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Trauma Bonding and Toxic Relationships: No Pain, No Gain

Introduction to Trauma Bonding

Trauma bonding is an interesting term that can be defined in many ways. One definition of trauma bonding is the strong emotional ties, usually negative, between two people who have experienced something difficult or painful together.

It’s not uncommon to hear phrases such as “no pain no gain” when talking about trauma bonds. We will explore this idea and what it means for trauma bonds with our dualistic approach to trauma bonding- exploring both the good and bad sides.

trauma bonding symbolic picture of two faces looking at each other in front of a hypnotic background

Trauma Bonding signs and symptoms

Trauma bond survivors experience a wide range of emotions that are often difficult to cope with, such as shame or guilt. These feelings can lead to self-destructive behaviors like addiction or cutting themselves.

  • Survivors also experience stress reactions in their day-to-day life while trauma bonded, including issues sleeping and eating properly during periods when traumatic memories do not directly confront them.
  • One common sign is feeling emotionally dependent on one’s partner to meet all emotional needs without reciprocation from them doing so for you; this lack of reciprocity creates an imbalance within the relationship, resulting in resentment towards your partner even if they have done nothing wrong.
  • Another common sign of trauma bonding is that you cannot live without your trauma bond, which usually results in fear of abandonment. It’s also not uncommon for trauma survivors to experience intrusive memories or dreams- as well as other symptoms associated with PTSD and depression.

Narcissism and Trauma Bonding

Narcissistic abuse can have serious effects on an individual who this type of relationship has victimized. The victim may become submissive during these abusive encounters out of fear from their abuser.

  • They are often treated in such ways where they feel less than human, experiencing verbal attacks, manipulation, or rage whenever it suits the perpetrator(s) needs.
  • Another concept inherent to trauma bonding is Stockholm syndrome; this type of trauma bonding usually occurs when the individual is being held hostage or abused by their captor.
  • Victims may develop feelings of trust and affection towards a person who continues to use fear tactics; part of Stockholm syndrome can include having positive emotions about one’s abuser- believing that they are justified for treating the victim poorly.

The Different types trauma bonding

The first type we will explore is trauma-based love-bombed relationships which often occur when someone is vulnerable (such as recovering from a traumatic experience.)

  • Love bombing is a technique used by narcissists to charm and influences their partner. It involves overwhelming the target with affection or attention, sometimes to make up for the lack of these things in childhood.
  • The term “love bombing” was first coined in 1973 by social anthropologist professor Margaret Mead but expanded into pop culture. It is now frequently associated with romantic partners who shower each other with flattery and gifts, not realizing they are actually masking abuse and control tactics.
  • These types of people aren’t truly interested in you or building an equal relationship; they want to manipulate you to do what they want. In time, this desire for power leads them to become controlling and abusive, as they try to force you into submission.
  • As this happens, they blame their partner for being “the problem,” and the cycle of abuse continues. They will do whatever it takes to gain power and control over everything — even your love for them because if they don’t have that, they lose all the power they thought they had over you.

What Is a Toxic Relationship?

Another trauma bond relationship we will explore is the trauma-based toxic relationship be between lovers or parents/children. A trauma-based toxic relationship happens when a person becomes obsessed with their partner and refuses to let go of the relationship even if it’s causing them harm; they often attempt to control every aspect of an individual who has been abusive towards them in some way (in this case their partner.)

  • Toxic relationships are harmful relationships that don’t explicitly qualify as abuse. Toxic people engage in passive and covert behaviors, and they may not always be easy to identify or contribute to physical and mental pain.
  • You can deal with toxic relationships by recognizing the difference between a toxic person and an abusive one, making changes in yourself, and cutting ties if necessary.
  • A toxic relationship could be one where there is emotional or physical abuse, but it doesn’t always have to be. Toxicity can come from an individual who engages in negative behaviors like gaslighting and manipulating.
  • These types of relationships are difficult to pinpoint because they involve someone who isn’t necessarily hostile all the time. There has to be an ongoing pattern of toxicity that eventually causes harm beyond the acute stage.
  • Another key component is that you cannot separate yourself from the issue with the other person or give up on them entirely too quickly or easily. This helps expose some important differences between toxic relationships and abusive ones.

Toxic Relationships vs Abuse: What’s the Difference?

1) Intentions

When it comes to toxic relationships, bad behavior is unintentional. A valid example of this is when an individual who cares about you doesn’t realize they are harming you.

