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How Can I Break The Cycle Of Trauma Bonding?

By: Danielle Bertini, LPC

In a previous blog post, I discussed the topic of trauma bonding, including what it is, how it’s formed, and signs to be aware of. In this blog, we will explore ways to break these unhealthy bonds.

But first, let’s have a refresher of what trauma bonding is. Trauma bonding develops out of a repeated cycle of abuse, devaluation, and positive reinforcement (Raypole, 2020). This trauma of abuse can create powerful feelings that you struggle to understand, especially when the abuse alternates with kindness and intimacy. This can leave you feeling tied to your partner, making it seem impossible to break away. 

People who often experience abuse in childhood feel drawn to similar relationships in adulthood, as the brain already recognizes the highs and lows of the cycle. Although a history of trauma can make it harder to break from trauma bonds, you can learn to stop this cycle! Raypole (2020) outlines some tips to help.

Know what you’re dealing with.

Recognizing the existence of the bond is the first step. However, it is easier said than done, especially when it comes to abuse. To find evidence for the abuse and recognize the signs of the trauma bonding, here are some things you can do:

Keep a journal.

It can be useful to write things down that happen each day so that you can begin to identify any patterns or notice problems with behavior that might not have seemed abusive in the moment. When you do notice the abuse, write down what happen and if you partner said anything afterward to try and excuse it.

Consider the relationship from another perspective. 

Another thing you can do is pretend you’re reading a book about your relationship. It can be easier to examine negative events when you have a level of detachment from it. Pay attention to the details as you read this “story.” Does it feel healthy to you?

Talk to loved ones.

It’s certainly not easy to open up about abuse. There can be a lot of shame and guilt involved, and maybe you got angry and brushed off friends and family when they expressed concern in the past. However, loved ones offer essential perspective. Try to listen and make an effort to consider their observations. 

Avoid self-blame.

Believing that you somehow caused the abuse or brought it upon yourself can end up making it harder to use your autonomy, keeping you in the relationship. Remind yourself that abuse is never your fault, no matter:

  • What you may or may not have done
  • How deeply you fear being alone or life without them 
  • How many times you’ve already gone back

You deserve better! Replacing self-criticism and blame with affirmation and positive self-talk can help you begin to believe this.

Cut off contact completely. 

Once you do make the decision to leave, it’s important to stop all contact completely to disrupt the cycle further. However, this might not be possible if you co-parent together. A therapist can help you establish only necessary contact if that is the case. 

You can create physical space by finding a safe place to stay, like with a close friend or relative. You might also need to change your phone number or email address. 

Although they might insist that they’ll change, go to therapy, or anything necessary, just as long as you’ll come back, remind yourself just how many times they have promised to change.

Get professional help.

It’s absolutely normal to feel like you can’t totally break free without professional support. A therapist can teach you more about the patterns of abuse that create trauma bonding, and this can help provide clarity. Other things you can work on in therapy can be learning how to set boundaries, learning skills for building healthy relationships, working through lingering self-blame, and developing a self-care plan.

If you find yourself struggling with breaking free from trauma bonding, you may find it helpful to talk with one of our therapists at Symmetry Counseling. You can contact Symmetry today by calling 312-578-9990 to get matched with one of our licensed counselors. 

References

Raypole, C. (2020, November 24). Trauma Bonding: What It Is and How to Cope. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/trauma-bonding#breaking-them.

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