People often don’t realize they have formed a trauma bond. It’s possible that many of us have had at least one such relationship in our lives. The first step to breaking free is acceptance of such a bond. I wrote the following to explain what a trauma bond is and how it forms.
What Is Trauma Bonding?
Trauma bonding is loyalty to a person who is destructive. It occurs because of cycles of abuse followed by intermittent love or reward. This treatment creates a powerful emotional bond that is extremely hard to break. People often don’t realize they are in a trauma bond while others outside the relationship can clearly see it’s destructive patterns.
These types of destructive attachments are known as ” betrayal bonds” and can take place in any context where a relationship can be formed. They can occur in romantic relationships, friendships, within the family, and the workplace.
The 7 Stages of Trauma Bonding
1. Love Bombing: They shower you with excess love, flattery and appreciation in order to gain your affection.
2. Trust and Dependency: Try to do everything to win your trust and make you depend on them heavily for love and validation.
3. Criticism: They gradually start criticizing you. They blame you for things and become more demanding.
4. Gaslighting: When things go wrong they tell you that it is your fault. They make you doubt your own perceptions and manipulate you into believing their narrative.
5. Resigning to Control: You no longer know what to believe but your only way of experiencing the good feelings of Stage I is by giving in and doing things their way.
6. Loss of Self: When you fight back, things get worse. You settle for anything to have some peace and make the fights stop. You lose all your confidence.
7. Addiction: You get addicted to the highs and lows. Your body is on a constant cortisol high (stress) and craves dopamine (pleasure). This creates a cycle of dependency that feels a lot like a drug addiction.
Signs of Being in a Trauma Bond With Someone
— A pattern of non-performance: the person constantly promises you things and constantly lets you down.
— You feel that you don’t even like or trust the person anymore but you cannot leave.
— Your friends and family have advised against the relationships but you stay.
— Others seem disturbed by things that happen to you but you brush it off.
— You have tried to leave, but it makes you feel physically ill, like you will die or your life will be destroyed if you do.
— You know the person is “sometimes” abusive and destructive, but you focus on the “good” in them.
— You feel protective about the person because of their “difficult past” or “childhood” and find yourself caring for them despite their abusive behavior.
— You know you are being manipulated, but you’re often in denial and block out or quickly forget bad things.
— The relationship is intense and inconsistent. You do everything to please them and are unconditionally loyal while getting nothing but heartbreak in return.
— They say things you want to hear to resolve issues temporarily— “I have learnt my lesson,” “I will prove my love for you everyday,” “Life is impossible without you.
— You are driven to the point of self-destruction and often harbor thoughts of self-harm.
If You Identify Yourself in a Trauma Bond, Remember:
The first step forward towards breaking free from a trauma bond is recognizing it, reconnecting with reality and deciding to leave.
Trauma bonds can occur because of childhood or unresolved past trauma. Because of its addictive nature it can be difficult to break free on your own. It is recommended that you seek the support of a psychotherapist or recovery expert.
This article is going to be jam packed with information about trauma responses, how it gets stored in the body and the necessity for talk therapy in CONJUNCTION with body – based therapies.
Although this article does not include specific examples of trauma from real life people, it may still be triggering to some. Pay attention to your breath, and if you find yourself tensing, take a break and come back to it when you are ready.
But please do come back…because trauma education is the number one thing you can do to gain a sense of empowerment and let go of the shame around completely natural trauma responses.
Are you ready?
Before we get into the itty bitty details, I want to talk a little about the concept of trauma.
I feel like so many people misunderstand the word trauma. And that is because of the stigma we have around mental health. And I mean…the fact that the psycho-therapeutic community as a whole has a billion different definitions of trauma…
There is a lot of misinformation, and the language around it has actually been found to cause more harm than good.
First off, I want to stress the fact that trauma is a completely natural response to highly adverse emotional experiences. Trauma symptoms are just your brain and body trying to keep you safe from it ever happening again. It is simply something we have to work through to live our most full lives.
So what is trauma?
My most holistic and all encompassing definition is by Mastin Kipp:
Notice how he states trauma is an experience and that it dysregulates you?
Well dysregulation is just a call to get back into a regulated state. Plain and simple.
We do that by having different healing tools in our back pocket. Ones that work for us, not ones that are forced upon us.
That means if you can’t meditate, then you don’t have to do it! Forcing yourself to meditate when you have an overactive thinking mind and haven’t cleared out the emotional “debris”, actually does more harm than good.
There are so many tools you can use that work specifically for YOU. There is no one size fits all approach to healing.
There does have to be the desire to heal though, because I’m not going to say that trauma work is all sunshine and daisies, at the end of the day it is WORK. You will look at parts of yourself that are painful to look at, feel into emotions that you have been avoiding for most of your life and sift through some heavy shit.
But at the end of it all, you will come out lighter, happier and freer.
I also want to be clear, trauma is not about the event, it’s about the individual perception of the event. Meaning, everyone can experience a traumatic event differently, make different meanings out of it and create different beliefs around it.