  • The root of their behaviors might be in trying to protect you, but they don’t recognize how much they will hurt you in the process. Toxic people often lack insight into their own actions, making them difficult to deal with and not as straightforward at times.
  • Abuse, on the other hand, doesn’t have benevolent intentions behind it. Abusive individuals know what they’re doing and use their power over someone else for personal gain or gratification.
  • They may also have a track record of abuse against other people before the victim entered their life (known as a cycle of abuse). Active abuse is more about power and control that exists out of fear.

2) Subjective vs. Objective Standards

Toxic people are not objective in their behavior, so it’s unlikely they will treat everyone around them the same way you’re treated.

  • They may act in relatively similar ways to other people in favor of those most important to them or care about the most. When this happens, it tends to be emotionally manipulative and abusive on an individual level (but not always).
  • If you don’t trust boundaries with toxic individuals, cutting ties isn’t necessary for your safety and well-being. You can also ask yourself if this person would be treating someone else dislike the same way they’re treating you.
  • Abusive people don’t care about subjective standards or individual differences in behavior. This means they have a consistent track record of abuse towards others designed to exploit power dynamics.
  • They may be willing to use violence and intimidation to get what they want without caring how their actions affect other people around them. If someone has consistently made it difficult for you to say no or failed to take responsibility for anything they did, then chances are the person is an abuser (and not just a toxic person).

3) Ongoing Behavior vs. Isolated Incidents

There’s a major difference between toxicity that comes with isolated incidents from one-off behaviors and behavior patterns. Someone who engages in positive and negative behaviors isn’t necessarily toxic; they just have a sense of self that goes beyond standard social conventions.

  • The key to determining if someone is toxic is finding out how their habits and actions impact you over time. Toxic people are defined by the frequency with which they cross boundaries, cause harm, or undermine your well-being emotionally or otherwise.
  • Abuse generally doesn’t happen in isolated incidents from one-off behaviors or behavior patterns. Someone who chronically treats others poorly (and not for any good reason) is an abuser.
  • In some cases, abusers may even apologize for what happened, only to treat their victims poorly again later on down the road. When there’s broken trust between two people after unresolved conflict, it’s likely abuse has been committed against you by the other individual.

4) Motivation Behind the Behavior vs. Unchecked Power Dynamics

Toxicity exists due to psychological or social barriers that are usually unintentional (at least on the part of those being harmed). The motivation behind the behavior is often focused on reinforcing self-worth, impacting someone else’s life, or something related to personal development.

  • Toxic people sometimes have a hard time with intimacy and allowing themselves to be vulnerable, which can make it difficult for them to relate to others without feeling threatened in some way.
  • In most cases, toxic individuals want good things for themselves and other people around them…even if they don’t know how to express their feelings well enough.
  • Abusers generally feel like their power over others is more important than anything that threatens to undermine it. They may feel the need to make a point with their behavior, even if that means taking advantage of someone’s trust or hurting someone they claim to care about.
  • There’s usually minimal effort involved in an abuser’s toxic behavior, making it easy for them to keep doing what they’re doing behind closed doors (or in other settings) without many confrontations from others.

5) Consistent vs. Inconsistent Behavior Patterns

The people who mistreat you are generally going to act most of the time inconsistently…whether they realize it or not! Toxic people aren’t always intentional with how they treat others and often have a hard time controlling their emotions once their own feelings get the best of them.

  • In some cases, toxic individuals may even be very accommodating when respecting others’ boundaries or treating different people differently.
  • But there’s usually a pattern in how they behave towards their loved ones, including silencing your voice, shaming you for having an opinion on something, or acting entitled to things you’ve earned together.
  • Abusers are unlikely to change how they treat other people unless someone calls them out on their behavior (or confronts them about it). They tend to have a clear sense of power dynamics and feel like it’s more important than anyone else’s feelings…even if those feelings are close friends or family members.
  • Abusive people know where lines can and cannot be crossed without caring enough about what happens to their partner or loved one in the aftermath. They’ll often know what they’re doing is wrong but can’t (or won’t) control themselves enough to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again.

6) Are You Their Option vs. Everyone’s No

When you love someone, it can be difficult to find ways of saying no to them…even if they have a pattern of crossing your boundaries. Toxic people are very good at getting away with things that would typically upset anyone else (without even trying).

  • It may take time for you to realize how much toxicity has infiltrated your life and started influencing your thoughts and feelings on a day-to-day basis. Resisting someone who displays toxic behavior towards you becomes increasingly difficult after a while.
  • In an abusive relationship, it’s not so easy to find ways of saying ‘yes’ without feeling guilty about having to put your own wants and needs on the backburner for the sake of someone else’s happiness. Abusers thrive when they know their partner is unhappy or stressed out due to giving in to them all the time.
  • When you’re constantly putting up with toxic behavior, even if it means agreeing to something that’ll cause problems later on down the line, you may not have much say over what happens to you moving forward.
  • You could end up feeling stuck in this relationship until something forces you out (or keeps you from ever wanting anything more than being this person’s option in life).

