Understanding and Breaking Trauma Bonds In Narcissistic Relationships

Understanding and breaking trauma bonds in narcissistic relationships is crucial to healing. I’ll be breaking down what they are, how they affect you, how they keep you stuck, and the steps you can take to break them.

The term trauma bond is also referred to as Stockholm Syndrome. Which is when people who are held in captive and experience immense trauma, and also form bonds with their captures. A deep rooted bond is created between the abused and the abuser. The abused person often forms a strong sense of loyalty towards the abuser, regardless of the fact that they treat them badly. 

In narcissistic abusive relationships, trauma bonding happens when a narcissist repeats a cycle of abuse, fuelling a need for validation, approval, and love from the abused person. With narcissistic abuse, most people unknowingly form bonds with their abusers. 

Through a trauma bond, we’re methodically broken down to a mere shadow of ourselves and tend to give our power over to the abuser. We see them as having the upper hand. In any kind of abuse, it’s about an extreme imbalance of power.

The abuser takes power from the abused, leaving them powerless. However, there’s this powerful draw to the one who’s perceived as being in control or source of power in the abused person’s life.

The Trauma Bond Cycle

As I mentioned earlier, trauma bonds are formed from a cycle of abuse. The victim experiences the extreme love bond, then the narcissist abruptly takes away that love and affection. That’s when that bond is interrupted, and the victim realises there is no true bond. The love can be turned on and off at will by the narc like a faucet can be turned on and off. They give just enough by managing down your expectations, until you get to the point that you accept the bare minimum, just crumbs.

Its important to realise that the narcissist can completely severe themselves from any emotional connection, leaving the other starving for that connection. It’s usually a stark and abrupt detachment. 

The victim then becomes deeply traumatised, and is in so much denial that they seek out validation. Any sign that they are valued, loved, cared about again, looking for crumbs of affection. When no sign of that validation comes, the trauma becomes deeper embedded, and this cycle continues, further fuelling the cycle of abuse. 

What Happens When a Narcissist Leaves You With A Trauma Bond

The trauma bond is experienced as a loss of personal power. There’s also a drive and addictive need to gain favour, validation, and approval from the abuser, and ultimately be with them again. 

Anyone who’s experienced this type of abuse will understand that feeling of knowing intellectually that the person they want and are addicted to is no good for them. But at the same time, there’s still a strong need to want to be with them. So, you might think, “this person is not right for me, and they treat me so badly. This relationship is dangerous and toxic.”

Yet, you still feel this overpowering emotional bond to them, which you can’t seem to control. So, there’s a big disconnect between your intellect and your emotional nature. 

In life we’re taught to follow or listen to our hearts, but in the case of trauma bonds, we need to listen to our intellect more in order to get out of the situation. With the majority of people, by the time they realise they’re stuck in a toxic relationship they’re out of touch with their authentic selves, because it was matryed in order to sustain the relationship. In the toxic relationship, we learn to dismiss our feelings of being invalidated, hurt and dishonoured, and abused.

Effects Of Staying In A Trauma-bonded Relationship

In order to stay in the relationship, we compromise more and more until we’ve completely compromised all of our core values. Which then means we lose our own personal power. We sometimes choose to ignore further signs of abuse and instead focus on the “good parts” or what we love about the abuser. 

This becomes our coping mechanism for whatever is happening in that relationship. Our intellect can tell us, “this person is a narcissist, they’re toxic, they have issues. Their behaviour was abusive, out of order, dishonouring, disrespectful, invalidating, but again, we stay and submit ourselves to the abuse. 

These kind of behaviours are usually learnt in early childhood. If a child has experienced trauma through being neglected, abused or molested, they learn to dissociate from that abuse in order remain connected to the abuser – the parent. As a child, they can’t live without that parent, they’re dependent on them. So there’s a selective process that happens. They “forget”about the abuse, compartmentalising it. They detach from it, just focusing on what they love about that parent. 

