Tag Archives: Trauma

Trauma bonding – how to overcome, recover and protect from trauma bonding

I wrote about trauma bonding, and the complexity of those relationships, in an earlier post where I explained how trauma bonds are formed:

The deliberate inconsistency in affection makes the victim feel that they are to blame, and that their own behaviour and personality has to change in order to ‘earn’ that affection. There are brief, intense moments of joy scattered among more significant periods of hurt or abuse, but those joy moments are addictive; the intensity of love bombing is overwhelming. Victims of trauma bonding then often fall into familiar patterns with other relationships, finding themselves in similar situations even if they’ve escaped their initial abuser or trauma.

This is why so many people return to abusive relationships; those who haven’t experienced it say “why did you go back?” – but that gives the impression that an abuser is only abusive – when the reality is far more complex, and comes with the most intense highs and overwhelming shows of love and affection, which is what the victim is seeking, and may even think makes the painful abuse they experience worth it, because the high is so intense.

Escaping trauma bonding is as complex and multi-faceted as the traumatic relationship – but it is possible with the right steps and support. Here are some techniques I recommend when I’m working with clients who are moving away from abusive relationships and trauma bonding.

 

1: Be here, right now, truthfully. A significant part of what keeps you in that relationship or situation is the “if I just…” – the fantasy of how it could be more often, if you just…changed? Behaved differently? Got it right? All of those fantasy scenarios are so dependent on impossible goals and unrealistic reactions. Each time you slip into the daydreams of what could be, pause and take a critical assessment of what is, right now. The tiptoeing, the ball of anxiety, the “which version of them is coming home” that raises your heartrate when you hear their key in the door. That reality is far more consistent than the what if you imagine to survive it, so let yourself acknowledge the truth of where you are.

Don’t distract yourself with hoping or trying to somehow manage someone into a ‘good day’ – notice how you really feel, and how much you have to play a game or bite your tongue in order to get scraps of contentment amidst the anxiety of your day.

2: One day at a time (or even one minute at a time!) You don’t have to change everything at once – you don’t have to lose your entire life to escape a bad relationship. All or nothing is far too huge, and daunting, and it will imprison you because it’s too much to take on.

Instead, make one decision at a time, one action at a time, and one interaction at a time.

Finding yourself feeling stuck in an abusive relationship (be that with a partner, parent, friend or boss) took time; it wasn’t an overnight change. Nor is escaping it. You can set your own boundaries and implement small changes a little at a time, until you feel strong enough and ready to totally free yourself from this entanglement.

Key to this is remembering that putting your needs first is self preservation – not selfish. Each time you find yourself being self-critical, remember that isn’t your voice, and be compassionate and kind to yourself and your own needs.

3: Give yourself permission to feel. In this relationship you have learned to ignore your own feelings and needs, and to put those of the other person above yours. This makes it very difficult to find the edges of your emotions, and to accept that your feelings are important and valid. Re-learning those things is important – so rather than trying to squash them down for the sake of someone else, let yourself feel them and acknowledge them.

A great tool for this is keeping a journal, where you can write what you are feeling – including the negative and positive emotions tied to the abuser. This isn’t black and white – so let yourself acknowledge if you miss someone, but balance it with truthful awareness of how it felt to be near them.

It can be painful, healing from trauma and recovering from harmful relationships, but it’s only by acknowledging and moving through those complex emotions that you can understand yourself, and build resilience to protect against repeating this pattern in future relationships. Grief is one of the things you’ll feel – but remember that much of the grief is for how that relationship should have been, rather than for the reality of what you had.

4: Identify your needs. The biggest part of moving on is understanding what you were hoping to get from the relationship, and how they used that against you to keep you there.

By offering short, intense moments of joy or affection you were being given something powerful and addictive, which was then taken away or withheld, making you feel that you needed to ‘earn’ it. This is the ‘hook’ – the power that they held – and by identifying this hook you will be able to build a blueprint of what you need in other relationships, and how you can build that need into your own behaviour rather than being dependent on an external source to meet it.

5: Blueprint for the new life you deserve. Now that you’ve identified the most significant need you had (safety, affection, love, support) you can begin to set out the foundations of what you deserve in your life. The treatment you will – and will not – accept from others, and from yourself. Examples are things like “I will not stay in the company of someone who is insulting me”, “I will not sleep with anyone who is hurtful”, “I will manage my own income and spending”, “I will nourish my body with healthy food and avoid any alcohol or drugs that change my behaviour”.

Set small goals, things which matter to you. This could be getting a new job, moving to a new home, seeing friends or family that you’ve been separated from by your toxic partner, starting a new hobby or returning to one you quit because the relationship took all your energy. Small, life affirming choices which reinforce that you are capable and can enjoy things alone, and with chosen other people, on your own terms.

Invest time in a healthier relationship with yourself – allowing choices for things you want; start small with things like what you would like to eat, what you want to watch on TV, the colour of your bedding, how you dress today. All of these things have been whittled away by the choices and desires of your toxic relationship – so re-learning what you actually enjoy is an adventure. Each moment of enjoyment will reinforce that you are capable and that you make choices that bring you your own happiness – not that given to you as some kind of toxic reward, but simply by choosing for yourself.

Following that same pattern you can build healthy relationships with others by building on small, healthy interactions. Notice the people you have in your life – those you were forced to push away, those who overstepped your boundaries who you want to distance from. Pay attention to who is listening, and who is supportive; those are the people you deserve to keep in your life. It isn’t cruel or selfish to distance yourself from those who are harmful or overbearing.

