We all have known of and heard about the facade of toxic relationships and in our understanding of it all have chided such pursuit of its unhealthy aberrations from what should essentially govern human bonds for a happy and fulfilling life. But even in the collective disapproval and even an individual’s own knowledge as to why we do not need such toxicity in life, such relationships still do persist in some form or the other. And while it is normally envisioned that it mostly would be a romantic relationship that can get toxic, the reality is pretty much the norm across other aspects of relationships that we as humans harbour and cherish.
Defining a toxic relationship isn’t tough, though it can tend to be shrouded in ambiguity. But while such considerations as to what constitutes toxicity can be deciphered in numerous emotional and even physical manifestations, it is necessary to understand where the desire to continue with such unhealthy afflictions stems from. The factors can be varied and the manifestations different but what remains at the core of choosing to still be in a toxic relationship relates to psychology.
What forms the psychological basis that has ensured the continuation and sustenance of potential toxic relationships even among self aware and self loving individuals of the modern times is a certain experience that is called trauma bonding. In perception, trauma bonding might come across as something harmless since it might assume an interpretation that which relates to a certain bonding with someone over the shared experience of a trauma. Or a possible fondness for someone who might have helped us in overcoming our grief, by simply being there for us or by motivating and solacing us in our moments of utter despair. But in reality, trauma bonding is the exact opposite of what it seems to be and comes about in measures so appalling that can manifest as one of the unhealthiest coping mechanisms there ever could be.
Trauma bonding is in fact the bonding you come to develop with someone who has been likely abusing you for so long a period of time now that you cannot seem to do without it anymore. That itself is a scary idea- the repercussions of abuse coupled with a ‘desire’ for it so strong that it becomes difficult to pull yourself away from it even when you know how harmful it is to your person. But much like other human behaviors, trauma bonding also is a tendency that grows stronger as a habit with time and in such intense connections that strive to drain the life out of you.
What makes trauma bonding however such a convenient force of manipulating one to stay even in the most toxic of relationships is the coercing pattern of it. Whether or not this recurring habit is one borne out of conscious attempts at controlling, it still is marked by a level of viciousness that which makes it an almost impenetrable circle- one from where there seldom is an escape. Because the encompassing ‘values’ that contribute to traumatic bonds rest on radically different ends of the spectrum, that which catches you unaware at first and then hinges on its dilemmatic predictability to eat away into your logic and reason, perhaps endowing even a sense of guilt on the abused, it is easy to get away as the abuser. It mainly is the abused who have to face long standing consequences of this toxic association as it scars them for life, and in many instances not even lending them a feasible way out of this loop of helplessness.
Returning to the twin manifestations however that dictate the cathartic sounding but ruthless bonding arising out of something as debilitating as some trauma, it is the intermittent notion of punishment followed by reward that facilitate the abuser in deriving exactly what they want from this riling arrangement of emotional play. Specifically in relationships that as much to do with love, romantic or otherwise, the toxic element of trauma bonding exercises its malicious intent even vigorously, perhaps in our mind and heart alluding the old adage of everything being fair in love and war. While that itself is something that might not come into play assertively, it’s always our subconscious harbouring a certain laxity when it comes to love, tending to look- or rather overlook, even abuses and torture as part of an expression of love.
Trauma bonding however is different not just in the way it asserts its dominion with toxic relationships. Even in the mere nature and feel of it, this particular type of bonding rests in an intensity that can be rather overwhelming. More often than not, the emotions experienced with someone you are traumatically dependent on is not like the gentle, content waves of true love. It rather is more exciting, albeit even when painful, which perhaps is another factor that makes it all the more difficult to cut away from its expanse. It feels rather like some addiction that you know is bad for you. And yet there is no other way you would rather have it, or perhaps more appropriately, ‘could’ have it. Which explains why escaping a toxic relationship and the trauma bonding associated with it can be such a draining, life wrecking experience. But it still is not also the nature of the feelings that arouse you in such a traumatic bond that is your sole undoing.
