A question that gets asked far more often than other questions I receive is: What is a healthy relationship?
Often, when we are dealing with symptoms of unhealed trauma, we find ourselves in relationships that may not be suitable to our healing journey;
worse, they may cause further trauma.
These relationships may show up in our family dynamics, friendships, work relationships, romantic relationships, and much more. We may also see unhealthy dynamics playing a role in our parenting.
So, let us break the cycle of trauma bonded relationships and provide ourselves with an opportunity to heal.
What is a trauma bonded relationship?
There are two ways to look at the definition of trauma bonding.
One, is the literal act of being involved in a traumatic situation with another person. Thus, formulating a connection with them that no other could imagine. For example, you may consider the relationships of students involved in school shootings, medical professionals involved in COVID-19 care, those directly impacted by 9/11 as, “trauma bonded.”
However, the second and far more often used definition of trauma bonding occurs in relationships where abuse/neglect have been present.
Most often, and for the purposes of this article, this second definition of trauma bonding is easily seen in relationships where a person is involved with someone who is a Narcissist (keeping in mind, someone with Narcissistic tendencies and someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are two very different issues).
The Narcissist repeats a cycle of abuse which creates a pattern of need for validation and love from the person being abused.
For example, have you ever had a family member or friend, or perhaps found yourself, in a relationship in which you feel powerless, helpless, invalidated, and worthless; however, you stay and you’re not sure why?
Sometimes, people stay in these relationships, just for a chance to receive the validation, love, and emotional connection they once had (usually at the beginning – first three months of a relationship) that they are now craving (usually due to a history of not receiving this as a child in some way; we repeat many of our childhood experiences through behaviors as adults today, when we go without healing).
Please keep in mind that narcissistic tendencies can look remarkably similar to behaviors exhibited by someone who is active in their addiction; however, this is no reason to justify their behavior and compromise your emotional or physical safety.
One difficulty of abusive relationships is that they cycle.
There are various versions of this cycle today, but the most often used example is that of Lenore Walker’s social cycle of abuse. Walker’s cycle consists of four stages:
It is during the calm, or “honeymoon,” period, where no abuse occurs and you may experience a small amount of validation, love, and support, that “makes up,” for the abusive behavior experienced during other parts of the cycle.
You may find yourself convincing yourself that, “they could change if only I did this differently,” or “they need me or something terrible will happen to them,” or, “I need them for XYZ.” Therefore, invalidating your own inner self, compromising your beliefs and values, and breaking down your boundaries to fit the needs of someone else.
The truth is, no one can change anyone but themselves.
You can only change your own reaction to someone else’s behavior;
you cannot be responsible for changing their behavior.
So, what are some signs that you may be in an unhealthy relationship?
When you are a part of an unhealthy relationship, you may feel or showcase behaviors of:
Lack of trust for yourself and your partner/family member
Isolation of self, embarrassment, and invalidation of your own feelings
Feelings of low self-worth, including shame.
Anticipating/accommodating the other person’s needs to try to control their reactions
Feelings of guilt, fear, and anger.
Lack of ability to stand up for yourself/be assertive
Dependency on the partner for financial or emotional (ironically) support
Flashbacks, nightmares, phobias
When you are in an unhealthy relationship, the other party may show signs of:
Lack of self-control: violent behavior, rage, low ability to tolerate frustration
Low self-esteem: typically, hidden emotions due to fear of inadequacy in some way
Fear driven anger: afraid of their own insecurities underneath their anger and/or fear of loss
Lack of friendships and healthy relationships in general: isolation is common
Intimidation tactics: physical domination, emotional domination, exploitation of others, etc.
Rationalization of their behaviors by blaming others and/or stating “____deserved it.”
Gaslighting and/or gives the silent treatment: lack of healthy communication in general
Appearing like a completely different person in public than at home (Jekyll & Hyde)
Trying to control your behavior by manipulation or force
Constantly criticizing or “joking” about you, at your expense
Disregarding your boundaries and often mocking the boundaries you may have tried to set
Yelling, throwing things at you, destroying things around you, hitting, kicking or shoving you.
If you think that you may be a part of an unhealthy relationship,
and would like to reach out to someone to get help today,
please consider the following resources:
911, your local police department, or hospital for emergencies, always
The CT statewide domestic violence hotline (call or text):
1-888-774-2900 or CTsafeconnect.org
The national domestic violence hotline: 1-800-799-7233
Remember that you are not alone.
There are a plethora of resources to help those in need through abusive relationships, neglectful relationships, and breaking the trauma bonded cycle.
Again, the unhealthy relationship does not need to just be a romantic one; often, these relationships exist in our families of origin and even within workplace relationships or friendships.
If you feel you are not in an emergent situation and
would like help unraveling and healing from the trauma you have experienced and/or the unhealthy relationships in your life, contact us today.
You may reach out at 860.266.6098 or firstname.lastname@example.org to connect with a therapist for a free 15-minute consultation.
Stay tuned for our next educational blog on how to formulate healthy boundaries with yourself and within your relationships.