How to Recognize and Overcome the Trauma Bond
Meet Samantha. Samantha is an attractive small town girl with a round face, full lips, and piercing blue eyes. She is also a doting mother of two, breast cancer survivor, party girl, and professional photographer. She enjoys posting inspirational quotes on Instagram, and spending time with her friends. Oh, and one more thing. Samantha is a narcissist.
What?!? This beautiful creature who adores her children, has a photography business, and has survived breast cancer a narcissist? Yep. Personality disorders don’t discriminate.
You see, this is Sam’s (we’ll call her that for short) facade. From the outside looking in you would think this is a woman who has it together. She’s an entrepreneurial business woman, inspirational cancer survivor, and is an adoring mother who is active in her children’s lives. But like all narcissist, what you see is quite different from what actually is. Sam has secrets. And a lot of them.
Sam no doubt enjoy photography. That’s not where the deception comes in. The problem is she is not a professional photographer like she represents. Her page is full of images of, as you might have already guessed, HERSELF. Sam truly loves photographing HER and when she’s done editing and retouching her work, she is nearly unrecognizable. Her inspirational quotes are captions just underneath these over edited selfies. The fact is, Sam, divorced mother of two, doesn’t work at all. Anywhere. For anyone. Sam uses men, and a lot of them to feed her narcissistic ego, and to survive the expenses of day to day life.
Sam is also in a relationship, or at least she’s supposed to be. Looking at her online profiles one would never know. You won’t find a mention of him. He’s not tagged in anything, and there is not even one photograph of him or them together. The reality is she denies him to everyone. She allows him to pay her rent bragging to her friends that “he just wants to be close to me” (asserting her narcissist ‘high demand’ status). The man she’s “in a relationship” with is also used as a babysitter when she wants to leave her children to party. He has 5 children of his own, currently lives in his camp trailer, and when the children come to visit they sleep at his parents. All the while Sam plants her parasitic behind comfortably in the house he pays for. Oh, and he’s not allowed to visit her without consent. Or have an Instagram account. Or have an active Facebook page. But she can 😁. Oh the narcissistic double standards! Sam is really quite typical of the narcissistic personality.
Sam has other men as well, though she blatantly denies this to her boyfriend. “Sugar daddy’s” who give her money to buy whatever she needs on top of what her partner already provides her. If the men don’t dole out enough she takes what she wants, stealing everything from beauty supplies to clothing from her friends. Her friends left to discover where their missing things have gone when Sam features herself in their items in one of her “photo shoots”. Of course men pay her way when she’s out, so that’s never a problem.
Most recently Sam found herself possibly pregnant. Though her boyfriend had undergone a vasectomy, he picked up and brought her a pregnancy test. I am unsure of the outcome, but no matter, Sam has no plans for another child and will abort the child if necessary. She’s also assured him if she has been with someone else it happened when she was drunk, and she doesn’t remember, so it’s not her fault.
The question anyone reading this is asking themselves right now is “why does this guy stay?” The answer: Little by little Sam has taken a once confident and vibrant human being and withered away his confidence and self esteem, creating a narcissistic trauma bond. She’s not trauma bonded, in fact she’s not bonded at all. But he is, and so even though he knows he should leave, he lacks the resolve to do so.
“With “Narcissistic Trauma Bonding,” you are initially showered with intense love and approval. It is like a fantasy come true. Then gradually the ratio of positive to negative events shifts—often so subtly that you cannot say exactly when this happened. You find yourself in fights with someone you desperately love who claims that everything bad that is happening is all your fault.”
She continues to explain the stages of trauma bonding in these 7 Steps:
Stage 1: “Love Bombing”—The Narcissist showers you with love and validation.
Stage 2: Trust and Dependency—You start to trust that they will love you forever. You now depend on them for love and validation.
Stage 3: Criticism Begins—They gradually reduce the amount of love and validation that they give you and start to criticize you and blame you for things. They become demanding.
Stage 4: “Gaslighting”—They tell you that this is all your fault. If you would only trust them and do exactly as they say, they would shower you with love again. They try to make you doubt your own perceptions and accept their interpretation of reality.
Stage 5: Control Is Established—You do not know what to believe but think that your only chance of getting back the good feelings of Stage 1 is to try doing things their way.
Stage 6: Resignation and Loss of Self—Things get worse, not better. When you try to fight back, they up their abuse. Now you would just settle for peace and for the fighting to stop. You are confused, unhappy, your self-esteem is at its lowest.
Stage 7: Addiction—Your friends and family are worried about you. You know that this situation is terrible, but you feel as if you cannot leave because this person is now everything to you. All you can think about is winning back their love.
All of this begs the question: How do you reverse a trauma bond?
Here is a list of a few steps you can take to reverse this psychological bond and begin to heal.
- Begin living in reality. That is stop fantasizing about the way it “used to be” and stop believing that this person has “potential” and that the future will be bright once again. Be present and in the moment. Write a list of positive and negative attributes regarding your abuser. See the situation for what it IS and not what you Wish it to be.
- Put yourself first. Stop putting your abusers needs above your own. Start taking care of your needs first. Emotionally, physically, and financially.
- Give yourself permission to grieve. Grieve the loss of the relationship, honor that you have lost something of value to you, while maintaining the reality that what you most likely lost was an illusion.
- Identify your deal breakers. Recognize those things you engaged in during the relationship that were not OK. For example you can decide “In the future I will walk away from someone who calls me names”, or “I will not trust someone who I have caught in more than a few lies” or “I will not engage in an argument while I or my partner are intoxicated”. I personally have what I refer to as the 3 A’s. For me, these are non negotiable. Abuse. Adultery. Addiction. If any of these become apparent in a dating relationship I would strongly encourage you to seriously consider ending it.
- Build a new life that does not include your abusive partner. Little by little and one day at at time begin making plans that do not include your abusive partner. Go to the gym, by yourself. Plan an outing for you and your children, book a vacation with close friends or family members. Spend time in the company of other healthy individuals who can support and guide you.
- Hire a professional. Consider finding a counselor or psychologist who specializes in narcissistic abuse to help you overcome the trauma bond and give you the keys to develop healthy future relationships.
Overcoming emotional abuse of any type is not easy and no one can make the decision or do the work for you. Build a new and brighter future by committing yourself to the decision and the work it will require to break the abusive cycle.
**UPDATE 3/4/19: I am glad to report since this blog was first published this trauma bond has been severed.