Bonjour mes amies! Via a “Next-Level Self” (a series I’ve created that documents the self-improvement I’ve made) post on Instagram a much-needed conversation about “trauma bonding,” was sparked.
Trauma bonding is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when a person forms a strong emotional attachment to their abuser. This traumatic bond is often created due to repeated cycles of abuse, punishment, and reward, making it difficult for the traumatized person to leave the relationship.
In this blog post, I will focus on trauma bonds as it pertains to adults who can cognitively make sound decisions.
In the aforementioned Instagram post, beaucoup mes amies shared publicly and privately about their experiences with trauma bonding or having had witnessed someone trauma bonded. As with all abuse, trauma bonding does not only affect those in specific tax brackets, education levels, religions or race.
So what would make a person who is of sound mind, highly educated, and oftentimes outearns their abusers continue to stay? The bond of the traumatized is often expressed by feelings of loyalty, affection, and even love towards the abuser, despite the harm they are causing. Because we all know how powerful those emotions are (love and loyalty), this bond can be challenging to break.
The cycle of emotional highs and lows of the abuse soon becomes something that the traumatized is addicted to. The trauma-bond cycle typically includes three phases:
- The tension-building phase
- The incident phase
- The reconciliation phase
In the tension-building phase, the traumatized often feels a sense of tension and anxiety from their abuser due to petit conflicts or disagreements. This tension BUILDS and escalates over time, eventually leading to an incident where the abuser becomes violent or emotionally abusive. Next, the reconciliation phase. This phase consists of the abuser apologizing and attempting to make amends with the traumatized by buying gifts, dinner dates, overt affection, praise, and deep “remorse”.
After being on this emotional rollercoaster and “high,” the traumatized now has unhealthy feelings of relief and gratitude because they feel that their abuser has shown them kindness and understanding. Depending on the circumstances, the traumatized will even apologize to the abuser for “pushing them” to that level.
I have experienced trauma bonding of all sorts. In relationships, friendships and professionally. While the descriptive images painted above are extremely common, what is more common is the bonding of the traumatized.
I will never forget working in an office that could have been the poster child of the traumatized bonding. Things got so bad, that I had to take legal action. Mes amies, trauma bonding as with other abuse isn’t always physically. In the case of my professional traumatized bonding experience there were beaucoup levels of abuse.
The abuser; supervisors, the abused: staff, who soon became abusers to me.
Our supervisor would gaslight, manipulate and verbally abuse us and then treat us to lunch, shout us out for a great job, or grant us early departure. Our abuser, I mean supervisor, would send evasive anxiety inducing emails cc’ing all but not reply when messaged directly (tension building.) After which the incident would occur (typically in a sitting that was uncomfortable or borderline impossible for any of us to defend ourselves.) When our abuser, I mean supervisor was finally ready to meet alone, they would begin to share just how much pressure they were under, how their personal life was affecting work or most cowardly, place the blame on a coworker or senior supervisor who was not present to speak for themselves.
I found myself slowly bonding with the person, my abuser, I mean supervisor (who I have audio of calling me a “flashy b*tch”) who continued to publicly humiliate me and slowly made me question my self-worth. When I would feel that I could not take anymore, my abuser, I mean supervisor would call me into their office and create a “safe place.” They would share how they took up for me in my absence when the other more senior supervisor spoke so badly about me, and how many of the actions that they took were direct orders from “someone else”.
That “someone else” who they said directed them to abuse me, saw me daily. That “someone else” would walk to my cubicle or call me into their office to see what I was wearing and tell me how everyone in the office should start taking pride in the appearance the way I did. That “someone else”, began following my blog (and Mon Dieu, when my abusers, I mean supervisors and coworkers found out about my blog, things got worse) and appeared to be so supportive.
Enter bonding of the traumatized.
In a state of pure desperation, I found myself doing something that I never did, and that’s confiding in coworkers, who unbeknownst to moi were not alone abused, but bonded avec the abuser, I mean our supervisor.
