Trauma bonding is a way to understand patterns of abusive behaviour and how that affects the neurochemistry of the victims, and how that, in turn, relates to how the people in the relationship bond with the abuser. This helps survivors understand why they can miss abusive relationships and why they continued to love their abusers even if they knew it was wrong. Then to non-survivours, it can help them understand a bit of why victims act the way they do and crush the “why didn’t they leave?” misconceptions.
Within this framework, there have to be periods of heightened distress generally a rise in frequency or relative severity of the most blatant abusive behaviour. This is often physical or sexual assaults but periods of extreme verbal & psychological abuse can also fill the function. During these times a large amount of stress hormones is produced during these events (Adrenaline, Cortisol, and Norepinephrine are common). This gives a person a “high” of sorts and can start to cause physical health issues and fatigue.
The high-stress period is then followed by some kind of bonding experiences generally the abuser has a refractory period where they are “nice”, this is, of course, relative to their worst times and abusive behaviours can still be present here (and by definition are). These periods often include displays of affection. Including, Soft physical contact, presents, kind words, apologies, letting people rest and food, also other things that show affection. Actions like this increase the production of things like Oxytocin, dopamine and Serotonin causing a huge rush of connection, feelings of love and forgiveness. These are the same hormones and neurotransmitters functioning in love, sex, and addiction.
One thing this cycle facilitates a relationship that has “good parts” and “they are really nice” giving abusers “good behaviour” to point to as why they aren’t abusers, a part of gaslighting. It also gives victims ways to excuse and rationalize behaviour (an understandable way of coping if dysfunctional). It also can remind people why they love(d) them.
This pattern also is addictive. Your mind and body become trained to function under the pattern of extreme emotional states. The high of the stress becomes how you run, then the drop into the bonding hormones is addictive survivours become reliant on this rush of “good” chemicals. When you break out of this it is hard to function without these extreme reactions and other relationships can leave you feeling like something is lacking. Even to the point of feeling a kind of withdrawal like a smoker would with no nicotine.
Trauma bonds are strong and become how survivours understand love. No one is dumb for loving abusers, no one is weak for falling into these patterns.
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