That is why trauma cannot be “measured”. It impacts everyone differently. Just like everyone has a unique DNA sequence, and unique bodies with different shapes and sizes, we also have different ways our brains and bodies process emotional experiences.
The current mental health model is lacking. It does not take into account people’s background, culture, how they grew up or the way they may process trauma.
There is no one size fits all approach to healing because every individual is so profoundly different.
That’s where Somatic Psychotherapy comes in…
The word Somatic means “relating to the body” and psychotherapy is regular talk therapy.
In other words… what you normally go to a therapist for. To talk about what you want to work on and intellectually process these thoughts in order to form better behaviors.
Many may have heard the term “we carry our issues in our tissues”…and science is truly backing it up.
For those of you that are in your heads a lot, hold anxiety and intrusive thoughts, body based therapy is especially beneficial because there is no way for you to “overthink” and run a scenario in your head a billion times.
Whatever we suppress gets expressed. If we have a lot of anger, and we suppress it, it’s going to seep out of us in our everyday life.
There’s a lot of freedom in “releasing,” and somatic therapy can help access the places in the body where we are holding onto things and experiencing physical, psychic, and emotional discomfort or pain.
It mixes body based therapy and talk therapy as one, treating the individual as a whole as opposed to separated parts.
What this means for the current medical paradigm, is that it puts the healing on the individual’s body. Meaning that since we all process and hold trauma in different ways, somatic therapy utilizes the wisdom of their body to unlock it. Personalizing healing to that person and releasing what needs to be released. You see, when trauma occurs, our bodies activate a protective mechanism. A stressor that is too much for a person to handle overloads the nervous system, stopping the trauma from processing
This overload halts the body in its instinctive fight or flight response, causing the traumatic energy to be stored in the surrounding muscles, organs and connective tissue.
Whenever we store trauma in our tissue, our brain disconnects from that part of the body to block the experience (this is called disassociation), preventing the recall of the traumatic memory.
Any area of our body that our brain is disconnected from won’t be able stay healthy or heal itself. It is thought that the predictable effect of stored trauma is degeneration and disease, in some capacity.
There is ample scientific evidence proving memory storage in locations other than the brain abound.
Three examples of the body containing extraordinary memory capabilities are:
1. Immune system response is enhanced by memory T-cells maintaining information about previous attacks by specific foreign antigens
2. Muscle memory
3. DNA/cellular memory possess a complex information storage system
When considering the vastness of our body’s intelligence, it is no wonder that our muscles and fascia are capable of holding memories
This is why verbal therapy alone isn’t enough to clear stored trauma, somatic (meaning body-based) tools are needed to help regulate the nervous system and emotionally heal trauma.
A simple example of how the body and nervous system have a mind of its own, is when you “logically” know something, yet your body reacts in ways that say otherwise.
This could look like a socially anxious person logically “knowing” they are safe and that the people at the party won’t physically harm them, yet their body is holding onto emotional trauma most likely caused by other people.
The body then increases their heart rate, their breath quickens and they start dissociating or entering into “fight or flight”.
It’s one thing to logically know something, and it is another to wholeheartedly FEEL it. Or in more precise terminology, for your nervous system to know it.
Believe it or not, we see this trauma response in other mammals as well…
Dr. Peter Levine, one of the originators in the field of somatic therapy, and author of the book Waking the Tiger, describes how after a hunt, female lions (who do all the hunting for the pride), wrestle around with each other extensively to help their bodies “complete” the stress response that comes from the hunt itself.
When you have that much adrenaline in your system, your body has to process it.
In a society where we hide our emotions and are GO, GO,GO, that just doesn’t happen.
We are all a little guilty of this, when we get stressed, we tend to hold it in—and then we go to coffee or alcohol or social media or whatever it is that we use to check out a little bit. But that cortisol, that adrenaline, stays in our system and the only way to release it is through movement, just like the female lions do with wrestling.
If we fail to release the excess energy, it stays in our bodies and wreaks havoc on our nervous system. Which is responsible for regulation.
You could look at the wrestling of the female lions as a form of somatic therapy. Things we used to do primitively to get away from a threat include running, climbing, jumping, swimming, shaking, dancing—all kinds of movement help to complete that stress response, to move it through. Otherwise, it gets stored somewhere
Somatic Psychotherapy not only takes into account what you are thinking, but it pays attention to what the BODY has to say; rather than whatever “logical” explanation the mind concocts. Since our bodies store SO much information, more often than not our bodies can tell us more than our thinking mind.
Why is this?
Because our bodies don’t have a perceptual filter. And sometimes, our unconscious mind will intentionally block traumatic memories from resurfacing to keep us safe.
But our bodies remember.
This is why combining somatic (meaning body-based) and verbal therapy can successfully bring a trauma to completion.
Somatic Therapy taps into your unconscious memories, past trauma and repressed emotions. It unlocks them.
Then talk therapy instills you with the development of the inner resources needed for navigating and responding to the traumatic experience.
The Somatic therapist is trained to help you do both. Tap into your body to release the trauma, then make meaning out of these experiences and integrate them in a way that allows you to live a lighter, anxiety-free life.