Victims of abuse can choose to ignore some really serious behaviour in order to make the abuser seem good. They can talk themselves into thinking they might change, so continue to love them. We learn to stay in denial than face the truth. When we give up our own reality, we then step into the narcissists reality, which as you may know, is toxic and crazy-making.

Living In The Narcissists Reality

When you live in THEIR reality, your thinking then becomes warped. When they project blame and responsibility on to you for things you never said or did, you take it on. You end up believing that you ARE responsible for that bad behaviour.

When the abuser discards and says you’re to blame, the message you receive is “if only I had tried harder, or been better, or done so and so differently, things would be different. In fact, a lot of times the abuser with TELL you this to your face. Hence why come out of narcissistic abuse questioning their own sanity – feeling worthless and all at fault for the pain they’re going through.

The most difficult thing about breaking free of narcissistic abuse is breaking the trauma bond or addictive bond. You may have left the relationship months, or even years ago yet still experience the effects of the abuse. Why? Because cutting ties with the abuser doesn’t mean you’ve cut ties with the trauma. That can and will usually linger long term, hence why dealing with trauma bond is necessary in order to recover, heal, and let go.

Think of the trauma bond as an addiction to the source of pain. You’re going to do the work to break that addiction, right at the source. 

How To Break Free From The Trauma Bond

To break free, we must understand why and what is keeping us bonded to this person in the first place.

It’s important to be aware that there can be a chemical addiction to the drama of the abusive, confusing behaviour. When the narcissist comes into our lives like a whirlwind, and full on, we can mistake that intensity for intimacy. Intensity can make you feel alive, there’s excitement and sexual energy.

You feel the adrenaline running through your body, but it’s important to recognise that intensity also comes with the emotional roller-coaster too. In normal relationships, there isn’t this continuous high level of intensity. Instead, there’s more intimacy, and intimacy does not = intensity. True intimacy is being open, and vulnerable with one’s authentic self. It’s about sharing your heart, with open communication.

What Were Your Needs?

If you take a step back and look at what your needs were, you’ll understand things on a deeper level. If you had a strong need for approval validation, attention, or reassurance, this may stem from old inner core wounds from childhood. You were needing all those things from a parent who wasn’t emotionally available.

In order to detach from a toxic relationship we must let go of the need of approval, validation, attention, from the toxic individual. There must be that true acceptance that they are not emotionally capable of providing any healthy nurturing interaction.

A narcissist uses excessive admiration, attention and approval to reinforce their ideas of themselves as a good, wholesome person. They’ll do anything to gain this. When we’re bonded to this person, we don’t want to believe that this person we love is capable of the behaviour they’ve already exhibited. The lies, betrayal, abandonment, gaslighting, and being discarded become too much to bear.

When you’ve already experienced the truth but don’t want to believe it, you’ll go into a state of denial. Part of you will stay hidden from the truth, so you’ll continue to stay attached to the toxic individual and believe what you want or need to believe.

In order to break free, you need to break through that wall of denial. You must come to a place of accepting that the toxic individual in your life is in fact unhealthy for you and toxic. By continuing to have them in your life will only cause you continual damage. Most people who come to me can clearly express the torment that they’ve been through, yet there’s still that question in their mind, “but is this person really a narcissist?” Despite everything they’ve gone through, it’s like they need further evidence, or more negative experiences.

Isn’t what you’ve gone through enough proof already? The lies, the abuse, the confusion the devaluing.. This happens because the abused has had so much reinforcement that THEY are the problem, that they’ve now come to accept it as the truth. They may have had an invalidating childhood where it was reinforced that they were bad, so the relationship with the narcissist reinforces this believe the more so, because those wounds aren’t healed.

Narcissists are masters of projection, so they may say something like, “you’ve not been loving lately” as a reason to cheat. The abused may think “yes they’re right” – they takes on the responsibility, not realising that they may have distanced themselves and been withdrawn because of ongoing abuse. This is self-invalidation or gaslighting, but of our ourselves.

The beginning of cutting the cords of the trauma bond is excepting the narcissist for who they are.  It’s also vital to explore your core beliefs and make the decision to start changing them.

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