Trauma bonds are generally pretty intense from the beginning. True love can be too. And sometimes, especially early on, it can be very hard, if not impossible, to tell the difference between them.
So, for those that find themselves in a trauma bond, can they turn things around? Can a trauma bond turn into love? As a general rule, when a relationship’s foundation is built on toxic patterns, making it healthy really is not possible. In a trauma-bonded relationship, chemical and hormonal reactions in the body reinforce the bond, making it much stronger than a more normally formed relationship. Trauma bonds are also formed as an imbalance of power and it would be nearly impossible to transform that imbalance of power into a mutually loving relationship.
So what happens when you find out that you are in a trauma-bonded relationship? (For more information on trauma bonding relationships, check out this article, and if you think you may be in one, check out this page to take a test to see if you may be in one).
Meanwhile, let’s take a closer look at some of the issues surrounding trauma bonding vs. love.
Table of Contents
Why a Trauma Bond Feels so Much Like Love
A trauma bond begins with strong, usually very kind gestures and words. Two people find things in common. And generally, at the beginning of the relationship, the abuser will come on very strongly with positive reinforcement. The victim is convinced that this is the relationship they have always looked for. Love bombing (excessive displays of attention and/or affection) rules the day. And usually the victim doesn’t see it for what it is–a method to suck the victim in rather than a display of real love.
The victim of a trauma bond may actually see and feel the red flags. But their abuser will react to their perception of something wrong with incredibly positive experiences or gifts. The victim gets confused because they think nobody would do such amazing things with and for them unless they really loved them. So they convince themselves that it is love. And then the gaslighting, blame shifting, and other abuse starts again because the abuser thinks they have gotten their victim back under their thumb. The cycle goes on for as long as the victim allows it.
I know in my case, I excused the negative and focused on the positive for over 30 years between dating and marriage. And actually, the red flags were there from the very beginning.
*Note: For the best resources on understanding, dealing with, and healing trauma bonds, click here!
How to Recognize the Difference Between a Trauma Bond and Real Love
In isolated incidents, trauma bonding and real love can look identical. You can be treated to the most amazing dinner in the best restaurant in town both in a trauma bond and in real love. You can have amazing conversation in both cases. And you can feel genuinely loved in both cases. So, what makes the two same experiences so potentially different and how do you distinguish between the two?
The biggest way to tell is by looking at the context of the events rather than the events themselves. If your amazing dinner is prefaced by craziness that left you confused, bewildered, taken advantage of, or abused in any way, then it could be a tactic to suck you back into the relationship.
But what if your partner wasn’t being abusive, but you honestly had a miscommunication or other negative interaction that wasn’t abuse? We are all human, imperfect beings. And sometimes we just screw up. That doesn’t mean we are abusive. This is actually pretty easy to figure out over time. The difference between difficult exchanges and abuse is that abuse happens regularly in patterns of behavior, while bad exchanges in a relationship are not so regular.
If you are experiencing regular incidents of pain in your relationship, at the very least, you will want to speak to someone about it to gain some balance in your thinking. Whether that is a wise friend, counselor experienced in abusive situations, or other confidant is up to you. The important thing is that you speak to someone about your concerns.
Why A Trauma Bond Generally Can’t Turn Into Love
The biggest reason a trauma bond can’t turn into love is because of its toxic beginning. When the foundation of a relationship is manipulation and control, plus a significant imbalance of power, turning it around to a healthy relationship is an uphill battle.
An abuser can certainly behave well under guidance of a counselor or other help with the relationship. But often that behavior is short-lived. Adding psychological diagnoses to the process can make things even more difficult. My ex was diagnosed with narcissistic traits that our counseling agency said likely turned into full-blown narcissism as counseling progressed and he did not appreciate being seen as responsible for any of the issues. And nearly all research on narcissism says that there is no cure and rarely does counseling work because narcissists can’t see or admit to any wrongdoing, let alone heal from it.
I am sure there are some cases where a relationship was starting to show trauma bonding but both partners chose to heal and move forward. But the vast majority of the time, healing does not materialize. And often counseling and professional help recommends the victim break contact to be able to heal and move on.
What it Would Take for a Trauma Bond to Turn into Love?
So, while we have established that trauma bonds usually don’t turn into loving, healthy relationships, let’s talk about what it would take for a trauma bond to turn into love.
First, both partners would have to be strong enough to acknowledge what they have done wrong in the relationship. They would have to see the side of the other partner and be able to empathize with their pain. And they would have to be willing to lovingly work together toward new healthy habits that can help them to heal their relationship.
That is going to be very hard for an abuser to do. They live for the power and control they exercise over their partner. And as long as they are able to keep using that power, they aren’t really going to want a more equal relationship.
In the off chance that an abusive partner actually starts to see the reality of their relationship and values relating to their significant other in a more healthy way, I think there could be healing. This would especially be true if both partners got a glimpse of what a healthy relationship looked and felt like. Then they could feel the benefit of moving forward in new patterns. If only all people could see the benefits of healing so clearly.
How to Make Sure Your Relationship is Healthy
If you think that you may be in a trauma bond relationship, here is an article that talks about ways to break the trauma bond and get yourself to an emotionally healthy place. It is important for you to make sure their apologies and promises to improve their behavior will stand the test of time and not fizzle out shortly after promises are made.
In addition to the article above, check out this book on Trauma Bonding. It has great reviews on Amazon. Also, it only has 68 pages, so you can sit down and read it in one sitting (and the price was incredibly affordable). I found it to be a great read, although I didn’t get it until long after my marriage/divorce. If you are in the middle of your struggle, you will find it incredibly helpful!
Do you feel like you are in physical danger? Call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 800-799-7233 or visit them online by clicking here.
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