THIS is your brain on trauma bonding

Written by Angela Atkinson

Trauma Bonding and the Brain: Science of the Trauma Bond – What’s the science behind trauma bonding with a narcissist

Read more about trauma bonding here. 

How does it work and why does it happen?

In this video, I’ll break down the science of how trauma bonding works and what it means to you as a survivor of a relationship with a narcissist. Share this video to help me spread awareness of trauma bonding and CPTSD healing.

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If you find yourself missing your narcissist or feeling like you can’t leave because you can’t imagine your life without this person, even though logically
you know better, this video is for you. Today we’re gonna talk about trauma bonding and why it’s so painful.
So let’s get started. (Closed captioning provided by Athena Moberg and

If you find yourself missing your narcissist or feeling like you can’t leave because you can’t imagine your life without this person, even though logically
you know better, this video is for you. Today we’re gonna talk about trauma bonding and why it’s so painful.

So let’s get started. (Closed captioning provided by Athena Moberg and

My name is Angie Atkinson and on this channel, I offer free, daily video coaching to help you discover, understand and overcome narcissistic abuse and toxic relationships. I like to call it toxic relationship rehab.

So if that sounds good to you, hit that subscribe button and let’s get going. Just to begin with, we’re gonna start by just quickly defining Trauma Bonding so that anyone who’s new around here can kind of know what we’re talking about, take a look.

It is basically what happens as a result of ongoing cycles of abuse, thanks to a narcissist in this case, during the abuse cycle, you go through intermittent, different kinds of reinforcement.

So you either get a reward when you do with the narcissist once or you get a punishment when you don’t, just like a dog. What happens is that this cycle of reward and punishment creates extremely powerful, emotional bonds between the two of you and that makes it difficult for you to even think about change.

Where did this term come from?. Patrick Carnes who is a psychologist developed the term originally to point to sexual addiction. It is specifically according to him, I’m going to quote him right now. “The misuse of fear, excitement, sexual feelings, and sexual physiology to entangle another person” A simpler definition might be “a strong, emotional attachment between an abused person and the abuser, formed as a result of the cycle of violence.”

Alright now that that’s out of the way, let’s just jump right into this video and we’re going to talk about why trauma bonding is so very painful.

Take a look. Trauma bonds happen in any toxic relationship. They tend to be kind of strengthened by inconsistent, positive reinforcement or intermittent reinforcement. So what that means is that, mostly things were difficult, mostly things weren’t great, but every now and then something awesome would happen or the narcissist would do something that would make you feel kind of good, kind of warm and fuzzy inside and in an effort to obtain that again, you would stay around in the relationship. In the beginning

it probably happened more often and not and as time went on the positive reinforcement most likely became further spaced out, so less of it per negative incident.

Even though the relationships started off in a love bombing phase, where everything was awesome, we were being idealized before we knew it.

We were being quickly devalued, quickly discarded or falling into that cycle of idealized, devalue, of discarded. Idealized, devalue, discard, this led to our
finding ourselves under the control of the narcissists in our lives and before we knew it we couldn’t move, we couldn’t do anything and we found ourselves stuck. The fact is that being with a narcissist or any type of toxic person can literally destroy your life, but what is it that causes a narcissist to do these things to us?

We’ve talked about that in a lot of different videos. The reason is that because they don’t have empathy, so they don’t really care how they affect us and they’re very self-focused. So they only act in ways that help them get what they want, so sometimes they’re nice and they’re kind to you because it helps them get what they want, other times they’re total jerks to you, it’s because it helps them get what they want or because at that moment you are not the one who can help them get what they want, you see. They use their supplies, the people in their lives, closest to them, as narcissistic supply. They use them as emotional dumpsters and they just genuinely don’t care how those people feel, but regardless of the reason that they do it, the outcome of that type of abuse, that type of treatment, it’s the same for everybody up to a point. You suffer, the worst part is because of the addiction factor and all this other stuff, we find ourselves afraid to walk away or unwilling to walk away from these abusers. Why does that happen?.

Here’s the thing, love, in general, affects the same part of the brain as any other kind of drug, no joke and when we’re talking about a toxic relationship, we almost become stuck directly to that partner by our own brains.

This is where our brain betrays us in keeping us safe and healthy.

So if you haven’t been in one of these relationships, I know what you’re thinking, you’re like whatever, they should just walk away. It’s their own fault.

I used to think things like that too until I actually ended up in a relationship like that.

Now I understand how difficult it can be and especially when you’ve got shared finances, children, legal stuff together, like that, but even in a relationship where it’s just a dating situation, you still might feel unable to walk away.

Why is that? I mean we shouldn’t have to stay with someone who scares us or someone who intimidates us or someone who controls us, right?. I mean the fact is that the best possible answer is to walk away and go no contact, we all know that right?. Yeah, it’s logical, but is it feasible? Well, yeah, I do believe it’s feasible. I do believe it can be done.

