The Trauma Bond

If you’re reading about narcissists or you have come to this site to learn more, then you probably already have some inclination that you are currently in a relationship with a narc. Therefore, even if you haven’t yet delved into the depths of gaslighting, manipulation, love bombing and discarding, you probably already know that your partner cheats on you, treats you badly and generally just doesn’t give a shit about you. So even without the typical narcissistic traits, why are you still with this person? If you were dating someone who was not an NPD sufferer and they cheated on you and treated you terribly, you’d leave, right? Time to discuss the trauma bond.

The trauma bond is the reason you’re still putting up with this garbage.

The trauma bond is what happens when an emotional attachment is formed due to the cycle of abuse. If you were in a relationship where there was nothing but abuse, it would be easier to leave. It would be like escaping a kidnapper or a monster. The narc on the other hand, creates a trauma bond through a pattern of intermittent reinforcement.

It starts with the love bombing where you are brought into a fantasy world. You fall in love with someone who doesn’t really exist. The person who he portrays himself to be is a made up version of a person you would want to be with.

Then, when the devaluation starts, it comes as a huge shock. Who is this person who is calling you names and doing everything they can to hurt you? The face of the man who is holding his fist up ready to plough it into your face is unrecognisable as the person who sent you flowers and wanted to spend every moment with you.

If this man stayed this way, there wouldn’t be much of a case for remaining in the relationship. But that’s not what happens with a narc. All of a sudden, he’s back to being nice. You are shocked and confused. You might believe their promises that it won’t happen again because this horrible monster is not the person you believe to be your soul mate. When the nice behaviour continues, the bad behaviour is forgotten about.

This is one of the most alarming things that I have found during my time with my narc. It seems crazy to me that even when there were still bruises visible on my body, I was acting like it never happened. It seems crazier to me that I could sit and list a whole bunch of horrible incidents and even tell myself that they were unacceptable and that I didn’t deserve to be treated that way, yet still make no attempt to leave. It’s almost as though you don’t know what a real relationship is supposed to feel like. I was married to a great guy before I met my narc and the two relationships couldn’t be more different so I knew it wasn’t supposed to be like that and at the same time, I couldn’t leave.

For many years I have tried to understand why I couldn’t make that jump. Was I that dependent upon him? Was I afraid I’d never find someone else? Was I scared that anyone I did meet would turn out to be the same? Was I afraid that I’d be making a terrible mistake? Was my self esteem really low? Or did I just really love him?

The constant up and down behaviour by the narc is designed to keep you guessing. I love you, I hate you. I don’t want to be with you, I can’t live without you. You’re a piece of trash, you’re the best thing that ever happened to me. I’m convinced Katy Perry’s ‘Hot N Cold’ was written about a narcissist. It is difficult to think logically and see the truth when you are bombarded by lies and left in a constant state of confusion. They have you so twisted inside out you don’t know what to believe. The thought that I held onto for so long before I realised what was happening to me is this, ‘If he didn’t love me, why is he here?’ Then, after the discarding had started, ‘Why would he keep coming back if he didn’t love me?’ Anyone on the outside looking in knew the answer…I provided him with what he needed at that time. Before I knew what a narcissist was I couldn’t wrap my head around why someone would stay with, or return to, a person they didn’t even like. I knew that I wouldn’t so I just assumed everyone else felt the same way. So I justified his behaviour by saying he’d had a bad childhood, he was young, he didn’t know what he wanted…anything to explain why he acted the way he did. That is all part of the trauma bond.

How do you know you’re trauma bonded? I think the biggest sign is probably when you understand that you are being treated poorly, you see the pattern of behaviour and recognise that it is never going to change and you can clearly see that this person does not give one f**k about you, yet you make no attempt to leave the situation. It’s a strange feeling that only someone who has been through it will ever understand. If someone were to ask you why you stay, you might spit out, well, I love him even though you don’t know why you ever would because there’s no explaining it.

If you are constantly anxious and fearful, have no self esteem, suffer from insomnia, depression, headaches, stomachaches, never work on your goals let alone achieve them, if you are suspicious, untrusting, constantly in physical and/or emotional pain, and you realise this is being caused by this relationship, but you still can’t leave, then you’re probably trauma bonded.

If there is any type of abuse and you know this person is an unstable, mean, spiteful person who seems to get their jollies by causing you pain, but you still don’t leave, then you’re trauma bonded.

If you are being driven crazy by the insecurity, the hurt, the pain, the drama and the chaos that this person throws at you on a daily basis and you know that if they weren’t around anymore you’d be at peace, but you still can’t leave, then you’re trauma bonded.

It sounds ridiculous but I’ve lived through it and know exactly what it feels like. There were times when he was walking out the door after physically abusing me and calling me all the terrible names in the world, and I would BEG him to stay. I’m so ashamed to say that out loud but it’s true. Then, after he had left and had some fun banging strangers, I would take him back. Sometimes he might have been gone long enough for me to start getting used to the idea of not having him in my life and even starting to enjoy it, and I’d still take him back. I’ll save the discarding for another post.

For now, realise that you are trauma bonded and that is why it has been so hard to leave. It won’t be easy but it can be done.