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People form strong interpersonal connections for various reasons. The relationship often involves something they both experienced either separately or together. These relationships may start with trauma bonding, which can feel both good and bad. Read this guide to learn everything you need to know about how the resulting unhealthy codependency affects people.
A trauma bond is an attachment between two people who have experienced an emotional or physical trauma together. One person is the victim while the other is the perpetrator. The victim may learn to excuse abusive behavior because the bond contorts what love looks like and the perpetrator follows the abuse with positive reinforcement. The victim can sometimes accept the toxic cycle of abuse because the bond is so strong that they feel like they can’t leave.
A child could form a traumatic bond with their abusive parent because their physical and emotional needs complicate viewing that caregiver as a solely negative influence. Abusive romantic relations or platonic connections in the workplace can also become trauma bonds.
Friendships may develop into this toxic bond too. It occurs any time someone starts accepting abusive behaviors because they love the perpetrator. They might think the perpetrator will change with time or in a different circumstance.
Every relationship is different, but people held together by a toxic relationship dynamic often experience these stages as a trauma bond forms. Recognizing any of these as factors in your own life is the first step in fixing them.
Abusers create codependency in a relationship by lovebombing. You’ll be the center of their attention for a long time while they discuss topics or plan activities that make it seem like it’s you two against the world. In this stage, victims feel appreciated while the abuser learns their deepest emotional wounds and insecurities.
Once an abuser feels like their platonic or romantic partner holds them in high esteem, they test the victim’s trust. They might make passive-aggressive comments or overstep the victim’s boundaries, then get hurt when the victim voices doubt in their intentions. It paves the way for the victim to excuse small bad behaviors so larger ones can follow.
If a victim can’t trust in their ability to spot their abuser’s bad behavior, it makes it easier to believe they’re overlooking their own mistakes. The abuser intensifies their trauma bonding by picking their victim apart verbally. The point is to make the victim think there’s only one person in the world who could put up with them or forgive them.
Gaslighting is a classic sign of codependency in a relationship. The abuser twists the victim’s view of reality by misleading them about something that actually happened. It makes the victim question their judgment, emotions and their ability to spot toxic behaviors so they don’t challenge the abuser anymore.
Victims of trauma bonding often start to believe it’s easier to give in to their abuser to avoid verbal, physical or emotional conflict. They start to fawn, which is a term describing the people-pleasing behaviors that keep the abuser satisfied. Pleasing the abuser with emotional or physical labor may also make the victim feel safer.
Codependency in a relationship often results in depression. The victim experiences an intense erasure of their identity and self-worth. Even though the depression stems from the trauma bond, they may believe every relationship will result in the same feelings so they stay with their abuser. It might seem easier to deal with the painful reality they know rather than create a new life with little to no hope of it improving.
People don’t start trauma bonding because they want a toxic relationship. It begins with intense lovebombing, which often keeps victims in the dynamic long after the negative effects of a trauma bond begin. The perpetrator may see the victim getting tired of their behaviors and introduce lovebombing again to remind the victim how good it feels to be together.
Trauma bonds last for varying lengths of time. Each relationship includes behaviors from both the abuser and the victim. Researchers rely on behaviors from both individuals involved in a toxic relationship to determine if it’s a trauma bond, much less how long it will last. The length of the trauma bond depends on the intensity of the connection and if the victim has the resources to leave it.
It’s challenging to understand if you’re in an unhealthy codependent or a healthy interdependent relationship while you’re involved with someone. Take a mental step back and see if you exhibit any of these trauma bond symptoms:
If these symptoms sound or feel familiar, you don’t have to stay in the toxic dynamic forever. There are multiple ways to get help and find healthier relationships.
Disentangle yourself from codependency with a platonic or romantic relationship with these steps. They may take more time than you thought, but they’re how most people get into healthier places in their lives.
Figuring out if you’re in a trauma bond is complicated. You may already be in the fawning stage where you can’t feel your own needs, so everything feels normal. The gaslighting might also be so intense that you don’t trust your perception of things.
Talk with a therapist or someone outside of the relationship to get an external perspective on the potential trauma bonding. They’ll have a much easier time spotting abusive behaviors, especially if they have a license in behavioral therapy.
You’ll need at least one healthy social connection if you’re getting away from a toxic individual. A history of codependency can make people think they won’t survive on their own.
When you have a healthy support system in one or more people, you’ll know because they exhibit these signs of a functioning relationship:
You might look for a supportive family member or a friend when leaving an individual. If the trauma bond is with your boss or a co-worker, apply for jobs and have an acceptance letter ready before quitting. Victims are less likely to return to their abusers when they have some kind of support system ready to catch them.
Leaving also requires the right timing. If a victim knows that telling their abuser that they’re done with the relationship will escalate into verbal or physical violence, that’s not likely the best way to handle it. You shouldn’t put yourself in danger to leave a trauma bond if possible.
It’s okay to leave quietly while the abuser is away at work, running errands or attending their own social plans. As long as you can leave them without risking your safety, you’ll end the trauma bond.
Trauma bonding is complicated. It’s hard to spot while it’s happening and sometimes even harder to leave. Learning to spot the stages and building a support system will help you make a better life for yourself. Take each day one step at a time. Your healing won’t happen overnight, even if you leave immediately.