Our most traumatizing relationships often start at the opposite extreme.
You meet someone and are absolutely certain that you are meant to be together. The stars have aligned, a series of mystical signs and signals have shown you that this is your soulmate, the person you’ve been waiting for all along. They fit every point on the checklist, you have too many things in common for it to be coincidental, and they are just as sure as you are that your love is one-of-a-kind and once-in-a-lifetime.
Your relationship is instantaneous, explosive, and passionate.
Until it isn’t.
While chemistry for most people starts strong and then dims over time, trauma bond relationships work the opposite way. It starts strong and then becomes explosive. Instead of getting frustrated and tired of one another, your “perfect love” becomes peppered with soul-shattering fights, horrendous abuse of varying forms and ultimately culminates in confusion and deep shame.
As it turns out, there’s a psychological reason why.
Your most passionate relationship might really be a trauma bond.
A trauma bond is essentially the process through which you begin to confuse abusive behavior for love.
You’re drawn to your partner not because you’re meant to be together, but because you are both wounded in a specific way. In healthy love, your affection for one another grows over time. In a trauma bond, it’s instantaneous because it’s not love, it’s an idea of love that makes you feel better about a preexisting issue in your life.
Perhaps you need an attachment figure to feel secure about your future, and your partner needs a person to be obsessively in love with them to validate their sense of self. It doesn’t matter what it is. If you’re in a trauma bond relationship, it’s often because you and your partner are drawn to each other by your shadow selves. That’s what makes the relationship feel so irresistible.
Eventually, the cracks in that unstable foundation begin to show themselves.
When you’re in a trauma bond, you require your partner to fulfill a certain idea you have about who they need to be. The more time you spend with a person, the more you get to see who they really are. When they do not live up to that, you lash out at them, because it’s triggering your inner wound.
This starts a cycle that can be really hard to break. First, you’re “love bombed,” or showered with over-the-top displays of attraction, affection, and passion. You’re made to feel like the most special person in the world. Then when you cannot live up to that very particular set of standards your partner has set for you, you’re punished for it. You are, at the same time, insulted, berated, and made to feel as though you’re worthless and will never be good enough.
Moving between such emotional extremes often results in a neurochemical bonding. Similar to Stockholm syndrome, you begin to get even more attached to this person, the intensity seeming to only solidify how magical and fated your relationship is.
Though these relationships often end quickly, they can sometimes carry on for extended periods of time, and almost always cause serious psychological damage. Even if the person is no longer in your life, the obsession with them can linger for years, and hinder future relationships in unconscious ways.
How do you heal from a trauma bond?
First, recognizing the difference between healthy love and trauma bonding is essential.
Ultimately, your close relationships, and especially your romantic partner, should be a net positive in your life. Sure, you’re always going to argue with your spouse, you’re never going to be happy with them all of the time, but your interactions with them should generally not be more negative than they are positive, and should absolutely not leave you in emotional, mental or fiscal crisis, feeling worthless or depressed, or scared for your safety.
Despite what they might tell you, none of that is love. We are not meant to be destroyed by the people who love us, and when we chalk up those behaviors to love, we get stuck in a really toxic cycle.
Trauma bonding isn’t love. It’s many other dark things that have been conflated with love, but aren’t love itself.
To heal from a trauma bond relationship, you may need to seek professional help. You will most likely need to cut off contact with that person entirely, and focus instead on resolving the issues that were existing in your life independent of that person.
Identify what drew you to them in the first place, sort out why your relationship didn’t work, pinpoint the red flags that you’d like to be aware of in the future, and address any unconscious narratives about love that you might not realize you have. For example, if you had an absent parent, you might associate neglect with ideal love. In other cases, you might need to address your own inner wound so that it isn’t magnetized to another person’s.
No, there’s no one single foolproof way to ensure you are never in a trauma bond relationship, but investing as much as you can in your own mental health and self-development, staying aware and knowing the signs and symptoms is the best way to keep yourself safe.
What does real passion feel like?
Real passion (or, in other words, passion that’s healthy and functional) can sometimes present similar to the beginning of a trauma bond relationship, which makes it so tricky to discern.
True love grows over time. The more you get to know a person, the more deeply you bond. The more you do together and experience together, the more your relationship should strengthen and improve—not the opposite way around. True love makes you feel good about yourself. Trauma bonds make you feel worse. True love should inspire and encourage you to become your best self not because your partner is demanding a different you, but because you feel so genuinely loved and supported you also feel free enough to pursue what you’ve always dreamed.
Real passion, and love, should make your life better and easier. If it doesn’t, and yet you still insist on keeping that person in your life, there’s usually an unconscious reason why.
Love might move quickly, but if you feel rushed, bombarded or completely “swept away,” especially if that involves uprooting your entire life, handing over control of your finances, or making sacrifices for the sake of a person you just met, beware.
Yes, it’s exciting and thrilling to imagine that we’ve just met a soulmate. It’s one of life’s greatest gifts, in fact. However, when that excitement becomes manipulated for someone else’s gain, it begins to prey upon us where we are at our weakest, and you can end up in a bad situation.
Sometimes, life is not quite what it seems. The relationships that are the most appealing and consuming aren’t always what’s best for us. Though we may not be able to fix everyone around us, we can always work on meeting our own inner needs, knowing what we want and deserve, and speaking candidly about how toxic relationships begin, thrive, and take hold of people before they even know what’s happening.