Updated: May 7
Trauma Bond - an intense, emotional attachment in an abusive relationship that is created when the experiences of fear, excitement, and sex are misused to strengthen the bond and ensnare the abuse victim further into the quagmire of the cycle of violence.
The trauma bond is the intangible answer to the question, “why doesn’t she just leave?’ Just like the hurricane-level winds: hard to see but the devastation and destruction they cause is real.
Anyone who has ever experienced a trauma bond knows just how difficult it is to break free and move on. At first, it seems impossible. Eventually, it gets less impossible but is still hard. Over time and with distance, it becomes easier. For many women, they say it’s like a switch gets flipped and they are now repulsed by even the idea of their ex. We hope you get to that point, but if you're not there yet, no worries. We’ve got you covered.
7 strategies for making the transition out of a trauma bond easier, gentler, and hopefully, faster.
A Note on Safety:
Your first and primary focus should always be the safety of you (and your children). Because leaving a trauma bonded situation is the most violent time, do not hesitate to call 911 if threats are made or you do not feel safe. You can get help with safety planning from your local domestic violence agency, which you can find here. https://www.thehotline.org/get-help/local-resources/
1. Physically Remove Yourself. Our first tip comes from the book, The Beauty in Breaking. Michele Harper, MD writes about her experience in breaking up with a boyfriend who was treating her poorly but who she experienced that visceral, deep soul, twin flames-type connection to. She shares how she had to first physically remove herself from the relationship before she could emotionally move on.
This means setting some strong boundaries for you around blocking your ex and keeping them blocked. Even when they create new, fake accounts. Or have their family or YOUR family try to reach out to you to get you back. Do. Not. Respond. Keep away.
2. Keep Yourself Busy, Especially at Night. Busyness is not a coping skill we normally recommend, but in the case of distancing from a trauma bond, it is a necessity. Nighttime is the hardest for most people. When you feel lonely you’re the most vulnerable to going back. So surround yourself with people who care about you and tasks to do.
Create a list of friends you can reach out to, even if it’s late. If you’re worried about burning one person out, reach out to a new person each time. If a list of friends is hard to come by, consider joining one of our Moving On Groups or other supportive spaces, such as 12 Step Programs. Other forms of busyness can include starting a project, doing art, learning a new skill, such as embroidery, volunteering for a cause you care about, and creating a vision board for your new version of life on Pinterest.
3. Treat Your Body Right. In the first days after a breakup, it’s okay to say yes to the double bacon cheeseburger with mozzarella sticks and a chocolate shake. However, the way you treat your body directly affects your mood and emotional well-being. Don’t wait too long to return back to the healthy lifestyle habits that bring out the better in you. Set small goals for yourself at first... Make one healthy eating choice per day. Ten minutes of yoga. Go to bed early. This will help create an upward spiral that makes it easier to make better, healthier choices for yourself.
4. Journal Your Ass Off. As it comes to you, write down all the reasons that you won’t go back. The abuse that sticks with you. Keep these handy to look at when you feel like going back.
Also, write for your future. What are the characteristics that will be a requirement in your next partner? Update your bucket list. Where do you hope to be in 1 year? 5 years?
5. Create a Mantra. A mantra is a short saying that brings us peace and groundedness that we can go back to when times get tough. Think “Serenity now” on Seinfeld.
=My fave mantras include:
“All feelings are temporary”
“I am okay. I will be okay.”
“Breathing in Calm. Breathing out Peace.”
Find what works for you, write it on post-it notes, and place EVERYWHERE. Your car. Your phone. Your fridge. Your bathroom mirror. You get the point.
6. Reframe the story. Yes, your good times were good. The sex was passionate and you felt like you could tell them anything. And what is also true is that when you told them everything, they used it against you. They used sex and your desire to feel loved and protected as a way to control you.
7. Tell Yourself a New Story for your future. Part of the reason the trauma bond is so intense is because of the story we tell ourselves about ‘how special’ the relationship was. When we think things like ‘I’ll never again have a chance at a love as deep as this.’ it makes it WAY harder to leave it in the past. This is because you are focusing on a version of the story around what you're losing. Not what you're gaining. Again...
Stop focusing on what you're potentially losing. Keep your gaze on what you're gaining and move forward.
And then in the words of Michele Harper, MD, ‘Bless (them) and walk away.”
In the course of anyone’s life, every relationship we have teaches us something. Learn what you can from this relationship. And have hope that in the future, you can have a healthy, happy, and safe relationship. This is not your end. It’s only the beginning.