Finding yourself in an unhealthy relationship that you cannot seem to leave may mean that you have found yourself experiencing a trauma bond relationship.
Trauma bond relationships can be emotionally and psychologically devastating, leaving individuals trapped in a cycle of codependency and toxicity. Breaking free from such bonds and embarking on the path to healing can be a tiring journey. This article examines the barriers individuals may face in recovering from trauma bonds and delves into the potential benefits of incorporating ketamine-assisted therapy and trauma-focused therapies to help with healing. By understanding the obstacles and adopting innovative therapeutic approaches, survivors of trauma bond relationships can reclaim their lives and rebuild their well-being.
WHAT IS A TRAUMA BOND?
Trauma bond relationships, also known as toxic relationships, occur when a person forms an intense emotional connection with an abusive partner. A trauma bond may also happen when people go through severe emotional experiences together, including trauma, abuse, or significant adversity. Their connection is often rooted in one partner’s vulnerability and possibly even their susceptibility to manipulation. The abuser alternates between moments of affection and cruelty, creating dependency and setting up a cycle that makes it difficult for the victim to break free.
Trauma bonds can happen in a family system, workplace, and even in religious groups, but are most often associated with romantic relationships.
Trauma bonding is not just an emotional experience; biological factors may also strengthen these attachments. According to the National Institute of Health, when we start to bond with someone, our brain releases a neurotransmitter called oxytocin, sometimes called the “love hormone.” This hormone is released during sexual activity, falling in love, and even the birthing process. Multiple studies about brain imaging have found that even an adult brain undergoes changes related to attachments and separations.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LOVE AND TRAUMA BONDING
It can be hard to tell the difference between true love and trauma bonding, especially if you have previously experienced unhealthy attachments and early trauma. Basically, a trauma bond relationship is rooted in power and control, and loving relationships are based on mutual respect and do not include abuse, violence, or intimidation.
A loving relationship includes:
- Physical and emotional safety
- Healthy boundaries
- Mutual respect
- Accountability and responsibility for one’s actions
- Open communication
Unhealthy, trauma-bonded relationships consist of:
- Emotional and possibly physical abuse
- Lack of boundaries
- Denial, minimization, and blaming
- Control over decisions, activities, or finances
- Threats and coercion
THE EFFECTS OF TRAUMA BOND RELATIONSHIPS:
A trauma bond relationship is a deeply turbulent and emotionally exhausting connection that forms between individuals who have experienced significant trauma together. In this intense dynamic, both parties find themselves entangled in a toxic cycle of love and pain, where the trauma they share acts as a binding force. The emotions swing wildly between moments of seemingly profound intimacy and cruel detachment, creating an addictive rollercoaster of highs and lows.
The emotional turmoil of a trauma bond is relentless, as individuals become trapped in a cycle of seeking validation and comfort from their partner, only to be met with further emotional turmoil and manipulation. The bond becomes a double-edged sword, simultaneously providing a sense of security through shared past experiences while perpetuating patterns of emotional harm. Breaking free from this destructive relationship often requires immense strength, self-awareness, and support from outside sources, as the trauma bond can be deeply ingrained, leading to complex and long-lasting effects on one’s mental and emotional well-being.
Codependency in a trauma bond relationship is a profoundly entangled and dysfunctional dynamic where two individuals rely heavily on each other for emotional support, validation, and a sense of self-worth, often stemming from shared experiences of trauma or abuse. This toxic connection is marked by an unhealthy dependence on one another, with each partner assuming the roles of the rescuer and the victim, perpetuating a destructive cycle of enmeshment. Both parties feel trapped, unable to break free from their emotional grip on each other, even though the relationship may be harmful and draining. Codependency within a trauma bond can hinder personal growth and prevent individuals from seeking healthier, more balanced connections, perpetuating the cycle of pain and suffering. Breaking free from this pattern requires self-awareness, therapy, and a commitment to healing and building healthier boundaries and relationships.
The isolation in a trauma bond relationship is an incredibly distressing and suffocating experience for those involved. In this toxic dynamic, individuals find themselves trapped in an emotional rollercoaster, tethered to their abuser through shared experiences of pain and suffering. The bond is often intensified by alternating cycles of affection and cruelty, leaving the victims longing for moments of kindness that temporarily break the chains of misery. The isolation further exacerbates the dependence on the abuser as they systematically cut off the victims from their support networks and external influences. This isolating tactic perpetuates a sense of helplessness and vulnerability, making it increasingly challenging for the victims to break free from the destructive cycle. As the connection grows stronger amidst the isolation, the possibility of escape seems more distant, leaving the victims trapped in the trauma bond’s devastating grip.
FEAR OF REPERCUSSIONS
The fear of repercussions in a trauma bond relationship can be all-consuming and debilitating. This toxic and manipulative bond arises from a cycle of intermittent reinforcement, leaving victims deeply entangled with their abusers. The anxiety of what might happen if they attempt to break free holds them captive, as they dread potential retaliation, emotional torment, or physical harm. Fear becomes a powerful tool that keeps victims trapped, making them believe they cannot escape the cycle of abuse. This fear is reinforced by the abuser’s gaslighting and manipulation tactics, undermining their victims’ self-worth and convincing them that they are unworthy of a life beyond the trauma bond. Breaking free from this vicious cycle requires immense courage, support, and professional help to overcome the fear and reclaim one’s life and autonomy.
