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Trauma-Bond or Authentic Connection? 5 Ways to Tell the Difference

trauma bonding in relationship

A trauma-bond is an intense emotional bond with a toxic and often abusive person. It’s important to know that a trauma bonding relationship can't be healthy because it is not equal. Both people’s needs are not being met. These relationships are mired in manipulation. They often have a lot of bad things happening mixed with occasional good things.

In contrast, authentic connections look less like a rollercoaster and more like a steady train. Ups and downs are bound to happen in any relationship, but these involve mutual respect, compromise, and genuine care.

Trauma-bonds are not always easily recognized. In the beginning, you feel very close even though you haven’t known each other for very long. The relationship may move at a very fast pace and you may even be asked to make big life changes even though the relationship is really new.

The cycle of abuse can cloud your judgment and manipulate how you view relationships. You may put so much time and effort into the romantic relationship that it can affect your relationships with friendships, family, and even your career.

If you have an ill-defined relationship, here are five ways to tell the difference between a trauma-bond and an authentic connection:

1. You Only Experience Specks of Love

Someone who loves you will never be afraid to show it. You never have to question their love because of what they say and how they show it. In a trauma-bonded relationship, this person only shows you affection occasionally. This makes your day because of how rare it is. But this “love” can be a form of manipulation to ensure you are always in their corner. Because you are used to this person insulting you all the time, receiving a compliment, or other forms of affection are what keep you with them.

2. Walking on Eggshells

Knowing someone loves you means trusting this person would never cause you harm. Breaking your heart would be the last thing on their minds.

If someone has a habit of abusing you, you want to make sure you do anything you can to keep this person from getting angry. This can mean keeping your thoughts to yourself or telling your abuser everything they want to hear. You could also be afraid of this person hurting themselves if you say or do something to get them upset.

3. Being in a Victim Situation

A predator will seek out its prey and use manipulation tactics in order to gain control. This could mean belittling you, using guilt, or abusing you. You may not even realize you are suffering from abuse. However, someone who loves you will connect with you by treating you with respect and validation. You continue to see this person because no matter how this person treats you, they still connect with you in ‘their own way’.

4. Normalizing Abuse

In healthy relationships, dramatic blow-ups and emotional abuse are limited, if not non-existent. Both people value the other’s opinion and treat them with honor and respect, both in public and private.

However, in a trauma-bond relationship, abuse is normalized and anticipated. After confrontations, the abuser grooms and conditions the abused with lavish apologies, gifts, and attention. Often, an abuser will promise never to do it again and beg and plead for the abused person to stay. This creates a vicious cycle of trauma and intermittent positive reinforcement that is difficult to break free from.

5. Feeling Stuck

Healthy relationships are enjoyable and uplifting for the people in them. You look forward to spending time with your loved one, not because you are obligated to, but because you enjoy the company they provide.

However, in a trauma-bonded relationship, you feel like you need to be in the relationship because the other person needs you. They manipulate you into believing they can’t live life without you and could potentially threaten self-harm if you ever were to leave. The pain of leaving is greater than the pain of staying, which can make you feel stuck.

How to deal with a trauma bonding relationship

There is probably a part of you that knows this relationship is not healthy for you. Trauma bonding can damage your self-esteem and cause you to question your own reality or to trust someone else's reality more than your own. You may consider leaving the relationship but doing so feels too hard. Getting support from people who love and care about you is a good start. It can also be very beneficial to get professional support from a therapist that can help you to regain a strong relationship with yourself and explore ways you can honor yourself with your choices.

Feel free to contact me to learn more about how trauma therapy can help you navigate this difficult situation.


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