How to Survive a Trauma Bond
This blog is solely devoted to how to leave and survive a trauma bond. This process is notoriously difficult, but from my experience working with many trauma bonded women, the following strategies are effective.
Admit the reality of your relationship
When still in the relationship, learn to stop minimising the abuse and understand that it will only get worse. Pay attention to the cycles of abuse, see how the repeated patterns of his behaviour are designed to trap you in the relationship. Be mindful and be aware of how you’re feeling now rather than living in hope that good times may come. Notice how trapped you feel, how alone and unloved you feel. Notice how you have compromised your self-worth for this relationship. Stop hoping for things to get better in the future but focus on the pain you are feeling in the present.
Learn about domestic abuse and the methods he’s used to abuse you
This will help you to understand what happened to you, how you got drawn in and how he held you in the cycle of abuse.
Understand that you deserve better
Ask yourself if you’d be happy for your daughter to be in a relationship like this. Would a friend tolerate this behaviour? When we ask ourselves these questions, it helps us to see our situation with greater objectivity which gives space and clarity.
Acknowledge you have a choice
The bond may be strong but you can leave the relationship, the choice is yours. When we acknowledge choice, it’s possible to take back control and drive our destiny and be less vulnerable to the abuse of others.
This isn’t always possible, for instance if you work together or share children, but if at all possible, physically separate. This is invariably easier than emotionally separating. If possible, do everything you can to minimise contact with your abuser.
Cut off all lines of communication
If it’s possible, block his phone number, delete him off your social media, refuse to accept visits or engage in conversation with him. Cutting contact will feel painful, but this is the best way to break the bond. You may feel more pain if you see him intermittently. If you share children, cutting all contact may not be possible, however minimise it as far as you can. If you are able to, use a third party to hand over the children. If you need to keep a line of communication open, try to limit it to email only and only check your emails when necessary.
Resist the temptation of telling your perpetrator you’re recovering
Women who are trauma bonded often feel and intense desire to tell their perpetrator that they’re recovering and that they are getting their lives back on track. Resist the temptation to do this, his opinion should no longer matter to you, but in communicating with him, you run the risk of being drawn back into the relationship.
Accept sadness and pain
A trauma bond won’t end without intense sadness and pain. Don’t expect to feel better soon, recovery can take time but have confidence that recovery will happen. Feeling profound grief following a trauma bonded relationship is normal. If you have an expectation that grief and pain is a normal part of the process of recovery, it should be easier to deal with.
Learn how to manage the intense cravings that come with withdrawal
Being in a trauma bond can be likened to being addicted to a drug in that it causes intense cravings and withdrawal can feel intolerably painful. It’s good to have strategies in place to better cope with the withdrawal. Whether it’s grounding techniques, meditation, yoga, talking with a good friend or exercise, having coping strategies can help. Ensure your coping strategies are either healthy, or at least won’t cause you damage. This way they should enhance your self-esteem. When in a trauma bonded relationship, on the few occasions our perpetrator is ‘loving and kind’, we get temporary respite from the pain. However when the relationship has ended, we still have the trauma but we have less hope of respite from it until we have progressed in our recovery.
How to deal with the pain of seeing him in a subsequent relationship
Women are often devastated to know that their perpetrator has moved on and appears to be happy in a subsequent relationship. If they have to have contact and witness him with his new partner, this can feel intolerable. Women often have feelings of deep jealousy towards the new partner. This feeling will cause very negative emotions. The reality is, she is likely to be his next victim and they may appear happy on the outside, but it might be early days and he will inevitably start to abuse her. Rather than feel jealous towards her, instead see her as a victim, understand thar she will be abused as you were, feel pity, feel compassion. These are more realistic and less damaging emotions.
Work to release yourself from self-blame and shame
Women in trauma bonded relationships almost always feel some degree of self-blame and shame. These feelings are not helpful and may tie you emotionally to your abuser because you may attribute what went wrong to your own behaviour rather than his. The best way of releasing self-blame is to understand how and why you self-blame. Read my blog on self-blame to learn more. https://broxtowewomensproject.org.uk/its-not-your-fault-self-blame-and-domestic-abuse/
Learn to self-validate
When trauma bonded, we are desperate to seek the love and validation of our abuser. In doing this we giveaway our control to him. Abusive men will manipulate this need in us and most of the time cruelly withhold their validation. Learning to self-validate is essential. When we learn to seek validation internally, although it may be challenging at first, we are in total control of the situation and are less vulnerable to abuse from others.
