Have you ever seen a friend who was in a clearly toxic relationship and you wondered why they chose to stay with their partner? Or perhaps you’ve been in a relationship that you know is very unhealthy and toxic for you, but you simply can’t make yourself leave this person?
What is trauma bonding?
Trauma bonding is something that is almost impossible to notice when you are inside an abusive relationship.
Trauma bonding occurs when a narcissist repeats the cycle of abuse with their victim and in this way, they fuel the need for validation and love from their victims.
There are three stages of such a cycle of abuse: infatuation (or idealization), devaluation, and then rapid discarding of the narcissist’s victim.
Trauma bonding typically occurs in a romantic relationship with a narcissist but it is equally common in a relationship between a narcissistic parent and their children. Sometimes it can even occur in a relationship with a narcissistic friend or colleague.
To understand better how such abuse cycles work, let’s take a closer look at all three stages of abuse in more detail.
That’s the stage that starts the whole emotional storm that soon will become a reality for the narcissist’s partner or child.
This stage is full of love, tenderness, gifts and…mind games. The individuals who experienced this phase often say that they couldn’t believe their luck. They were adored, showered with gifts and words of love and admiration.
The high that people feel during this stage is often compared to a powerful drug cocktail. Its effects last for weeks, months or even years until the narcissists get bored with this stage and they start stage no 2 which is far less pleasant for the narcissist’s victim.
After the narcissist sees that you are completely hooked, they smoothly move to stage 2 of this abusive cycle. They will gradually start to devalue and invalidate you. Putdowns, passive-aggressive comments, emotional withdrawal and silent treatment will slowly become your new norm.
You will be completely disoriented and confused about what’s going on. You didn’t change but suddenly your relationship with this individual changed completely.
When you try to have a conversation about how your relationship changed and how you would like to have a relationship full of mutual respect, empathy and integrity, the narcissist will stop seeing you like a “perfect partner” and you will be discarded. You won’t be the right material for their fuel anymore. Fuel shouldn’t be discussing issues. Fuel is simply there to supply energy for the narcissist. That’s all.
As Andrea Schneider from Good Therapy website correctly writes:
“Inevitably, the discarding occurs when the person with narcissism either disappears or orchestrates his or her own abandonment by engaging in some form of egregious emotional abuse. The outcome is often shocking for the survivor, unclear as to how someone that he or she fell so deeply in love with could throw it all away.”
This cycle of abuse becomes a very toxic loop because you crave the attention and love that you get in the infatuation period and you forgive everything that happens in those two other stages of abuse. The longer those cycles go for, the more difficult it is to break them.
Narcissists are very skilled at manipulation. Techniques like gaslighting are meant to make you question your sanity and doubt your perception of reality. The longer you stay in a relationship with the narcissist, the more confusion you feel.
Narcissists want full control over you and your life and those different manipulation techniques will slowly make you feel detached from yourself and your sanity. You might even start thinking that such abusive behaviour is something completely normal or you might think that you deserve such treatment as there is something deeply wrong with you.
Narcissists love putting their victims down and making them question their sanity. The more you are detached from yourself, the more you are attached to the narcissist.
The longer such a situation goes on, the more difficult it is to set yourself free and break these trauma bonds.
Luckily, no matter how much time you have spent in a relationship with a narcissist, whether it was your parent or your partner, the first step towards freedom and healing starts with having a deep feeling in you that enough is enough.
This “enough is enough” attitude comes hand in hand with being ready to see the relationship for what it really is and it is a very abusive and toxic relationship that you are in. Once you have the courage to see that and let go of any illusions and explanations that you created in your mind about this person and your relationship, then you will be able to commit to your own recovery.
There are a few elements of healing that I would like to share with you. They turned out to be crucial in my healing journey and I hope they might contribute to your healing too.
How can you break a trauma bond?
1. Go no contact
You can’t find healing with your abusers by your side. In order to start recovering from narcissistic abuse, you need to go no contact with this narcissistic individual. If for various reasons, you cannot do it or you simply don’t feel ready to take this step yet, limit the contact to the absolute minimum.
You can start by creating healthy boundaries in your mind. Remind yourself regularly that the narcissist’s behaviour is not actually about you. There is nothing wrong with YOU. You’ve been a victim of a very nasty and insidious form of abuse. That’s the truth.
Rupi Kaur wrote,
“Do not look for healing
At the feet of those
Who broke you.”
This is very true. Create distance between you and this individual as much as you can depending on your circumstances.
2. Surround yourself with people who care about you
Healing from complex trauma (and yes what you’ve experienced was truly traumatic), is possible when you have support from a loving person or even better loving people. Make sure you stay in touch with the people who really care about you. Narcissists love separating their victims from anyone who really cares about them. Make it your priority to stay in touch with your real friends. You will need their support while healing.
3. Process your emotions
If you’ve been in a relationship with a narcissist, whether it was a romantic relationship or not, there are probably a lot of emotions trapped in you. In order to heal, you need to let those emotions flow through you. You need to release any anger, resentment, guilt and shame from your mind and your body.
The best way to do it is through journaling. I used to sit every morning with a journal and sometimes I would just let myself write how I was feeling without any judgements about what I was writing. On other days, I would write “I am angry with you (here you put the name of your narcissist) because…”
Try implementing this ritual into your daily routine. It really works. You will feel great relief once you’ve released all the emotions that you’ve bottled up inside you.
If you like guided meditations, try out one of my meditations that is designed to help with forgiveness and emotional healing.
4. Make yourself your own priority
Now that you have decided to start healing from narcissistic abuse, make yourself your own priority. Get to know yourself again. Narcissists do everything they can to damage your sense of self. Now is your time to reconnect with yourself again.
If you wish you can start a journal and write down all the things you value, everything you care about, your passions, hobbies, talents. Remind yourself of who you were before the abuse took place. Go on dates with yourself. Reconnect with your uniqueness and beauty.
5. Seek therapy
Last but not least, remember that you don’t have to go through this process of recovery all alone. If you find it hard (and it does take effort to heal from such abuse), it is perfectly fine to seek help. With the help of a trained psychotherapist, the healing will progress more quickly and it will be more sustainable.
Just make sure that you find a therapist that understands narcissistic abuse. The last thing you need is a therapist that invalidates your experience.
The narcissistic abuse cycle and the trauma bonding between you and your abuser are extremely damaging to your mental health. It can be enacted in any relationship, whether it is a narcissistic parent or a narcissistic partner. Such traumatic abuse will leave you in a lot of emotional pain. Luckily, even such wounds can heal with time and your conscious work, and if you or someone you know needs help to break the trauma bond and progress on the path of healing, please contact me and we’ll see how we can work together.