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For many years I blamed myself for staying longer “than I should have” in a relationship with a narcissist.
I was crying every week, intense fights were the norm, and whatever I did it never felt like enough. My friends and family most definitely could not understand my motivation to stay. Looking back, I also wonder how I had the patience and the resilience to wait as long as I did “for better days to come.”
What is imperative to understand here is that staying has nothing to do with logic. On the contrary, when we find ourselves in toxic or unhealthy relationships unable to break free, then this is a clear sign of a trauma bond.
A trauma bond is essentially the process through which we begin to confuse abusive behavior for love. True love is steady and grows slowly; it feels safe and supportive. Being attached through a trauma bond can feel magnetic and captivating, but this is not “healthy” love—it’s attachment through the wound and an attempt to replay old childhood dynamics. It feels good because it’s familiar.
For those of us who grew up in childhood environments where there was emotional or physical abuse, our caregivers neglected us or were emotionally unavailable, the blueprint we created around what love is, and how it feels like mirrors that experience. Essentially, in a trauma bond, we are replicating our wounded blueprint of love.
I know for me, as my parents were emotionally unavailable, I had the constant craving and yearning for love. Consequently, in my adult life, I then started attracting partners who would recreate that feeling. I was drawn to them like a bee to honey because subconsciously, I equated what I was experiencing with love, and in the beginning, it most definitely felt like intense chemistry.
When looking at dysfunctional or abusive relationships as an outsider, it’s easy to cast blame and wonder why people stay as long as they do. The answer lies in what I described above.
We stay because it feels like we have no other choice. We stay because the experience can be compared to satiating an addiction. We stay because the logical mind is turned off and instead our subconscious has decided to engage in old childhood dynamics. We stay because we are in a trauma bond, and we are seeking the closure we never got as children.
Here are 10 signs that you are in a trauma bond:
1. The relationship is chaotic and unpredictable.
2. No personal boundaries; spying and suspicion included.
3. There is intense sexual chemistry. Sex is the foundation of the relationship.
4. You want to “fix” your partner.
5. You experience a rollercoaster of emotions. There are intense “highs” and “lows.”
6. There are instances of emotional or physical abuse that you make excuses for.
7. Your partner constantly lets you down but you wait for better days to come.
8. The relationship moves fast; grand gestures are a big red flag.
9. Your nervous system is often activated. You are walking on eggshells and it is not “safe” to be your authentic self.
10. There is a “push and pull,” or a “love/hate” dynamic within the relationship.
How to start healing:
If this resonates, and you are finding it hard to leave a toxic relationship, I encourage you to be kind and gentle with yourself. Start shedding awareness around why this is the case and embark on the journey of healing your attachment wounds.
This is exactly the work I do with my clients, and my formula for helping them break free from these patterns once and for all is a combination of releasing trauma from the body, rewiring limiting beliefs, practicing reparenting and self-love, setting healthy boundaries, creating a stronger sense of self, and having the courage to be vulnerable and be seen.
But by far, the most important part of your healing journey is recognising that you are the creator of your reality.
Stepping away from victim mode and being radically honest with yourself about why you are in this relationship, why you attracted it into your life in the first place, and why you are putting up with these behaviors. In no way am I saying that this is easy.
It might just be the hardest part of all because it requires us to look at our shadow and confront all those parts within that we prefer to not see. Deep healing and transformation though require the reintegration of these rejected aspects of self. I promise you, if you have the courage to do this, everything else will start falling into place.
Let me know in the comments below if you are currently struggling to get out of a toxic relationship or you have in the past, and I will personally offer you some support.
Bonus read: 3 Insights into the Anxious-Avoidant Trap that’ll help you Walk Away.
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