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Alcohol and Mental Health

Stages of Trauma Bonding

Published:
July 10, 2023
·
8 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 10, 2023
·
8 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 10, 2023
·
8 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 10, 2023
·
8 min read
Reframe App LogoReframe App Logo
Reframe Content Team
July 10, 2023
·
8 min read

You're on a road trip with your friends. Everyone's singing along to the same cheesy pop song on the radio, trail mix is being passed around, and there's a general sense of camaraderie and shared adventure. Every bump in the road or unexpected detour adds to the fun. This is what positive bonding looks like: creating connections through shared experiences and emotions.

Trauma bonding is more like getting stuck in a never-ending traffic jam with a hijacker who stole your car and won’t let you out. Like it or not, you’re stuck together on this crazy ride — and somehow, the experience brings you and your hijacker closer together, to the point that you decide to pull off at the next exit and grab a coffee together. The “relationship” is unhealthy, to say the least.

The Traffic Jam of Emotions

Think of trauma bonding as being stuck in a perpetual trap of emotional turmoil. It’s a strong emotional attachment between an abused person and their abuser, characterized by a continuous cycle of mistreatment and reconciliation.

Why would someone stay in the car? The answer lies in the complex interplay of fear, dependence, and intermittent kindness from the abuser, which slowly gets the abused person attached. There’s often a common goal that creates the illusion of closeness. There’s something at stake for both of you — and while it might not be the same thing, you are tangled up in the same mess.

The Unfolding Stages of Trauma Bonding

Trauma bonding isn't a one-step process. It unfolds over time through several stages:

  • The “Good Times” stage. Initially, the relationship might seem ideal. There is affection, appreciation, and you feel valued.
  • The “Something's Off” stage. Slowly, hurtful incidents occur. They can be small, easily excusable at first, but increase in frequency and intensity over time.
  • The “Walking on Eggshells” stage. As the abuse continues, you start feeling anxious, constantly worrying about their reactions and mood swings.
  • The “Justification” stage. To cope with the cognitive dissonance of experiencing abuse from a loved one, you may start rationalizing their behavior or blaming yourself.
  • The “Rollercoaster” stage. The relationship becomes a cycle of abuse followed by periods of kindness, which reinforces the bond.
  • The “Isolation” stage. The person might manipulate you to sever ties with others, making you more dependent on them.
  • The “Acceptance” stage. This is the point where the bond is so strong that the victim might fully accept the abusive behavior as a norm.

Trauma Bonding and Alcohol

Alcohol relates to trauma bonding in a couple of different ways. When it becomes part of the picture, alcohol tends to make unhealthy attachments even worse. People might use alcohol to cope with the heavy emotions of trauma. However, it’s just a band-aid — there’s no way alcohol can repair the relationship. In fact, instead of healing the wound, it makes it worse. Drinking might seem like a quick escape, a tiny vacation from the harsh reality. This can actually tighten the grip of the trauma bond.

And here's the tricky part: alcohol can cloud our judgment. This makes it harder for people to realize they're stuck in a trauma bond, and it becomes even tougher to break free.

The relationship with alcohol itself can become a bit like a trauma bond as well. Think about it — when we rely on alcohol to relax, socialize, or get a break from our own mind, we are forming an attachment to it. Yet, time and again it falls short of our expectations. The temporary relief makes way for longer hangovers, our relationships suffer, and we wake up the next day with more anxious thoughts than before. Yet we keep coming back, pulled by the invisible but powerful strings of the unhealthy attachment we have innocently programmed into our brain.

Break Free From Trauma Bonding

Now that we've learned the stages, let's look at specific steps you can take to break free from trauma bonding.

  • Knowledge is power. Understand what trauma bonding is, its stages, and effects. By recognizing it, you can start your journey towards healing.
  • Establish boundaries. Learn to set emotional and physical boundaries to protect your wellbeing.
  • Lean on your support network. Friends, family, or support groups can provide emotional assistance and validation.
  • Mindfulness and self-care. Regular self-care activities — such as exercise, meditation, or journaling — can help you stay grounded and manage stress.
  • Education and skills. Learn about healthy relationships, communication, and conflict resolution skills to set a positive pattern for future relationships.
  • Patience with the process. Healing from trauma bonding takes time, so be gentle and patient with yourself during this process.

