What Abusers Hope We Never Learn About Traumatic Bonding

By Nicola Kirkpatrick

Updated December 07, 2018

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Abusive relationships are more common than we like to believe. Statistics show that 1 out of 4 women will experience abuse at the hands of a partner at some point in their lives, and sadly, remains the crime which goes unreported most often, meaning there could be a lot more incidents going on than we're aware of. Additionally, a psychological phenomenon known as traumatic bonding can be created as a result of these unhealthy relationships.

Bonding vs traumatic bonding

Bonding is a biological process which allows two people to develop a strong emotional connection with each other, often through positive experiences. When we think of the word 'bonding', we conjure up images of intimate moments being shared by loving couples and families. By contrast, traumatic bonding is a relationship created as a result of negative experiences such as physical, verbal or emotional abuse between victim and abuser.

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Why do people develop trauma bonds?

The question often arises of why victims of abuse willingly remain in hostile relationships, and the answer comes down to the psychological notion of survival. When we suffer traumatic experiences, we emotionally shut ourselves off and don't allow ourselves to take action. We become numb, and thusly resort to our primitive instincts to cope. To ensure survival, the victim subconsciously focuses on the positive attributes of their abuser, not their negative ones. How often do we hear people tell stories of their partner's violent streak, followed by "but apart from that, he's a nice guy"?

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How to break free from traumatic bonds

It is vital to remember that the abuser is focussed solely on maintaining power over their victim. They will use whatever methods they can - physical abuse, isolation, psychological manipulation, verbal degradation - in order to assert total control of a person. The powerful connection which comes as a result of the intermittent highs and lows felt by the victim makes it difficult for them to break free of, particularly as the victim has become entirely dependent on them for their 'positive' experiences.

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When the victim realizes the mindsets of both themselves and their abuser, it will help them understand that freedom is entirely within their own control. They have the ability to leave the abuser within them, and with the right help, guidance, and support they can break free of their abuser and learn to more fulfilling life without their domineering presence.

Of course, to many victims, it is never as simple as to just walk out and never look back - far from it. Leaving an abusive spouse will immediately trigger feelings of emptiness. The victim will feel as though no one else could understand their ordeal and they will long to return to their abusive partner. Victims may feel as though they need to see their abuser "one last time", which then turns into another period of violent behaviour.

Abusers will never change, despite their empty promises. Recognise that victims do not return to their abusers through romantic attachment but through desperation and resentment. The power to change their circumstance is always present. It can be difficult to make the decision to stop being a victim, but it is never impossible.

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