Sidenote, I truly had no clue that this blog would be this long but clearly I’m triggered, I’ll wrap things up.
I thought I had found a safe haven amongst people who were also being abused, but what I did was create a space for constant emotional dumping, betrayal, and malice.
Because I thought my fellow traumatized coworkers wanted out just as bad as I did, I shared with them the external support that I had contacted.
The pride I felt thinking that petite ole moi was coming to save the day in a literal cape, designer cape, but a cape nonetheless. But it backfired.
Those who I trusted told what I was doing and just when I thought my professional life was difficult, it became unbearable.
Avec a broken heart, I had to make the decision to leave those that I thought I created a bond with because they had zero desire to flee from the abuse. Sadly, some of my fellow abused coworkers began to question if they were being abused at all because leaving meant that they were abandoning someone who had shown them love and kindness in the past.
I promise to wrap this up.
What I learned through this and beaucoup other abusive situations is that: only you can save you.
There isn’t enough love, money or convincing that will make an abused or traumatized person leave their current situation. I also learned that surrounding myself by fellow abused persons created the most unhealthy and sadly common bond.
I thought bonding of the traumatized was something that only happened irl (in real life) but it’s ever so prevalent online i.e. social media. Without going down another rabbit hole, I will end avec ca.
Breaking a trauma bond can be difficult, but it is possible with the right support and resources. One of the most important steps is to recognize that the bond exists and to understand the ways in which it has affected your thinking and behavior. Therapy can be a helpful tool in this process, as it can provide a safe space to explore your feelings and experiences.
It is also important to establish a HEALTHY support network of friends, family, and professionals who can provide emotional support; NOT someone who is just as traumatized as you.
Trauma bonding among the traumatized and to the abuser is a complex psychological phenomenon. If you are not a trained therapist s’il vous plait protect yourself from anyone who attempts to latch on to you only to vent and share the nature of their abuse without wanting help.
Soon enough, you will find yourself stressed and traumatized.
Merci beaucoup for your time mes amies. If you’d like to read more blog pertaining to mental health, s’il vous plait let me know via the comments.
Ciao for now 💋
Very well written Jessie and perfect for Mental Health Awareness month. Sending hugs and good vibes.
I thank you so much for your time! I hope this is something that becomes less common.
Shewwww. This right here- Do let them dump unless they truly want to get help. I lived this for 8.5 years! I was always the coworker wanting more, wanting to escape, felt we were all bring held back. Only for “someone” going back and telling it all. it was extremely draining! Thanks for putting language to what Ive experienced. I got out of that coworker/abuser relationship 2 years ago and have not looked back. Unfortunately those who stayed are now being gaslit beyond any normal comprehension!
I haven’t finished this yet but it’s already moving me to get my cousin to send it to my Trauma Bonded sister — you know; the one who stopped talking to her immediate family a week after marrying a man she knew for a week ON OUR MOTHERS BIRTHDAY; so I can’t send it myself. YOU’RE DOING GREAT WORK HERE !
Sorry I don’t know what is going on with my Instagram ID but that was Sarah. …and so is this:)
Great article seour much needed in our times hugs and love 💕
Thank you for taking the time to share this-very well written and interesting perspective.
This is spot on. When the desire to be accepted is so great, you tolerate emotional abuse. Abuse does not have to be derogatory comments or mean words. It can be ghosting, exclusion, exuberant behavior in front of others (the abuser is trying to impress) and marginalization behind closed doors. When the abuser is confronted and makes comments like “well thats too bad you dont understand…xyz – bless and release. Remember always, if they want to, they will. People will cross oceans for those they care about. Well said. WELL SAID!
So sorry you had to experience that, but thank God you got out, and you’re sharing your story to hopefully help others stuck in the cycle of abuse.
Trauma bonding is real, and many are struggling (especially with family) trying to make it make sense….it never will. Free your mind and yourself.
Blessing to you.💝
Thank you for sharing. Very well written. Glad you were able to overcome!