The Trouble With "Trauma Bonding" In Relationships

Glenna Gill

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By the time I ended my marriage of seven years of hell, I was left with no furniture, no money, a traumatized bipolar brain, and severe drug addiction. Everyone around me knew what I didn’t, that my husband was dangerous and manipulative and would likely be the death of me if I didn’t get away from him. My friends and family watched me repeatedly escape from him, only to go back a few short weeks later. Nobody could make sense of why, least of all me. I hated that man with the same passion that I used to love him, yet life completely without him seemed unimaginable.

When we first met, my husband love-bombed me relentlessly. He’d call at least ten times a day to let me know how much he liked me or how cute he thought I looked. I took it as flattery, not knowing there was something more sinister under the surface. Sure, he had his issues, but the idea of being loved so much, especially after my previous nasty divorce, filled the empty hole in my heart. He cooked me dinners and was content to sit and watch me eat them. It seemed a little creepy, but he said he got so much enjoyment out of seeing me happy and fed.

I now believe we developed a trauma bond within the first few weeks of our relationship. By the time he stopped showering me with praise and affection, I was already hooked and desperate for any kind words from him. Because he was broke and about to be evicted from his trailer, I foolishly let him move in with me and my two young boys. In a weird way, I felt responsible for him. He was like a little boy who never grew up, and sometimes I felt sorry for him. He used that feeling to take everything away from me as time went on, including my children. Even though I knew the boys would be taken better care of by their father, it still broke my heart not to have them under my roof anymore.

The first time I left my husband, I stayed with a friend named Nancy. She and her husband let me sleep in the spare room until I could figure out what to do next. Nancy printed out some information on services that might help me, but I couldn’t sit still long enough to read through it. My body trembled constantly. I wondered if my husband would try to find me and worried about what he might do. Still, I found myself actually worrying about him more than myself. Was he okay? Was he eating? I saddled myself with responsibility, and when my husband finally got me through email he used my concern to act like a victim and claim that he couldn’t live without me.

I left Nancy’s house when she was at work, and I didn’t leave a note or anything. When I was back at the house with my husband, I called Nancy and tried to explain why I went back to him.

“I don’t know,” I told her. “It just kind of happened.”

Nancy’s voice was serious. “Glenna, that’s really scary.”

Her disappointment went way over my head. I mean, my husband had treated me perfectly since I got back. I finally had the husband I’d always wanted, but he could never sustain it for more than a few weeks. After that, the abuse would be worse than ever. He called me names like “whore” and “stupid bitch,” and when he was done he’d give me the silent treatment for days. The cycle would repeat itself time and time again with me again looking for a way to break free. Except I wasn’t free at all. I desperately wanted to leave, but I couldn’t cut him out of my life somehow.

By the time he introduced hard drugs into our marriage, our trauma bond was fully complete. Not only did I have a hard time getting away from him, but the drugs were more of a pull to stay with him. I was addicted after the first opiate pill he gave me, and my body and mind would shut down without more. Even if I did manage to escape again, the opiate withdrawal was so terrible that I’d come crawling back to where my husband had his hand out with exactly what I needed. He used those drugs to make sure I’d always come back, and to my shame I obliged him.

I didn’t want my husband or his lashing out or getting drunk around anyone I loved. If I’d had a friend in the same situation, I would have told her to run far and fast, but I couldn’t take my own advice. He made me feel sometimes like it was us against the world, further isolating me from anybody who might have talked sense into me. I spent years trying to make my husband the way he had been when we first dated, but I finally realized that man never existed. It was all a facade to reel me in and control me.

Not only that, but I justified much of his behavior to others. I’d say he had a lot of problems with his family and an unhappy childhood and that he couldn’t help the way he acted. I tried taking him to therapists for help, only to have them say I needed to break up with him. It was wrong of me to cover for him and pretend he wasn’t so bad. He was a monster.

According to the CPTSD Foundation, a “trauma bond” describes how the “misuse of fear, excitement, and sexual feelings” can be used to entrap and entangle another person. When the relationship begins, the love is intense and exciting with that person followed by periods of abuse, neglect, and mistreatment. This cycle creates a strong chemical and hormonal bond between a victim and their abuser.

SOURCE: cptsdfoundation.org

The final time I broke away from my husband, it seemed like there was a very definite fork in the road. All my friends and family were sick and scared of me staying in the marriage, so I realized if I was going to leave permanently, I would have to do it alone. No emails or texts or Facebook messages. I cut him off at every source. Then I went directly to a women’s halfway house to get help with my addiction, the best part being that no men were allowed there. I spent nine months there learning the basics all over again of how to function, and every day sober going forward was a true blessing.

That’s just one way to break a trauma bond. If you find yourself in a similar situation, educate yourself as much as you can on the subject. You’ll be able to see your toxic relationship more clearly. Therapy is also valuable as it helps to untangle all the knots in your brain due to manipulation and abuse.

One of the most important things I did after I divorced my husband is spend some time alone. Honestly, I didn’t even know who I was by the time it was over. Until I could figure that out, I had no business going on dates or trying to start new relationships. Reach out to friends that make you feel connected to the world, people who make you laugh again. As your self-confidence grows while you begin to heal, there will be plenty of time to start fresh with somebody else.

Believe me when I say that there were very few people who thought I’d ever escape. They were tired of watching me go back and forth and getting burned by trying to help me; however, when my friends and family saw me making strides on my own, they were right there to cheer me on. Sometimes I thought I would die in that marriage, either by his hand or my own, and I’m forever grateful I finally listened to my gut and made the necessary changes.

My husband left me a weak, frightened, and traumatized shell of a woman. I am nothing like that today, thank God. When I think back to that marriage, sometimes it feels like it happened to somebody else. I lived through a lot and was left with nothing, but I learned a lot, too. If this is what had to happen to make me strong and confident, then I’m okay with it.

I pray for those who are still in abusive relationships and possibly “trauma bonded.” Believe me, if I can get out, there is a world of hope out there for you.

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I write about lifestyle issues, including such topics as parenting, mental illness, family, substance abuse, marriage/divorce, and inspiration. My hope is that these stories will help people suffering from similar issues by reading about other's experiences.

West Palm Beach, FL
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