BARRIERS TO HEALING FROM TRAUMA BONDS
Overcoming the aftermath of a trauma bond relationship can be exceptionally challenging due to several barriers:
- Psychological Conditioning: Trauma bonds instil a sense of loyalty and attachment to the abuser, making it difficult for the survivor to recognize the relationship’s toxicity.
- Cognitive Dissonance: Survivors may experience cognitive dissonance as they struggle to reconcile the abuser’s abusive behaviour with the affectionate moments experienced during the cycle.
- Fear of Abandonment: Victims may fear being abandoned by the abuser or others, reinforcing the desire to maintain the bond despite its detrimental effects.
- Guilt and Shame: Survivors may feel guilty or ashamed for being trapped in the relationship, further complicating the healing process.
- Learned Helplessness: Prolonged exposure to abuse and manipulation can lead to learned helplessness, where the individual believes they lack control over their circumstances.
KETAMINE-ASSISTED THERAPY: A BREAKTHROUGH IN TRAUMA HEALING
Ketamine, a dissociative anaesthetic, has gained attention in recent years for its potential therapeutic effects in treating trauma-related disorders and helping individuals step out of the trauma responses listed above. When combined with trauma therapy, ketamine-assisted therapy shows promise in helping to heal and promote positive treatment outcomes. It is important to note that ketamine is a controlled substance and should only be used under the guidance of a qualified medical professional.
- Rapid Relief from Symptoms: Ketamine can rapidly alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation, providing much-needed relief to survivors of trauma bonds.
- Facilitates Emotional Processing: Ketamine’s unique properties help individuals access and process traumatic memories that might have been suppressed or avoided.
- Enhances Therapeutic Outcomes: When used alongside traditional psychotherapy, ketamine can improve the efficacy of trauma-focused interventions.
- Reduces Avoidance Behaviors: Survivors of trauma bond relationships often develop avoidance behaviours to cope with emotional pain. Ketamine can help diminish these tendencies, making therapeutic progress more accessible.
It’s easy to see why ketamine has become a valuable tool for treating mental health disorders, but it’s important to note that ketamine alone is not a cure. Providers often combine ketamine-assisted therapy with other evidence-based approaches to improve the likelihood of success. At APN London, each client’s ketamine dosage is catered to their individual needs by their supervising doctor. The goal of ketamine therapy is to help relieve trauma symptoms and quickly get to the root of a client’s mental health issue.
TRAUMA-FOCUSED THERAPIES: SUPPORTING THE HEALING JOURNEY
Healing trauma bonds is not a simple task with one easy answer. While ketamine-assisted therapy holds promise, providers often combine it with trauma-focused treatment to address the underlying issues. Some effective trauma therapies include:
COGNITIVE BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) explores how thoughts and feelings influence behaviours. This process helps survivors identify and modify negative thought patterns and behaviours stemming from the trauma bond relationship. Trauma-focused CBT (tf-CBT) is a specialized, evidence-based form of CBT that specifically addresses the impact of traumatic events, including trauma bond relationships.
DIALECTICAL BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY
Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is widely used to treat trauma. Although it is similar to CBT, DBT takes the process a step further and empowers people to change their behavioural patterns. DBT strategies such as mindfulness, communication, distress tolerance, and emotional regulation can help manage emotional responses to stressful situations and provide skills to build healthier relationships.
The healing journey from trauma bond relationships sometimes requires an integrative approach that addresses the mind, body, and spirit, including self-care. Self-care involves activities that reduce stress and promote physical and emotional well-being. These activities are nurturing, fulfilling, and healthy. Good self-care helps relieve stress and enables you to build self-love and rely on yourself rather than an abusive partner. Some examples of self-care include:
- Mindfulness and meditation
- Listening or playing music
- Eating and sleeping well
- Yoga or other body-oriented therapies
- Creative expression, such as art therapy or writing
Being in an abusive relationship can be damaging to your self-esteem and emotional well-being. Be mindful of the things you say to yourself and remind yourself that you have many positive qualities and deserve happiness. Healing starts with giving yourself permission to do what you need to in order to engage with the healing process.
Healing from trauma bond relationships can be complicated, but with the proper support and therapeutic interventions, survivors can find solace, empowerment, and, ultimately, a path to recovery. The combination of ketamine-assisted therapy and trauma-focused therapy offered at APN London can offer a potential breakthrough in trauma healing, offering rapid relief from symptoms and facilitating emotional processing.
By breaking free from the barriers that impede healing, survivors can reclaim their lives and build healthier, more fulfilling relationships moving forward. Contact us at 0203 984 7699 or complete the online contact form for more information about our programmes and how we can support you.
- Olff, Miranda et al. “The role of oxytocin in social bonding, stress regulation and mental health: an update on the moderating effects of context and interindividual differences.” Psychoneuroendocrinology vol. 38,9 (2013): 1883-94. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2013.06.019