7) Time vs. Kicking You Out The Door

Toxicity is all about what someone can get away with doing to you (at least in their own mind)…and whether or not it’s something that’ll hurt your feelings. Toxic people love knowing they have the power to make a point without having to go out of their way to do so. In an abusive relationship, toxicity becomes part of everyday life as much as happiness and laughter are.

  • It may take some time for you to realize how toxic this person is, but when you do, everything changes overnight…including how ready they are to kick you out the door!
  • Abusive people often become more controlling the longer they’re with their partner (because they feel like they’ve made a point). Toxic people don’t like knowing they have to be extra nice to someone to keep them around.
  • Staying with someone abusive doesn’t mean you’ve given up everything and put your life on hold for the sake of being treated poorly. It means you’re willing to do anything it takes to feel love and safety from another person…even if they say or do things that make you question their personality as a whole.
  • If someone is willing to threaten or harm you just because you won’t stay with them against your will, other things about them need serious work before moving forward! Abusers only want what they can get away with taking from a person until they see the warning signs going off somewhere else…usually in the form of you finding someone else to love.

8) Rigid vs. Flexible Boundaries

Someone toxic is willing to do whatever it takes to make themselves feel better…even if they have a history of being disrespectful or rude towards anyone unlucky enough to be around them regularly. If you’ve ever noticed how well-liked an abuser is by most people, but despised by their own partner (or even children), then there’s something about that dynamic that doesn’t quite add up.

  • Identifying abusers as ‘toxic’ lets you know why they’re so popular outside the home and what most people tend to overlook to keep enjoying their company without feeling pushed away for long periods of time.
  • An abuser may be as charming or charismatic as they please when they know it benefits them in some way, shape, or form…but that doesn’t mean you’re not dealing with a completely different person (in private).
  • A toxic person will often change their behavior after a while and become critical of everything you do, both in public and behind closed doors, because they want to make sure you feel just as miserable as they are without ever letting that show on the surface.
  • If someone isn’t willing to try changing their ways anytime soon, there’s no point in wasting your time trying to figure out why goodwill towards others becomes such a rarity!

9) Love vs. Control-Freak Tendencies

Toxic people use love as a way of keeping their partners in line. When someone cares about you, they’re not trying to control what you do or who you see as a way of getting back at them for something else that may have happened years ago.

  • An abuser will feel the need to be jealous and controlling when they know there’s an opportunity for you to get away from them without feeling like it’ll cost you your own happiness down the line.
  • You might find yourself stuck in this relationship because no one else seems to want you around as much as they do (even if that means spending excruciating amounts of time with someone who doesn’t love or respect your feelings).
  • Toxic people are all about ensuring everyone knows how much time and effort goes into proving themselves worthy of a person’s affection. If there was ever some ‘quid-pro-quo situation in your relationship that made you feel as if you couldn’t break free, then chances are the air is already thick with toxicity at this point.

10) Boundaries vs. Enabling Tendencies

Being a good partner means knowing the difference between right and wrong when it comes to letting toxic people getaway (so far) with their worst behavior…but victims often become afraid to take action because they want nothing more than for their abuser to see how much pain they’re capable of putting them through.

  • Toxic relationships can have all the same symptoms of an abusive friendship/family dynamic…where boundaries never seem to be adequate, and the only way to keep sane is with a little bit of distance in between you and the closest abuser.
  • If you’re willing to give up your own happiness for a particular person, then it’s probably been far too long since you’ve allowed yourself the opportunity to form any new meaningful friendships or romantic relationships.
  • No matter how much someone may claim they love you, if they’re unwilling to respect your boundaries or make an effort at being better than they currently are, then there’s no way anyone will ever want them around when push comes to shove.
  • The line between right and wrong isn’t always clear-cut when it comes down to dealing with toxic people. Still, one thing remains true…the best way to avoid them is by knowing what to look out for at all times if you find yourself stuck in a situation where your own feelings are becoming more. More of an afterthought, it’s up to you to get help as soon as possible and/or make the decision that will benefit your personal recovery time when things go south faster than expected!

Conclusion

We hope this article educated you about trauma bonding and toxic relationships. Look, since lines aren’t always clear when dealing with relationships, you should ask yourself one simple question when gauging a relationship. That question is, is there growth? Anything else is irrelevant and will lead you down a path of confusion and blame-shifting.

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