Addicted to Toxic Love?

Have you ever wondered what makes you vulnerable to trauma bonding?

Or how to tell if you are in a trauma-bonded relationship versus one based on mutuality or true love?

From the questions I’ve received, many of you want a deeper understanding of trauma-bonded relationships: What are the signs and symptoms, and what does it mean?

Read on for everything you need to know to protect yourself and your relationships.

Prefer the audio? Listen here.

What is Trauma Bonding?

A trauma bond happens over time, though the relationship itself tends to happen quickly. It is a highly physical relationship with a lot of attraction and sexual chemistry. This type of relationship often feels like it has a life of its own.

Dr. Patrick Carnes1, founder of The International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals, coined the term “trauma bond.” Dr. Carnes is an expert in many things, one of which is sex addiction. His work has helped me with many of my clients over the years.

In his book, The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitative Relationships, he defines trauma bonding as “the misuse of fear, excitement, and sexual feelings to entrap or entangle another person.”2

Let’s break down what this means.

 

The Cycle of Abuse in a Trauma-Bonded Relationship

The telltale sign of a trauma-bonded relationship is going through periods of intense love and excitement, followed by periods of neglect, mistreatment, and abuse.

It is a cycle of being devalued and rewarded: your partner ignores and rejects you, and then ‘rewards’ you with positive reinforcement.

The intermittent nature of this interaction makes you more and more desperate for their approval.

This cycle of abuse creates hormonal and chemical bonds between the two of you, which become tighter over time. These bonds make it difficult to leave, no matter how toxic the relationship is.

If you are a victim of trauma bonding, deep down you might know you should get the hell out because the relationship is unhealthy…but you just can’t seem to escape.

And if you do leave, you may find yourself coming back again and again because the draw to the other person is incredibly strong.

Many of my therapy clients have mistaken trauma-bonded relationships for true love.

When you are trauma-bonded, the line between love and hate and love and abuse is thin. The intense feelings of excitement, passion, and drama are addicting.

This roller coaster of emotions tends to blur the line between true love and unhealthy love.

We also hear a lot of messages in the media talking about how intense love can “make you crazy,” which blurs the lines even more.

I have to be honest…I’ve never felt this way about my husband because we are not trauma-bonded.

Vic occasionally frustrates me the same way I occasionally frustrate him, but it is not this “crazy fighting and making up with sex dynamic” that we see in movies or on shows.

 

What are the Signs of Trauma Bonding?

If you are wondering if you are in a trauma-bonded relationship, see if you identify with any of these signs and symptoms.

You make excuses for the other person’s behavior. This is almost always present in a trauma bond. You also let a lot of stuff slide because you do not want to “get into it” with the other person.

You feel like you cannot explain the dynamics of your relationship to your friends and family.

You wish you could go back to the beginning when things in the relationship were amazing. You likely feel this way because the other person love-bombed you (intentionally or unintentionally) at the beginning.

Love-bombing involves a deluge of positive feelings, gifts, and amazing sex. It can feel completely overwhelming. Part of your brain says this is too good to be true while the other part, which is high on dopamine, says, I don’t even care!

You feel like you cannot live without them. When you think about leaving, you feel intense pain, like you might not survive.

You love this person more than anyone in the world, but this person has also hurt you, more deeply and more consistently, than anyone in the world.

There is a power imbalance. The perpetrator typically has more power than you, if you are the victim.

You walk on eggshells often. You might feel as though saying anything could set the person off at any moment.

Deep down, you feel ashamed or embarrassed for putting up with this treatment. But thanks to the formation of chemical and hormonal bonds, this abuse cycle can be addicting.

Additionally, trying to end a trauma-bonded relationship might feel like a threat to your survival. Leaving may unconsciously activate all your psychological defense mechanisms to get you to stay.

As we often experience abuse in isolation, it may be helpful to think of it this way: if your best friend or adult daughter were in the same relationship as you, would you feel happy for them? Would you want them to have the same experience?

If your answer is “no,” I invite you to dig deeper. It is much easier to look at someone else and want something different for them, but I want you to hold yourself in the same high esteem you hold them in.

There has to be a moment when you take a closer look at what you are doing with your one and only beautiful life.

This week’s downloadable guide has step-by-step guidance on breaking away from a trauma bond and beginning to heal. It is time to establish the healthy, REAL love relationship you deserve and desire.

If this type of relationship is all you have known, it might help to develop a deeper understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like.

 

What Does Healthy Love Look Like?

Mutuality, compromise, and respect are all present in a healthy relationship.

Since trauma-bonded relationships tend to happen quickly, you often do not know the other person very deeply. You avoid talking about important things because if you got real, the relationship would have to end.

In a healthy relationship, you are not afraid to talk about important things.

You also hold each other in high esteem. When there is conflict, you assume the best, rather than assuming the other person is intentionally harming you.

You both feel empowered and can be voluntarily vulnerable with each other without fear of it being used against you. This ability to be vulnerable is likely based on years of being emotionally trustworthy people.

Neither person is emotionally trustworthy in a trauma-bonded relationship. If you are the victim, as heartbreaking as it is, you cannot trust yourself to protect yourself. You also cannot trust the other person not to harm you because they are harming you.

For more on healthy relationships, check out this video where I share 20 features of healthy love.

 

You Deserve Better

If a healthy relationship feels far away for you, I just want you to raise your awareness around what you deserve. Because you don’t deserve to be in a trauma bond situation.

To recap, a trauma-bonded relationship is a repeated cycle of abuse, devaluation, and positive reinforcement. It is coercive control, threatening behavior, and often involves incidences of physical, emotional, and/or verbal violence.

More oxytocin is released after each instance of dysfunctional repair, which bonds you even tighter to the other person.

Not every trauma bond looks the same, but the two main characteristics to be aware of are the cycle of abuse and power imbalance.

If you are the person being victimized by this, it would be easier if the entire relationship was bad, if all of your experiences with your partner were bad, or if the sex was terrible, right?

The abuser occasionally treating you well, thinking of you, calling you their soulmate, taking you out, or telling you it will be okay is confusing and disarming.

We might interpret these nice occasions as signs of change, but if you are caught in this cycle, nothing is changing.

The perpetrator relies on this intermittent reinforcement, this cycle of abuse, to get you to stay.

Trauma-bonded relationships are fantasies built on a house of cards. You are really in love with who you wish the other person was, and that is not who they actually are.

I hope this adds value to your life. Everything you need to know about trauma-bonded relationships, along with questions to ask yourself, is in the guide, which you can download here.

 

I will leave you with this thought:

You deserve healthy love. You deserve to be cherished. You deserve to feel this way in your relationship.

Take this moment to get honest with yourself.

This could be a potential power pivot in your life because being in an abusive relationship takes a ton of bandwidth. Why not use this bandwidth to create something that will change the world?

I am here to walk you through the process. You do not have to stay in this situation.

I hope you have the most amazing week and as always, take care of you.

 

1 For more information on Dr. Carnes’ work: https://www.drpatrickcarnes.com/

2 https://cptsdfoundation.org/2019/11/22/recognizing-and-breaking-a-trauma-bond/

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