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  • Lori Carol Maloy

Why Relationship Love Bombing and Abuse Creates Trauma Bonding

Updated: Mar 2

Article by Lori Carol Maloy

man and woman in the dark

He love-bombs you, showering you with affection, buying you gifts, lavishing praise, adoration, and attention at the start of the romantic relationship. Instantly, you feel he is your soulmate. You feel cherished and adored. Though at times, brief moments of cruelty arise. He quickly rebounds into love-bombing again. Beware of the cunning entrapment of trauma bonding and the long-term effects this type of abuse creates.

If he seems too good to be true, he probably is. If you have found yourself in an abusive relationship where your partner cycles in and out of intense love and hate, where he abuses and criticizes you then showers you with gifts and acts of kindness, you may be the victim of narcissistic abuse.

These types of relationships are toxic, not only can they be dangers to your physical safety, but your psychological well-being is at risk of deterioration and your sense of self–annihilation.

Trauma-Bonds and Stockholm Syndrome

In 1973, a bank heist involving armed robbers and their hostages occurred in Stockholm, Sweden. You might remember the name Patty Hearst and her involvement with these bank robbers. The strange bonding that occurred between captors and hostages created the inception of the infamous Stockholm Syndrome, which is related to trauma bonding.

The dangers in trauma-bonding, or connecting emotionally and psychologically with your abusers, create a greater tolerance for future abuse and make it more difficult over time to break free from the toxic relationships. Researchers argue that the familiarity and tolerance for abuse is based in early trauma imprints (the imprinting of early trauma in the limbic system).

Trauma imprints can be the reason you startle, react, have panic attacks without a conscious awareness or understanding of why your body is reacting in such a dramatic way.

This connection to past traumatic imprints allows the victim to be confused by the constant juggling of kindness (love-bombing) and criticism and abuse by their partners.

Humans connect with kindness, and instinctively desire the avoidance of pain.

Victims become confused by the abusing partner’s behavior of offering intermittent kindness between bouts of abuse. This person claims to love them,yet inflicts pain. Brain chemicals come to her aid trying to help her make sense of this conflict, providing some relief, and she eventually becomes locked inside the cycle, unable to escape.

When this pattern is repeated and again, trauma bonds are formed.

People can grow into states of learned helplessness, connecting with their abusers on a deep emotional level.

According to research, acts of kindness affect the brain, releasing feel-good chemicals and generating trust. A wonderful explanation of this process is explained in an article by Rhonda Freeman Ph.D in Psychology Today.

When acts of kindness are seen or experienced, the brain reacts with a release of chemicals, such as oxytocin (a feel good chemical).

Abuse triggers fear and anxiety.

When someone is abused or threatened, the brain releases stress response chemicals—adrenaline and dopamine to counteract the discomfort and help the victim fight or flight.

When adoration and love-bombing, as well as experiences of threat and abuse, emanate from the same person: our spouse, lover, parent, or another– the brain and psyche are highly confused, which creates a cognitive dissonance—this is a state where two opposing thoughts or ideas are at war which each other.

They conflict, therefore, they cannot both be true:

  • He truly loves me: he showers me with kindness, attention, gifts, and adoration. He/she is the source of my sustenance, protection, and safety.

  • He hates and abuses me: he criticizes, yells, hits, and humiliates me

These two opposing thoughts war with each other and can keep victims in a state of mental confusion, resulting in:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Feeling trapped

  • Hopeless

This type of yo-yo effect creates a traumatic response with long-lasting effects.

Some victims of long-term abuse may experience:

  • Panic attacks

  • Flashbacks

  • Guilt

  • Shame

  • numbness

These types of relationships can be difficult to sever due to the trauma-bonds they form.

A coping strategy that keeps victims locked in the cycle of abuse is called abuse amnesia.

  • Victims forget the abuse happened

  • They minimize the abuse

  • Justify the abuser’s actions

  • And sometimes defend the abuser

Black and white thinking is evident: My abuser is either all good or all bad.

All of the above are ways to cope with being trapped inside a horrific environment that the victim feels they cannot escape from.

At times Victims may believe the words of their partner and own these condemning thoughts: They internalize their partner’s words. In a sense, these critical words and phrases become part of their beliefs about themselves.

  • It’s my fault

  • I caused him to react this way

  • If I hadn’t done this or that, then he wouldn’t have….

  • If I would only do better, act better, and other lies you tell yourself

  • I’m stupid

  • Unworthy

  • Worthless

  • No one cares about me

  • I am trapped

  • I cannot meet my own needs

Karolina Norby in an article in the Journal of Analytical Psychology urges partners to know their role in the abuse.

  • Learn as much as you can about yourself

  • Learn the early patterns of abuse you grew up with

  • Know the attachment styles in your family of origin

  • Know the image you have of yourself

Breaking free of trauma bonds is no easy task. You might find yourself physically free, yet long for the enmeshed relationship, the highs and lows of the experience, the image of yourself through his eyes during happier times.

Recovery takes time. You will need time to heal and find out who you are without him. No contact with your abuser is the beginning of your healing.

Knowing yourself, your past, and your vulnerabilities will help create a powerful momentum for recovery. In order to prevent falling into the abuse cycle with another partner—who might appear different, yet is hauntingly similar, awareness of yourself and what abuse looks like is key.

Refuse to Give Up on Life

The tendency might be to shrink into obscurity, lacking faith in humanity and in your own choices for love and safety.

Healing is a journey. It is a soul-journey of sorts. The discovery of who you really are and what you need, enjoy, desire, and expound to be.

Make a list of deal-breakers. This is a list of what is not acceptable. Abuses and treatment you will not allow. If your partner breaks these boundaries, end the relationship early on.

Choose life. Choose joy. Choose autonomy within relationships.

Take time to really know yourself. This is the beginning of truly living your life.

I used to look for myself in the reflection of your light. Now I’m beginning to see the image of myself forming from the light in my own eyes.—LC Helms

If you are in a toxic relationship, I encourage you to read codependence recovery works by Pia Mellody, Melody Beattie, and Claudia Black.

Take your life back today.

Blessings, Lori

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Forest Sunrays
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Lori Carol Maloy, Author

Retired Therapist Goes Rogue

Thriller Writer Having Fun Reviewing Thrillers & Mysteries

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