Even in its stemming desire from habit therefore, it is not uncommon to witness such instances of trauma bonding that stems also from an ingrained awareness of it. Specifically associated with traumatic childhood experiences where a parent or caregiver might have had an on- off relationship with a child, for whatever reason, some people grow up to consider trauma also as an expression of love which makes them all the more fallible for such souls forever on the lookout for their next victim. And even more alarmingly, this understanding rooted in experience also indeed makes the forever abused more attracting and heralding of more abuse, in their moulded nature and even in their own perception of it. And the convenient pattern of it does make trauma bonding a rather safe space for most people to fall trapped in. Because the abuse and henceforth the trauma of it is sought to be compensated by some show of kindness, some showering of love or parallely even a show of regret, in most cases the abused fails to make out the innate governance of it.
In such dual governances of forces that are the exact opposite of each other and yet somehow devised in means so seemingly complementary, the psychological workings of trauma bonding start manifesting itself physiologically as well. Alternating between high levels of stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, paired with dopamine, the body begins to stabilise itself in accordance with the continued behavior to such extents that after a point of time it becomes the normal physical condition of existence for the abused person. Not surprisingly therefore, survivers of toxic relationships or even those persisting in it suffer tremendous loss to their health. While the effects on emotional health and stability are obvious and most oft cited, the abused also comes to live with a host of physical disorders as well ranging from hormonal changes, autoimmune issues and even digestive issues. Even memory and speech can get impaired, as stress levels and fatigue increase and energy and concentration decrease. Needless to say therefore, trauma bonding and associated toxic relationships or abusive ones hinder personal growth and development to such extents that you end up forever doomed in the messy extant of such negativity.
While toxic relationships can come across in many types, even in such expanses of love that surmises the boundless emotions involved in a parent- child alliance, so too traumatic bonding can come across its own range of conflicting manifestations. And one particularly widespread related doctrine of this abusivity is popular as the Stockholm Syndrome. The latter however happens to be a corollary to the abusing notions of love, going even somewhat divergent of the purview of love, validating therefore its impact as a bond purely developed out of trauma. Stockholm syndrome is basically defined as a condition in which hostages develop an emotional bond with their captors during captivity. In essence therefore, it stems not out of love, not even a promise of it nor an inconsistent display of affection. The trauma of the abuse indeed is there, pertaining to what would be expectant of someone who has been kidnapped and subjected to torture. Love however evades the equation here even when Stockholm Syndrome is very often cited as a common case of traumatic bonding. It instead is the small acts of allowance, perceived as kindness, that which makes persons afflicted with this syndrome develop a soft corner for their abusers. As such, the underlying premise of trauma bonding manifests also its presence in this case, albeit in a manner considerably different and distinctive than what dictates the emotional bond in relationships.
Trauma bonding today may be more rampant that what it has been over the years. This is because despite our increased awareness and acknowledgement of its many abuses and even the ability to speak out against the same, we sometimes fail to decide if we really are in a toxic relationship. In this era of instant validation where a few sweet words can come across as love, getting trapped in a time pass relationship is pretty easy. The baits are too lucrative to scan unsurely for most of us, always on the lookout for that special someone, that spark, that connection that will not let us remain the lone single soul in distress in our circle. After all, it’s a matter of our image- how can we let others think that we are not living our lives as best as they are doing? In our pursuit therefore for perfection, we sadly fall for the wrong person and most terribly for some lurking predator. Not to say that well considered relationships cannot be a ground for breeding of trauma bonding. But in letting ourselves room for analysis and contemplation, such relationships can be somewhat dissected to reveal what they truly are. Trauma bonding mostly begets all the hinging on it because we are too skeptical to disown the love that finally made its way to us. Letting go is never easy and it becomes all the more difficult when we are blinded by what we tend to view as love in the disguise of some ‘justified’ abuse. Perhaps what is needed is more and more of self love- not just in pampering our body but also letting our gut feeling a chance for once. For it only is the innermost precincts of the soul can we harbour a love of the self so deep that makes us go even the most cathartic of bonds, if we aren’t sure enough about it.