top of page

I Don't Know How To Break Free...

“It was my fault. I got them mad.”

“They apologized, promised it wouldn’t happen again.”

“It doesn’t happen all the time.”

“I know they love me, and I love them.”

“I don’t want to because of the children.”

“Nobody else wants me.”

“I don’t have anywhere to go.”

These are the common reasons we hear from people we clearly see are in abusive relationships. As someone who is on the outside looking in, it can be hard to comprehend why someone would make "excuses" for their abuser. As someone who is in the situation, there is also a lot of confusion. A vicious cycle of trauma bonding is formed. which is strengthened with every explosive fight, every blow, every bruise, every hospital visit...

How can that be?

Let's talk about Trauma Bonding. What exactly is it?

Firstly, it is not the same thing as codependency.

Codependency is a dysfunctional helping relationship where one person enables another's unhealthy and toxic behaviours and addictions This can be anything from agreeing to expose someone to environments where they can get narcotics knowing they have an addiction, to doing narcotics with them knowing they have mental health issues which are triggered by said illicit drugs.

Trauma bonding on the other hand is an extremely unhealthy loyalty in a relationship where abuse is present, self-sabotage, distrust, as well as obsession. As mentioned, it is not so obvious and recognizable to the people in the relationship as unhealthy and/or abusive. For the party in the position of abusee, it is all about survival and despite all the abuse, the betrayal , and the chaos, they find it extremely hard to let go.In fact, the more chaotic, abusive, and volatile the relationship, the stronger the trauma bond, it is strengthened by this destructive cycle.

What is it that causes one to even be prone to such a thing?

  • A traumatic childhood

  • Complex Trauma

  • Recent/Current Trauma

If these traumas are left unaddressed, they have a high probability of creating the perfect conditions for trauma bonding, codependency, and other unhealthy connections and behaviours. Trauma bonding is quite similar to stockholm syndrome, the psychological survival tactic on the part of the hostage, it is a coping mechanism to a captive or abusive situation. People develop positive feelings toward their captors or abusers over time. This applies to situations like: child abuse, coach-athlete abuse, relationship abuse, sex trafficking, kidnapping.

As a means to survive, the abused attempts to keep themselves safe by trying to understand their abuser. To them, the logic is that if I can understand them, I can find a way to keep myself safe and perhaps even eventually convince them to let me go, or love me the way I know they are capable of loving me, without the abuse...

To understand more about the stages of Trauma Bonding, click here

Let us have a look at what the abuser in the situation looks like: Someone who

lacks self-esteem

This makes them act out, get defensive, seek control, overcompensate, get obsessive in fear of rejection.

lacks boundaries

They do not have nor understand healthy boundaries and tend to get obsessive and cross the boundaries of their partners.

is highly sensitive

This is someone who lacks good emotional self-regulation and is highly reactive and explosive with everything.

has difficulty with intimacy

They have a hard time expressing their feelings, even labeling their feelings, and are uncomfortable with healthy connections and behaviours.

has poor communication skills

They fail to label their feelings, let alone express them, or know what to do about what they feel.

Now let's look at the abusee: Someone who

is dependent on the abuser

they rely on the abuser for shelter, food, support (abuser often isolates their victim from their support network, and ensures they rely only on them).

is defensive

Defensive of the abuser when someone asks what is going on or points out an obviously abusive behaviour.

self blames

Takes ownership of the abusive behaviour of the abuser.

If you recognize any of these behaviours, either because you know someone you have just realized is stuck in a trauma bond, or you just realized you are in fact in a trauma bond and have become a shell of who you once are the best ways to break free of this trauma bond

  • Be honest with yourself about the behaviour of your abuser.

  • Be honest about the way the behaviour has affected you, is affecting you, and will continue to affect you (the outcomes).

  • Journal and reflect on what you are feeling and what you are going through (it is important to check-in with yourself and to have your own thoughts and opinions away from your abuser).

  • Embrace positive truths about yourself (challenge the negative and manipulative narrative that the abuser is spinning about who you are, what you deserve, and who is available to you).

  • Surround yourself with a strong support network (do not lose contact with loved ones, friends, old colleagues).

  • Discuss and explore your relationship in therapy to recognize the gaslighting, the abuse, the control.

  • Separate from the abuser both physically and emotionally (this can be very dangerous, make sure you have a support network, an escape plan, and somewhere to escape to when you leave).

It only gets worse...

To get some help, call your local free hotline

If you are in South Africa, reach out to Safe Space Hideout

Coach Nomie, Take Control x


bottom of page