Understand how your character traits played a part in your co-dependant trauma bond. Being abused is never your fault, however there may be aspects of your personality that made you more susceptible to abuse, for example high levels of empathy and the need to please others. Try to understand what hooked you into the relationship. Did your partner play on your vulnerabilities? Were you hoping he would make up for something you were lacking? Abuse is never your fault, this self-reflection is just a useful exercise to help you to understand what particularly enticed you into the relationship and what kept you there.
Journaling is an excellent tool for self-reflection. Writing things down gives us the objectivity that we won’t have when thoughts are swirling around in our heads. Documenting the abusive behaviour, picking up on his methods and patterns of abuse, understanding why we became so desperate and needy, these are all things we can effectively work through using the journaling process.
Write a time line of your relationship
Notice how the good times are clustered at the beginning, and become fewer and fewer as the relationship progresses. Understand how this would inevitably get worse if the relationship had continued.
Strengthen your boundaries
When trauma bonded, we will accept any amount of abuse because we feel so deeply in love with our perpetrator. Things we may have thought we would not tolerate can become normal to us. We develop a desperation to please him and do anything to seek his love. This behaviour will leave us with very weak emotional boundaries, where we may be vulnerable to returning to our perpetrator or accepting abuse from others. Strengthening emotional boundaries is essential. Writing a list of what we would or would not tolerate in a future relationship is a good starting point. For example – ‘I refuse to be intimate with someone who calls me names’, ‘I refuse to be questioned every time I go out’, ‘I will not have a conversation with someone when I feel desperate and obsessive’.
Develop a support network
Keep away from those who blame and judge. Develop a network of those who understand, validate and support you. Recovering from a trauma bond can be a lonely and isolating experience, many of our social contacts may not understand how we can have such strong feelings for someone who has abused us. Joining an online support group of others who have been trauma bonded can be helpful. Seeking professional help can be invaluable too.
Domestic abuse tells us that we don’t matter. Practicing self-care and making decisions that nurture and support us will improve our self-esteem. When we place higher value on ourselves, we will be less tolerant of abuse by others and looking after ourselves well will encourage recovery.
Set goals and make plans
If we have a purpose, a passion, meaning in our lives, we are better able to recover from trauma. Setting goals may seem a daunting task when struggling to just make it through the day, but starting small and breaking tasks down into smaller steps will make achievement seem more possible.
Live in the moment
This may seem impossible when grieving over loss and obsessing about the past, however with practice, we may learn to be more present and to appreciate the small things that we would previously not have noticed.
Recovery is never linear, there are usually ups and downs. If you are triggered into feeling a desperate longing for him, don’t imagine you’re back to square one. Recovery will be a bumpy process with various setbacks along the way. Knowing this, you will be less surprised and de-railed by the setbacks when they do happen.
“I’ve never felt more in love with someone, nor more broken at the same time. My feelings for Sean were intense, I was completely addicted. I was obsessed with trying to make him proud of me. I’d lost everything so all my focus was on him. I needed him and wanted him so badly. I had no family or friends left to turn to. Sean was partly to blame for that, he made things difficult and then they blamed me for continuing with what they told me was an abusive relationship. I didn’t see it like that, I do now.
“I don’t think I’d have had the strength to end the relationship if Sean hadn’t been locked up. He was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving and given a four-year sentence. It wasn’t so much what he’d done that appalled me, although that was bad enough. It was more his reaction. He felt no remorse, none at all. All he could think of was himself. He’d always just thought about himself though, the classic narcissist. I forced myself not to visit him in prison, this was torture, but I knew it was my best chance to break the bond. I went through a form of bereavement, I felt I still loved him, but I knew that was no longer enough. I read and reflected and started to understand what had happened to me. It’s been hard but I know I’m in a better place now. I’ve worked to rebuild my confidence. I’m determined never to be abused like that again.”
Buy the book
Educating yourself about domestic abuse is key to breaking the trauma bond. One in Four Women – understanding men’s domestic abuse of women is available on Amazon and is an excellent resource for demystifying domestic abuse. All proceeds from the sale of this book go to a charity supporting domestic abuse survival.
Published 26 March 2023