One of the things survivors hear a lot is, “Why didn’t you just leave?”
What they don’t realize is that we ask ourselves the same question day after day. But really, why didn’t you leave? You genuinely want to know.
This happens because there’s something called a trauma bond. Click here for more trauma bond resources.
What I specifically want to address is how this trauma bond impacts our relationship with our kids, ourselves, and motherhood overall.
So, what is a trauma bond, anyway?
A trauma bond is a really strong connection that your brain has with the person that abused you. Another way of describing it is as an addiction your brain has to the abuser.
How does this happen?
Your brain craves consistency and dependability. When you’re in an abusive relationship, consistency is the LACK of consistency. Even though it’s uncomfortable, it gets hooked on the highs and the lows. When things get bad, your brain holds onto those honeymoon moments. The moments where they brought you flowers or took you out to dinner. These are the reasons that we stay, the reason your brain gets addicted. Your brain craves the highs that come after the lows.
When they do those good things, your brain gets a dump of feel good chemicals. When they turn the tables, call you names and hurt you, there’s an immediate crash.
So your brain desperately wants more of those feel-good ones because that’s normal to it.
This addiction isn’t just the reason that we stay, but the reason we go back. Your brain is reminding you of all of the ways that it was just SO good.
The times where they were sweet and kind, how you laughed together during a movie, how good the sex was. It also conveniently leaves out just how BAD it was because it wants you to go back into that situation.
In this moment your brain is going through withdrawal and the detox process. It will take time before it finds equilibrium again.
Now that we have the understanding of what a trauma bond is, what does this have to do with motherhood?
First, if you’re a single mom and you’re dating, this will cause you to look for unhealthy patterns in potential partners. Your brain can’t have the person it wants but it can have the next best thing: another person who’s toxic.
This is why you’ll find women going from abuser to abuser to abuser. I was this person for over a decade so I understand how dark of a time this is.
This affects our motherhood because it affects how we show up in the home. Even if your kids never meet the person who hurt you, you’re not going to be in your right mind. The pain and turmoil you’re going through will come through in how you parent, how you talk to your kids, how triggered you are.
You’re not going to be connected with yourself so you won’t notice when something is off. You’ll miss obvious signs of something being wrong because your brain is so fixated on getting that chemical hit.
It’s important to understand that this isn’t something that you did.
This happened as a result of the damage your brain took through the trauma in the abusive relationship. Don’t use this as an excuse to beat up on yourself.
Another reason this effects our kids is because this feels normal to them. It’s normal to have the tension in the air and the feeling of a mom who’s distant. They see you in these patterned relationships with the highs and lows, constantly in a trauma bond. This teaches your kids that this is what they should go after. This is their normal.
Coming out of situations like this, where chaos is normal, healthy relationships aren’t comfortable. Being treated well becomes boring. There’s no butterflies, it’s pretty good and there’s no chemical hit. Their brain tells them that if they’re not constantly fighting there’s no passion. If they’re not jealous they don’t love me, if they’re not possessive they’re not protective.
So naturally they’ll seek out partners that give them what their brain wants.
This is a problem. This is why it’s so important that we redefine normal and break these trauma bonds.
Something else to keep in mind is that this isn’t limited to romantic relationships. Your kids can also develop trauma bonds. It can happen with a distant parent that shows up and disappears regularly. If they make promises and grand gestures but never follow through, there’s the constant push and pull that creates that trauma bonded relationship.
It’s so confusing for their poor brains that they up falling into that addicted pattern, which will become their normal and will be what they pursue throughout life.
We need to understand what trauma bonds are and how to break them ourselves so we can be there for our kids when they’re in that situation.
So how do we know if this is happening to us?
Here are the signs of a Trauma Bond
Constant pattern of non performance
They have proven time and time and time again that they’re not going to change.
There is so much proof that nothing is ever going to happen. But you still believe they will anyway.
You want to believe down in your core that they really will change and that they really do care about you enough to change.
Others are disturbed by what’s happening, but you’re not.
It’s that situation where your friend comes up and says, “Oh my gosh, why do you let him talk to you like that?”
Or you’re telling your girlfriend a story, she looks at you and says, “Wait a minute, he’s controlling what you wear?”
And your response is, “Well, that’s just how it is. He doesn’t want anyone to look at me.”
You’re justifying away the abusive behavior that clearly bothers others. But you don’t understand why it’s a bad thing or that big of a deal.
You feel stuck because the other person is being destructive
You feel like you can’t leave because they’re your responsibility and that it’s your job to make sure they don’t destroy everything. You’re worried that if you leave, they’ll only get worse. That they’ll hurt themselves or others.
Their destruction becomes our responsibility.
If I go to a restaurant, and my son breaks a vase, I’m mortified. I would take responsibility and pay for that vase because it was my son that broke it.
It’s a very similar reaction we have with our abuser.
We feel like we are required to clean up after them. Not only that, we feel like it’s our responsibility to make them less destructive. We feel like we have to respond in a certain way to make the world around them happier because they won’t change.
So you’re trying to do everything you can to make the change happen yourself. You’re trying to reduce chaos around the house because you don’t want them to go off.
You are begging and pleading with them to stop being destructive. You have thrown away your own mental health, maybe your own physical health, in a pursuit of making a better person.
Repetitive damaging fights with this person.
You are just fighting in circles and nothing ever happens. It just becomes a screaming match or a fighting match or may lead to an abusive outburst. But no progress ever gets made. You fight about the same things over and over and over and over again. And you can’t seem to get anything that change and you can’t seem to get the cycle to stop.
You feel physically unable to detach from them.
You can’t even fathom a life without them. You can’t even seem to bring together a world where they’re not with you.
Even if you kind of want to leave, you feel like you can’t.
You try to leave but it causes you physical pain.
It hurts so badly you feel like your heart is about to rip out of your chest. By leaving, it’s like someone’s trying to rip your arm out of its socket, you feel like you’re losing a part of you by walking away. It hurts so badly that you don’t eat, you don’t sleep, you don’t live your life because you are so caught up in this attachment to them.
So if you’re feeling guilty about leaving your abuser, this is why.
When you’re in an abusive relationship, your brain is permanently changed. This doesn’t mean that you’re not capable of living in freedom or not capable of happiness. But it does mean that you’re going to have to learn how your brain works in order to make the accommodations needed to live the life that you want to live.
It’s so important for us as survivors to understand why we feel guilty so we don’t go back and why we want to go back in the first place.
If we don’t have that understanding, we fall back into old patterns. As moms, we have an extra responsibility to break these trauma bonds and heal so we don’t pass it onto our kids.
Understanding what a trauma bond is is incredibly important. But it is not the only thing we have to do in order to begin to break these cycles.
Awareness is MASSIVE but it’s only the first step.
I know this isn’t easy, but it’s possible. It’s going to be so hard but you don’t have to go this alone. This process took me so much longer than it should have because I didn’t have the support I desperately needed.
The support for survivors is dismal at best but for moms it’s pretty much non-existent.
So that’s why I do what I do. It’s the exact reason why I created Cycle Breaker. Over the course of a day, week or month you can slowly change your life. This was created by a busy mom for busy moms, so it’s not something that’s going to take you hours a day.
The course is fun but the work is hard. No fluff, just actionable steps to finally change your life.
So if you are ready to commit to this and claim the name ‘Cycle Breaker,’ go grab Cycle Breaker. It will help you, your kids and every generation after.
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