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Here’s Why You Might Feel Trapped In An Abusive Relationship

The brutal murder of Shraddha Walker shook the country. With horrific and gruesome details that followed in the aftermath and the testimony by Shraddha’s friends all point to a very potent question-if she was being physically and mentally abused and she was desperately looking for a way out then what prompted her to stay with Aaftab Poonawaala. While there are several factors that determine the dynamics between the abuser and the abused, one element that is usually ignored is marked by the term trauma-bond.

In the simplest of terms, trauma-bond emanates from a cyclical pattern of abuse that is balanced by rewards and reinforcement perpetuated by the abuser to keep the victim hooked to them. It’s a vicious cycle because it leaves the victim befuddled, overwhelmed and

discombobulated to the extent of being irrationally dependent on their abuser. According to Vismay Saran, a relationship expert, the formation of a traumatic bond can be a means for the abuser to feel powerful and in control, “Trauma bonds in the purview of relationships is quite a common thing than we ought to believe it. Except for a few rare cases, a trauma bond is a deliberate attempt by the abuser to have absolute control over their partner. They derive a sadistic pleasure out of their partner’s misery and they revel in the confidence that the abuse won’t leave them,” he says.

While trauma bonds might take weeks or months to develop, it follows the same pattern once it’s established. Shedding light on the process, Vismay Saran explains, “There are always signs. It all starts with your abuser berating you during a fight or argument and then later apologizing with some grand gesture through gifts or sugar-coated words. Over a period of time, this pattern is normalised by the abuser. On the other hand, the victim’s self-esteem and self-confidence gets severely affected. It automatically puts the abuser on a pedestal who is not confronted with his actions and his twisted beliefs are reinforced by their partner’s submission.”

Vismay also adds that the trauma bond goes hand-in-hand with consistent gaslighting by the abuser. He shares, “The abuser is manipulative. Hence they isolate you from everyone and create an illusion that the abused can’t reach out or depend on anyone except the abuser. That’s why we usually see in the cases of domestic violence that the abused covers up for their abusers. In fact, many victims also internalize the thought that if they are being abused, it’s their fault or relying on the words of their abuser over and over again that they’ll change.”

A 23-year old girl who wishes to stay anonymous recalled her experience being in a relationship with someone who mentally-abused her for over a period of two years, “I lost the sense of ‘self’. I internalized an image of myself as perceived by my abuser. And yet I couldn’t leave him because he promised me that he’ll mend his ways. And this happened over and over again. I don’t even know why I let it happen but I felt vulnerable and helpless. And even when I finally ended things with him, I found myself drifting back to him for comfort and validation. Even my friends got fed up seeing me stuck in that cycle.”

Another individual, a 27-year old male while narrating his ordeal explained that he felt compelled to stay with his abuser because he had no one to fall back upon. He stated, “I knew I was trauma-bonded with my abuser. But I loved her to death. Her way of keeping me hooked to her was by peppering me with sporadic gestures of affection and love. She knew I had absolutely no one except her and she used that as a leverage to justify her abusive tendencies towards me. I am no longer in touch with her but I still struggle with finding pieces of myself.”

Contrary to popular belief that If someone is being rampantly abused, it should be easier for them to end that relationship, but in reality, a lot of things act as a deterrent. Dr Shoma Sen, a senior psychologist reflected upon the complexities of such relationships. She says, “Your body’s response to abuse releases the two major stress hormones Adrenaline and Cortisol. And your body subconsciously defends itself by reminding you of the good parts from that relationship while fully or partially ignoring the horrific parts. And with every repetition of the vicious cycle, you become more submissive and helpless.”

She further elaborates, “That’s how your abuser makes you addicted to them. For every abusive advances from their end, they bank on your dopamine and oxytocin reserves by love bombing you and making you feel cherished. When in fact, they are only making it difficult for you to even harbour the thought of leaving them. “

Once formed, a trauma-bond is a convoluted quagmire to get out of but it is not impossible. Several things like maintaining a journal of all the instances where your abuser violated your boundaries can assist you in recognising the recurring pattern in a timely manner and taking appropriate steps for your well-being. Curating an empathetic support system for yourself can constrain the abuser from carrying out their devious tricks. As seen often from the cases of trauma-bond, isolation only leads to being attached to one’s abuser even more. Establishing a strong foundation of self-love also hampers an abuser’s chance to inflict harm upon your self-esteem and self-confidence. And most importantly, after recognising that you are trauma-bonded with your abuser, seeking professional help can be the best option as it would present you with a different perspective from an experienced professional.

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