Unhealthy attachment to someone caused by extreme emotional episodes is what we call trauma bonding.
Typically, this unhealthy bonding occurs when a victim of emotional abuse deeply relates to their abuser.
This kind of bonding is common among victims of narcissistic abuse, because abusers tend to rely on codependency to get what they want.
When a victim goes out of their way to cater to their abuser, this is an example of a trauma bond manifesting.
For anyone not familiar with the horrors of being trapped in a narcissistic power dynamic, you might wonder how it is possible for a victim to relate in any way with their abuser, but it’s far more common than you think.
The term Stockholm Syndrome was coined after a robbery that took place in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973. Hostages were taken and due to the psychological stress placed on them by their captor, they actually defended him inexplicably.
Because the ego is constantly trying to shield you from trauma, it will go to great lengths to accomplish this goal and make you feel like you have some kind of control over your situation.
What Are The Signs of a Trauma Bond?
A weakened or impressionable mind can be easily made to sympathize with the cruelest of persons if it thinks doing so will save it from psychological harm.
Narcissists take hostages too, although they prefer to work more on an emotional and mental level rather than purely in the physical.
The “hostage” of a narcissist will often go to bat for their abuser, and will even feel guilty for upsetting or displeasing them.
- Defends their abuser from criticism or rebuke.
- Difficult to separate them. Neither leaves the other’s side.
- The abuser is always demanding more but never gives in return.
- Expectations fuel the bond (one thinks the other will change).
- The abused has no healthy concept of love.
- Abuser commands but doesn’t lead.
- Wild emotional swings, emotional extortion, guilt-tripping.
Acute trauma bonding will actually prevent a victim from cutting ties with their abuser, for fear of what they will think or how they will retaliate.
You will often hear a trauma-bonded person say things like, “even after all they did to me, I still love them.”
This is the classic tell-tale line of an abuse victim who has been psychologically damaged.
Another common saying you often hear when victims speak of their narcissistic parents: “they were only doing the best they could raising me.”
Never mind that the “raising” in question involved emotional extortion, mind games, and even physical abuse in many cases.
The fact is, the ego does not like to feel slighted and helpless. If given the choice between acknowledging powerlessness or “going along to get along,” many people will simply choose the latter, because their minds are too frail to face down the reality of their circumstances.
Even reading about the frailty of the ego, for some, will cause defensive reactions in some people. Here we have the key point of this article: how to strengthen the mind and escape your emotional prison.
It’s one thing to heal from an abuser, but it’s another thing entirely to never allow another person to emotionally abuse you again.
I will teach the fundamentals of how to do both.
Narcissists Rely on Exploiting Emotions
There’s nothing in this world easier to control than an unhealthily emotional person.
Toxic people, such as narcissists and sociopaths, know this fact and rely on it to the utmost in order to get what they want.
Someone who cannot control their own emotions is not calling the shots, their ego is.
Egos can be easily exploited and manipulated by other egos. It’s in their nature.
A narcissist’s abuse will force their victim to become ego-dominant, relying on this primal part of their mind to shelter them.
The very coping mechanism for dealing with the abuse becomes one of the biggest limitations of anyone who suffers from the effects of trauma in adulthood.
Emotional exploitation is the home field of the narcissist. They are most comfortable when they are playing on a purely emotional stage, because they know they have the greatest leverage here.
A narcissist will attempt to frame every situation as an emotional quandary or “issue,” be it good or bad (it’s usually the latter). Rarely will a narcissist make simple statements, everything is a probe, question, or indirect threat that needs a reaction or response.
Hanging a “do you know what I mean?” off of everything they say is one such tactic, which forces a response out of you regardless of how trite or asinine the issue at hand is.
Another example would be the way in which even the most inconsequential issues can become this hot conversation point or even dilemma in the blink of an eye.
You know you’re dealing with a narcissist when they discuss doing the dishes or waiting in line at the supermarket in the same rushed, aggravated tones one would expect from an operator at NASA Mission Control trying to salvage a botched reentry with half a dozen lives at stake.
In other words, nearly everything they say is laced in emotion, and every situation they take part in must be framed to create emotional tension.
Knowing this, you can begin to reclaim your life by taking control of your mind and emotions and not giving way to their emotional extortion tactics.
