conflicting emotions. You flip-flop between hope and disappointment.
The emotional pain, cravings, obsessive thoughts, and mood swings can force the victim to go back to their abuser. Because being in a relationship, even if abusive, is perceived by the mind to be a better situation than not being in one.
9. Identity rebellion
When you break a trauma bond, you may experience bouts of what I call identity rebellion. When you’re in a trauma bond, your identity gets eroded because there’s an over-focus on the needs and wants of the abuser.
When you’re thinking about breaking the bond, you’re finally focused on your own needs and wants. Your identity comes out of the woodwork and ‘rebels’ for itself.