The Addictive Cycle of Abuse
What You Need to Know About Traumatic Bonding
Understanding Traumatic Bonding
Traumatic bonding is something that occurs in victims of abusive relationships, and is the reason so many women stay or end up going back to their abuser. Traumatic bonding is caused by a cycle of abuse. When abused mentally or physically, our body’s survival instincts kick in and release “endogenous opioids,” endogenous opioids being naturally made opioids that are released into your body to numb/relieve severe emotional and physical pain that would cause your body distress. To put this numbing-suppressing-pain relieving-analgesia-chemical release into perspective for you—opioids are what morphine and heroin are made of. So when you have experienced enough abuse, your body naturally shields itself from the pain, and you no longer care or feel the pain of your abuser’s actions.
After they hurt you, the other part of the cycle occurs: the “good” part. The part where they pretend they’ve changed or as though nothing happened, make you feel loved, and in some cases shower you in gifts to prove so. At this point, a huge release of dopamine occurs in the victim’s brain. So back and forth you go, opioids to dopamine to opioids to dopamine. And as a result you become not only addicted to the natural opioids your body produces, but also the dopamine highs. You think you’re addicted to or love your abuser, but you’re not, and you don’t. You’re addicted to the chemical cycle.
The thing about victims of abuse is that they aren’t oblivious to what is going on, they’re just unaware of this chemical addiction called traumatic bonding. They are well aware that they are in a relationship with a narcissist, they know they are being cheated on, they know they are not respected, they know they are consistently lied to, they know they are being abused; and yet they still stay, commonly without an understanding of why.
Throughout my life all I have always heard (and I’m sure you have heard or thought this too) is “it’s her own fault, because she’s the idiot that stays with him.” But the truth is victims of abuse are not “idiots.” Chances are they have tried to leave the relationship on multiple occasions, but find themselves getting sucked back into the cycle. This does not make them weak or pathetic. They are people who are experiencing traumatic bonding, indoctrinated into believing they are in love. Their minds have been manipulated so much that they doubt even their own intuitions, and honestly believe that the abuser loves them and are capable of change. But despite the many promises abusers assure their victims, or changes they claim are to ensue, abusers are incapable of conversion. The sentiment victims mistake for love, compassion, devotion, and affection, is nothing more than their brain addicted to the cycle of abuse: your central nervous system and pituitary gland producing endogenous opioids to anesthetize you when you experience severe emotional or physical trauma, followed by the highs of dopamine when the relationship is functioning seemingly exceptionally. Due to this vicious cycle of addiction, leaving an abuser is exceedingly difficult, as is not returning to the relationship.
Becoming aware of traumatic bonding can be extremely beneficial for victims, because once they have gained the knowledge of what their brains and bodies are experiencing, they can be self-aware and break the addiction. Another beneficial aspect of becoming familiar with these chemical releases is helping victims recognize that when they lost the ability to care or feel the effects of their abuser’s actions, they were not broken or heartless or mentally disturbed; they were experiencing the numbing effects of endogenous opioids. Once the cycle is broken, their bodies will stop the release, and they will begin to feel again. Often times they experience immense grief and rage at once; but hurting is required for healing. The anger they suffer is a propitious tool that should be grasped. It is in fact what will drive them to fight for themselves and take their lives back. Spreading awareness of traumatic bonding could save lives. Knowledge is power.