Freeing Your Self From Emotional Bondage
Even if you are trauma bonded with someone, it doesn’t mean they need to have some kind of intervention or you need years of therapy just to cut the bond.
It all boils down to emotional control. The more you give, the more they get.
What that means is, the more you allow yourself to be emotionally extorted, the more ammunition they have to work with, and the more power they ultimately have over you.
The biggest wrench in the gears is coming to terms with the fact that whatever you emotionally bonded over is not worth your happiness and sense of worth.
A mutual bond over a tough experience can bring two healthy minds closer, in a good way. This is the kind of bond that is formed in the heat of the moment, or during times of great suffering, and these friendships and partnerships may last a lifetime.
However, when there is a mutual bond formed through trauma, the bond may be just as strong but it is rotten and based on nothing but a web of tangled emotion.
You have to realize that this “bond” can indeed be broken, and quite easily, with the right mindset and dedication.
But first you must tell yourself that the event or cause of this bond has no power over you.
It doesn’t matter if you had “great times in the past.” It doesn’t matter if this person is a relative or even your husband or wife. It could be your own parent.
A toxic person is a toxic person, and if you are bonded to them because of the misery they put you through, they have no business being in your life.
So you must tell yourself you are worthy of a free and happy life, even if it means letting go of something your ego may think of as special or important. Could be something as big as a place in your family or a marriage.
You don’t deserve to live a life of anxiety and fear. You don’t deserve to be trauma bonded to a inhuman stage actor who toys with other people just to drain their energy or be entertained.
Once you take this first step and come to grips with the reality that you don’t need this person, you are ready to escape the prison.
How to Remove a Trauma Bond
Mindfulness is the key to anything dealing with trauma. Establishing mental control gives you incredible leverage.
The suffering of trauma is caused from holding onto something unhealthy. To a memory, to a feeling, to an idea of security or happiness.
Letting go is crucial, but this can be difficult for some people. Everyone is different and no two traumatic experiences are exactly alike.
Thankfully, healing the mind and taking control requires the same general steps.
- Begin a meditation regimen that focuses on forgiveness of Self. Your goal is to allow your thoughts and emotions to pass through your head without judgment. Once you are at this stage, you can begin to properly heal.
- Forgiveness of Self is necessary, because a large part of most trauma involves extreme subconscious guilt. It doesn’t matter the circumstance and details of the trauma, it almost always creates guilt complexes, because they are the natural reaction of a mind who feels powerless in the moment. Forgiveness is an extreme act of self care and self love, and must be practiced regularly to relieve a trauma bond.
- The next phase involves practicing everyday mindfulness. Those affected by trauma tend to rely too much on their emotional side rather than processing through their mind. Get in the habit of asking yourself if a certain event or situation is worth reacting to. Never just react in the moment or at the behest of your abuser. You should question any negative emotion that arises throughout the day that is caused by happenstance, and ask yourself, “why am I feeling this?” Learn to dismiss useless emotions that don’t serve you or make you happy.
- Whenever you feel anxious or fearful, get in the habit of practicing breathwork, or mindful breathing. There are many ways to “center your focus” and realign your mind so it stops emotionally associating with traumatic memories, but this is the most effective method I know of. The goal of this is to bring your focus to the present, to your breath, which quiets the ego and teaches your mind not to trigger emotion when you don’t want it to.
These transformative exercises work, you simply have to put them into practice.
You might be wondering why I didn’t mention going “no contact” with the person you are trauma bonded with.
Well, it breaks down to this: not everyone’s abuser is even still in their life, yet the trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder remains. There are also people who, for one reason or another, cannot immediately separate from their abuser.
It’s easy to say “go no contact,” when you are an outsider, but this is the right move only when you are physically and mentally ready.
It’s far more important to regain control of your mind and emotions so you can begin the healing process.
You can become mentally strong enough to not only break your trauma bond, but endure the same old tactics from your abuser and not be affected.
Once you understand their tactics and realize that they are constantly trying to create an emotional frame, it’s so much easier to fight against these kinds of people.
Even the most toxic, reprehensible narcissists are powerless in the face of someone who won’t provide emotional frame. Remember this next time you have to interact with one.
The founder of Digital Sages, Matt has an extensive background in self-mastery and has authored several books on the subject. His goal is to demystify important esoteric subjects and help people transform their lives through self-awareness and personal empowerment.