Some forms of somatic therapies include: Breathwork, certain bodywork styles, trauma-informed yoga, and embodiment practices.
Just please make sure you do your research, read reviews and make sure you feel SAFE with them. Always ask if the facilitators if they are trauma-informed and how long their credentialing program was for.
Lastly, before you do any of this work, Three things are necessary for the body to release stored trauma:
The inner resources to handle the experience that were not in place when the experience originally occurred. Also, this can be an expanded state of awareness as breathwork induces. If you don’t feel like you have any inner resources or tools in your back-pocket, I recommend you see a somatic psychotherapist or see a regular therapist in conjunction with your somatic practices.
Space for the traumatic energy to dissolve into when released. Being full of tension and stress does not allow the necessary spaciousness for the stored trauma to move.
Reconnection of the brain with the area of the body where the trauma is stored. (i.e Full Embodiment)
For all of this to even start occurring, a sense of safety has to be present.
Safety is the key
If we don’t feel safe in the world, we can’t fully engage with another person—be it a friend, family member, lover, or therapist.
On a physiological level, if we don’t feel safe, our body won’t function optimally, our nervous system is running haywire and there is no room for growth or expansion because your body is just trying to survive. We want to get you to a state of THRIVING. Not just surviving.
So, if you’re experiencing anxiety—or you’re stressed or depressed—any of the emotions that society deems as “bad”, really what it comes down to is that physiologically, you don’t feel safe.
And when you’re not feeling safe, coming to a place where you can feel safe within, is the most important thing for healing.
Again, this could be different for everyone, so trying out different regulation practices until you find one that’s right for you is so important.
Wow that was a mouthful! Lol
I do hope this article helped clear up any questions you may have around somatics, trauma, and the mind + body connection.
Also, always feel free to send me a DM on instagram or shoot me an email if you have any questions. I’m here to help.
Survivors are always told that ”they are responsible for their healing.” I, as a survivor, say we as a collective world, society and culture are truly responsible for creating an environment that isn’t traumatized and causes intentional harm. One that isn’t oppressive in the first place.
A plant cannot thrive without the necessary conditions. An experiment was even carried out that showed how a plant responded to being verbally bullied by withering away and dying instead of thriving and growing. Humans are like plants, needing the right conditions to thrive. I do not believe trauma should be divided into small or big T’s, or abuse into ”worse” and ”lesser.” This is not helpful in any way as it only brings shame , and shame becomes toxic and blocks the healing process.
Survivors should not have to justify their pain or feel they are not worthy of help or support because pain and trauma is being measured. We shouldn’t allow abuse by acting only when it’s reached extreme measures, we should be saying ”no” period. Abuse is abuse. We should be supporting all who hurt and bleed not only physically, but also emotionally. It can take years for the psyche to heal, and even then, healing doesn’t mean things will be the same, it means adapting to a new life, managing the pain, triggers and emotions as well as the lessening of the struggle and pain. A fulfilling and a happy life is possible, but we need to adapt and learn new ways to live and function in life and new skills to help us do that.
COVID-19 is a collective threat and trauma. It has taken the lives of many and we have all struggled with all we have lost. Yet, sexual abuse and violence, domestic abuse and violence as well as racial trauma have been pandemics throughout endless history. And, in the present, continue to threaten the lives and well-being of so many who have lost their lives to offenders or are driven to end their pain by ending their own lives.
I see adverts encouraging survivors to come forward, and those who struggle with depression not to struggle in silence and to talk. How many times do survivors need to talk? We have been talking, but oppression has silenced us. Society has victim blamed us. Justice never seems to be served, changes take endless years to occur and when they do, it’s thanks to survivors.
The world thinks they can know pain they have never experienced, as well as judge those who have lived it.
As humans, sometimes we think we know better and know it all until it happens to us.
Survivors don’t need to speak up, the world needs to open their ears to listen, to see change and put it in action. It’s not enough saying, “I’m not a rapist, I’m not an abuser, I’m not racist, misogynistic …” because most of us have been the problem even when we don’t realize it. We need to really challenge ourselves and look within and we need to get angry collectively, not only when things personally affect us or loved ones.
If you really are in support of mental illness, stop shaming, judging, voting for leaders with narcissistic tendencies. Start believing survivors, start listening to them. Fight for equality, fight for justice, fight for the end of cruelty to all humans and animals. Start respecting the environment and world you don’t own and are not entitled to. Stop destroying life and nature and then wondering why things happen. Stop doing this and thinking there will be no consequences.
If we live in a world that doesn’t meet human needs, that isn’t safe or feels safe, do we really think mental illness is just a disease? That suicide is just the result of depression? Depression is a symptom that manifests in a world that can render us to feel helpless, hopeless and alone. The world needs to change if mental illness is to get any better. All these things are injuries to the psyche, and naturally, the psyche will bleed. Sadly, when it’s the psyche, many are left to bleed or told to stop bleeding. You see, struggling is a normal human experience and it’s hard to heal wounds when the environment that caused them doesn’t change.