Wondering if you have a trauma bond?
Read more here about what exactly a trauma bond is.
1. You find yourself taking ownership over another person’s choices.
They drank too much, but you should have been watching more closely.
They cheated on you, but you blame yourself for not trying hard enough to please your partner.
They lost their temper and punched the wall, but if you had stopped complaining, it wouldn’t have happened.
They lashed out at you and said horrible things, but you started it by having that conversation.
They called you a terrible person, but yes, there are a ton of examples of when you have been.
You believe they are right—it’s your fault!
2. You often make excuses for their bad behavior.
They didn’t mean it—they’re just afraid to be alone.
They didn’t mean it—they’re stressed out.
They didn’t mean it—they’re just tired.
They didn’t mean it—they need more attention.
They didn’t mean it—they just need to feel more appreciated.
They didn’t mean it—they need some peace and quiet.
They didn’t mean it—they had a bad ex or childhood or experience.
3. You wouldn’t want your child or a friend or a sibling to ever be around this kind of person.
The tactics this person engages in are contrary to what you would ever condone if it was a loved one in the exact same situation. Ever tell someone they “shouldn’t take that” and then you “take it” yourself? Being yelled at, called derogatory names, embarrassed or humiliated, cheated on, controlled by, subjected to intolerable cruelty? Perhaps they’ve destroyed property in a fit of rage, or you’re being physically pushed, grabbed, shoved, manhandled, or even hit?
And yet you can come up with a rationale for the why your situation is somehow different? Mary’s partner is abusive, but yours is more complicated than that? Yours is different, you tell yourself; they are the exception to the rule!
4. Cognitive dissonance: the opposing voices we all have in each of our minds about all decisions.
In this case, it may be desperately wanting to leave the toxic situation but wanting to stay because we have seen better days and wish for them to return. We may not want to be around this person or even like them—their values and character may be completely contrary to everything we believe in—and yet the fear of being without them or having no contact seems incomprehensible.
It’s the devil we know. It’s the dance we know.
And knowing what to expect? It gives us some false semblance of control over our lives—versus the alternative of starting over without them, which feels like having less control over the outcome because it’s foreign territory that is unknown to us.
We may try stepping back and leaving the situation, and once we feel safe, we begin to panic, to feel unsafe again, because all we can think about is that person and how we failed them. Some mistake this primal attachment as a sign of love. It is not love. It’s withdrawal.
And it’s no different than removing an addiction from someone who’s addicted to a substance. The roller coaster of emotional states releases stress hormones that flood our bodies with norepinephrine and cortisol when we panic, and then flood our bodies with oxytocin and dopamine and feel-good hormones when we are near them. Often, these people we have trauma bonds with are as harmful to us as a toxic substance.
5. The person reminds us of someone from our past, often from our childhood, and there is a pattern in our behaviors and actions that is reminiscent of who we were “back then.”
Or, the person’s actions and behaviors mimic a prominent figure in our lives, where our needs were not met by that critically important someone. So we find ourselves trying to fix a past relationship in the present tense.
Example: if a child had abandonment issues, witnessed a bad divorce, and were separated from a parent. Or, if a child was forced to be the adult and caretaker to an alcoholic or dysfunctional parent or their younger siblings. Or, if a child was ostracized or made fun of or shamed as being stupid, unattractive, or not smart, talented, or loveable enough. They often seek out validation—that they never received from those core important figures growing up—in the now, from someone similar, to prove their worthiness. Or, to finally gain approval from someone who mirrors them.
This is commonly known as repetition compulsion: repeating the same pattern over and over again and expecting a different outcome, which FYI, is the definition of insanity.