I’ve seen it be done often, but here’s what you have to understand, the way that your brain naturally functions can literally stop you from walking away from a narcissist. What am I talking about?.

Well, let’s talk about why that is. The addiction to your abuser happens for a number of reasons, but when we’re talking about specifically our neural chemistry, the way our brains work, we need to think about things like these sorts of ingredients that contribute to our addiction.

So for one, we have oxytocin, which contributes to our bond with this person.

Then we have the endogenous opioids which deal with pleasure, pain, withdrawal, dependence on the narcissist. Then there’s the corticotropin-releasing it factor, which is due to stress and also contributes to withdrawal. Then we have dopamine, which we’ve talked about a lot of times.

It’s part of the whole craving thing, that’s the wanting the person, the seeking, the needing the person part of it, but what you have to understand is when our brain chemistry is dysregulated by abuse,

it’s more difficult than you can imagine to actually make logical choices or to manage our emotions in regard to this person.

So there’s a difference between the way that a healthy relationship and a toxic relationship work in our heads in your brain. While the neurobiological changes in our brains are similar to those of people who go through a healthier relationship and break up and when we fall in love with someone new we also have that whole reward system in our brains, thanks to neural chemistry,

thanks to the way the chemicals move around in there and that causes us to have the same kind of attachment to anyone we love as any normal person would have, but when you go through this type of abuse the person that you’re attached to, the person that you love is unsafe. It’s not a healthy relationship. It’s not a healthy attachment, tt’s not stable. Because of the fact that what happens during a toxic relationship being so different than what happens in a healthy relationship,

it causes a big difference in the way that we function as individuals in the relationship and the way that our brains work in that relationship. So, for example, our brains become hyper-vigilant, extremely responsive. This is part of the CPTSD thing.

We worry, we stress, we get overwhelmed by stuff, we release chemicals that are a direct reaction to our toxic partner’s behavior and way of being. This is a direct response to what is happening around us, in our environment, to the abuse we are experiencing. The messed up part here is that when we pull away and we try to leave, guess what happens, just like in a normal relationship, that oxytocin kicks in. What does that mean?. It means that our bonding chemicals are kicking in, we’re missing the bonding with that person.

Of course, the same thing happens for all the other chemicals we talked about. The thing is that normal partners, healthy partners, they don’t create the same hyper-vigilance or the same state of emotional charge that a toxic partner does. As they say, context is everything, right?.

So this makes us have to think about cognitive dissonance and the trauma bond and how those two things go together.

Both cognitive dissonance and the trauma bond tend to override the type of logic and reasoning that could actually help us to get free from this person.

Again these things happen automatically and they’re a direct result of our environment and our abuse, the so-called neurochemical tornado that happens inside of us, thanks to our abusive partner.

The brain chemicals that we talked about actually are directly causing the trauma bond and when we have been abused by a partner, these chemicals as you may know become very dysregulated as we discussed. This causes essentially addiction, where you have that intense craving for that person.

Where you, in your mind, you kind of forget about the abuse and you only think about the positive things, so you kind of raise them up on some sort of pedestal in your head and then what do you do?.

Well, you start hyper-focusing on how can I make this better?. How can I fix it?.

What can I do to get back in there?. You want to resolve the conflict, that’s normal for you, but because you are dysregulated with your brain chemistry, thanks to the abuse, it’s very difficult for you to find your place there again. You start deceiving yourself, you go back into that cognitive dissonance and you start making excuses for the abuser and maybe even trying to change yourself to make their life better.

You make excuses for this person to your family and your friends and even yourself.

You try to minimize it or explain it away and you believe it for a moment that maybe they really won’t do that again and when they do it again, you make more excuses. Why do we do this?. The fact is that our brains work against us here. We become involved in relationships that cause us serious harm because our brain chemistry sort of creates that false sense of connection, thanks to the dysregulation that happens because of the abuse.

I want you to remember that trauma bonding is essentially being addicted to someone who has destroyed you or who is actively destroying you, so that is not good, it’s not healthy.

Some people say it’s like a heroin addiction. So since the relationship seems so promising at the beginning and as you stick through it, you know what promises all these amazing things, but apparently heroin also promises an amazing high.

The thing is while both of those kind of give a feeling of utopia, at least for a brief period of time, they also sort of suck your soul out in the process. You first start using drugs or drinking alcohol, you get that elated feeling and feel all, where has this been all my life?.

The same kind of thing happens in a relationship and at the beginning, whether it’s healthy or not, you will find yourself feeling just like that, but then what happens is that as the thrill of the newness wears off, you start to think you need the other person just to breathe, just to survive. It becomes a psychological dependence we can literally become addicted to a person just like we can become addicted to food, alcohol or drugs. What it all boils down to is that it’s sort of a way of letting go of our personal responsibility for our own feelings. It’s almost a way that we kind of abandon ourselves a little bit as individuals.

Alright now this brings me to the question of the day and the question of the day is; Have you experienced trauma bonding and how are you managing it or are you?.

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