And, if you're trying to untangle yourself from a trauma bond — especially one in which alcohol has played a part — don't hesitate to ask for help. There's no shame in reaching out to professionals or joining support groups. You don't have to deal with this alone!

You're on a road trip with your friends. Everyone's singing along to the same cheesy pop song on the radio, trail mix is being passed around, and there's a general sense of camaraderie and shared adventure. Every bump in the road or unexpected detour adds to the fun. This is what positive bonding looks like: creating connections through shared experiences and emotions.

Trauma bonding is more like getting stuck in a never-ending traffic jam with a hijacker who stole your car and won’t let you out. Like it or not, you’re stuck together on this crazy ride — and somehow, the experience brings you and your hijacker closer together, to the point that you decide to pull off at the next exit and grab a coffee together. The “relationship” is unhealthy, to say the least.

The Traffic Jam of Emotions

Think of trauma bonding as being stuck in a perpetual trap of emotional turmoil. It’s a strong emotional attachment between an abused person and their abuser, characterized by a continuous cycle of mistreatment and reconciliation.

Why would someone stay in the car? The answer lies in the complex interplay of fear, dependence, and intermittent kindness from the abuser, which slowly gets the abused person attached. There’s often a common goal that creates the illusion of closeness. There’s something at stake for both of you — and while it might not be the same thing, you are tangled up in the same mess.

The Unfolding Stages of Trauma Bonding

Trauma bonding isn't a one-step process. It unfolds over time through several stages:

  • The “Good Times” stage. Initially, the relationship might seem ideal. There is affection, appreciation, and you feel valued.
  • The “Something's Off” stage. Slowly, hurtful incidents occur. They can be small, easily excusable at first, but increase in frequency and intensity over time.
  • The “Walking on Eggshells” stage. As the abuse continues, you start feeling anxious, constantly worrying about their reactions and mood swings.
  • The “Justification” stage. To cope with the cognitive dissonance of experiencing abuse from a loved one, you may start rationalizing their behavior or blaming yourself.
  • The “Rollercoaster” stage. The relationship becomes a cycle of abuse followed by periods of kindness, which reinforces the bond.
  • The “Isolation” stage. The person might manipulate you to sever ties with others, making you more dependent on them.
  • The “Acceptance” stage. This is the point where the bond is so strong that the victim might fully accept the abusive behavior as a norm.

Trauma Bonding and Alcohol

Alcohol relates to trauma bonding in a couple of different ways. When it becomes part of the picture, alcohol tends to make unhealthy attachments even worse. People might use alcohol to cope with the heavy emotions of trauma. However, it’s just a band-aid — there’s no way alcohol can repair the relationship. In fact, instead of healing the wound, it makes it worse. Drinking might seem like a quick escape, a tiny vacation from the harsh reality. This can actually tighten the grip of the trauma bond.

And here's the tricky part: alcohol can cloud our judgment. This makes it harder for people to realize they're stuck in a trauma bond, and it becomes even tougher to break free.

The relationship with alcohol itself can become a bit like a trauma bond as well. Think about it — when we rely on alcohol to relax, socialize, or get a break from our own mind, we are forming an attachment to it. Yet, time and again it falls short of our expectations. The temporary relief makes way for longer hangovers, our relationships suffer, and we wake up the next day with more anxious thoughts than before. Yet we keep coming back, pulled by the invisible but powerful strings of the unhealthy attachment we have innocently programmed into our brain.

Break Free From Trauma Bonding

Now that we've learned the stages, let's look at specific steps you can take to break free from trauma bonding.

  • Knowledge is power. Understand what trauma bonding is, its stages, and effects. By recognizing it, you can start your journey towards healing.
  • Establish boundaries. Learn to set emotional and physical boundaries to protect your wellbeing.
  • Lean on your support network. Friends, family, or support groups can provide emotional assistance and validation.
  • Mindfulness and self-care. Regular self-care activities — such as exercise, meditation, or journaling — can help you stay grounded and manage stress.
  • Education and skills. Learn about healthy relationships, communication, and conflict resolution skills to set a positive pattern for future relationships.
  • Patience with the process. Healing from trauma bonding takes time, so be gentle and patient with yourself during this process.

And, if you're trying to untangle yourself from a trauma bond — especially one in which alcohol has played a part — don't hesitate to ask for help. There's no shame in reaching out to professionals or joining support groups. You don't have to deal with this alone!

Start Your Journey With Reframe!

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