Investing in those healthy interactions, and building on the relationships you have with people who aren’t toxic, is the only sure way to fully free yourself from unhealthy, toxic relationships, and from the possibility of repeating toxic patterns in future. It is tempting to slip into a familiar dynamic, where you’ve learned how to behave and squash your own needs down to suit others; that’s a difficult thing to un-learn – so keep reminding yourself that it took time to become the person they made you – and it can and will take time to build the new, happier, safer you. And you’re worth that time.

If you want to escape or move past trauma bonding, if this is something that feels very familiar and you know that you want and need a healthier, happier future free of those painful, heavy relationships, I can help. You can contact me through this website, through FacebookLinkedIn or email on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com, or call me on 07849 037095 – you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person. I can help – you don’t have to struggle alone, and our work together is completely confidential.

Trauma, bonding and grounding: what your diagnosis really means, and how to free yourself from past Trauma.

Through life we all experience trauma, and each of us is shaped by the things we experience – but what happens when we are faced with significant trauma, and find it impossible to move past it? How does it shape our future choices, our relationships, and can it ever really leave us?

What is PTSD?

PTSD means Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This means that experiencing a very traumatic event – and anything you find traumatic counts – leaves you with life altering stress and anxiety.

This isn’t just ‘being anxious’ and it isn’t just ‘having some bad memories’ – it’s far more significant. PTSD actually alters the brain, physically. There are marked and well known physical differences in areas of the brain which process memories, anxiety and emotional stimuli and responses.

Symptoms of PTSD include a high level of stress or anxiety – again, a physical change – with higher levels of cortisone, which can lead to heart problems, among other issues. Other symptoms are flashbacks, night terrors and audio or visual illusions. Any trigger which sparks a trauma response takes the sufferer straight back to the initial trauma event, reliving and re-traumatising. The brain cannot differentiate between the traumatic event and the trigger, so the physical and emotional response is the same.

Complex PTSD – or CPTSD – is when someone has suffered multiple traumatic events, and is more challenging to live with and to treat, as those who suffer struggle to differentiate between trauma and triggers, and to maintain emotional balance or form healthy relationships and routines.

What is Trauma Bonding?

Trauma bonding is a very complex issue – and is something we most commonly see in victims of abuse. Any emotional bond is influenced by kindness and intimacy. These become unhealthy, trauma bonds when that same source of intimacy is the person who abuses you.

Most abusive relationships – whether they are between romantic couples, children and their abusive caregivers, Cult leaders and their followers or even kidnappers and their victims – tend to follow the same patterns.

Initially there is intense attention, affection and interest – love bombing – where the abuser, or person with the most power in the dynamic, showers their victim with overwhelming attention, and makes them feel special.

When the victim is feeling happy, vulnerable and adoring, seeing their abuser in a wonderful, loving light, the painful treatment begins. It could be a withdrawal and rejection, a physical attack, a verbal assault. The abuse itself takes many forms – but the pattern is the same. This is a shock, and incredibly painful for the victim, but it’s often brief – and the abuser quickly says something like ‘look what you made me do’ and is very apologetic. The love bombing re-starts, and affection – usually extreme affection – makes the victim feel secure again.

This cycle repeats – and a trauma bond is formed where the abuser is the person most capable of hurting you, be it physically or psychological, but they are also the  person you most desperately want and need comfort from, and who any scrap of kindness from has the greatest impact.

This makes it very difficult to leave abusive relationships or situations, or to break that cycle and avoid repeating the pattern in new relationships (be it friendships, romantic relationships or even employment) because the familiarity makes it feel secure, even when it is incredibly painful.

Over time the bad days outweigh the good ones, but the victim – the person with the trauma bond – can’t leave because they still believe that if they can just love someone right, if they can just stop making mistakes, or upsetting their abuser, or stepping out of line, it will be as wonderful as it was in the beginning. They are chasing the reward of attention and love bombing, and will excuse and allow an enormous amount of cruelty to chase that feeling.

All of this is shaped by biological responses and the physical makeup of our brains, and as with PTSD it can literally alter the development of your brain – as well as forming the behaviours you exhibit.

Those who have never experienced it question why someone stays in an abusive relationship, but it’s an incredibly difficult thing to break, and to truly move away from and avoid repeating.

In that process, one of the most powerful therapeutic devices taught by psychotherapists and counsellors is grounding.

What is Grounding?

Grounding is when someone who is experiencing anxiety, fear, panic or heightened senses can reduce their stimulus and calm their body and mind. Some think specifically of just ‘calming down’ and focus on the exact moment and location that you are in – others link it to nature, and the individual connects to the physical world by taking off their shoes and standing on grass, or similar.

There are many different techniques, and I will include some links below to explore more, but the method I often teach first is the ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1’ technique, shown below.

Download a copy of this technique by clicking here – 5 4 3 2 1

This method distracts your thoughts from the traumatic event, the flashbacks or the worries which have heightened your body and mind, and re-focusses those energies on the immediate here and now of where you are and what you can sense.

This allows you to leave the trauma memory, and to re-enter your body right now, right here, focussed on your senses. This allows you to calm your racing thoughts and gain control over your emotional and physical being.

This kind of grounding is simple, powerful and effective, and can help you to divert or avoid panic attacks, to maintain equilibrium and avoid anger or aggression, and gives you time and opportunity to focus on where you are and what you need right now.

For more information on PTSD and how it causes physical changes in the brain

For more information on Trauma Bonds 

For other Grounding techniques 

If you are struggling with any of the issues I’ve discussed in this article, and are looking for someone to speak to, to process and overcome your own traumatic events, you can contact me through this website, through FacebookLinkedIn or email on amandaburbidge-counselling@outlook.com, or call me on 07849 037095 – you can also message or call via WhatsApp on the same number, and I offer video sessions for those who are still unable to meet in person. I can help – you don’t have to struggle alone, and our work together is completely confidential.