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Miami Bankruptcy & Criminal Attorney / Blog / Domestic Violence / Trauma Bonding: Why Some Victims Stay In Abusive Relationships

Trauma Bonding: Why Some Victims Stay In Abusive Relationships


Why stay in an abusive relationship?  The question has been asked by families and friends of abuse victims over the decades.  It seemingly makes no sense for anyone to opt to continue giving abusive individuals more and more opportunities for cruel and/or violent acts.  What gives?

Trauma Bonding

It may seem hard to believe, but in many cases, people don’t even realize that they are in an abusive relationship. Experts claim this might be due to what’s called “trauma bonding,” an actual addiction to the hormonal ups and downs of living with an abuser.  It’s almost like a poison that is slowly accumulated in one’s system.  The psychological damage occurs over time, and victims gradually just acclimate to it. It’s pretty easy for abusers to pull off, because they are able to switch from dropping insults and deprecating remarks to being the “perfect partner” in no time.  As a victim of such abuse, it’s easy to believe that the nasty persona is an aberration; the real person is the one who emerges the rest of the time, showering love & affection. That’s what victims want to believe, anyway. With trauma bonding taking over, a number of observable things start to occur:

  • The abuser’s personality shifts from one extreme to another;
  • Victims excuse the cruel behavior;
  • Victims become increasingly isolated from friends and family;
  • Victims accept the blame for the behaviors they endure.
  • Victims consider leaving, only to experience intermittent loving behavior from abusers that keeps them in the relationship;
  • Physiologically, the victim’s body becomes accustomed to high levels of the stress hormone cortisol;
  • Dopamine highs occur when the abuser’s affection replaces the abusive behavior.

Ultimately, victims of this rollercoaster of emotions find themselves experiencing physical symptoms associated with stress, ranging from unexplained acne to migraine headaches, autoimmune disorders, and other inexplicable pain.  Abusers become experts at controlling their victims with gaslighting and by showering their victims with love and affection intermittently, while their victims feel increasingly desperate to please their paramour. Ultimately, psychological abuse often becomes physical. But leaving isn’t necessarily any easier at that point. Fear, embarrassment, love, and the actual physical addiction to cortisol and dopamine, may make leaving very difficult.  Individual factors and circumstances such as finances, children, and lack of resources may also contribute to the reluctance to leave.

Is it Possible to Get Out?

Many survivors have escaped the ties of an abusive relationship. Sometimes it’s after a particularly harmful encounter; other times friends and family provide the space needed to make the escape. While every situation is different, the bottom line is the same: everyone deserves to be treated with honesty, dignity, and respect. If you or someone you know is having a tough time getting out of an abusive relationship, it can be extremely frustrating. Know that it can be done.  At The Law Office of Julia Kefalinos, our Miami domestic violence attorneys can provide access to the resources and legal tools to make it happen.  Schedule a confidential consultation in our office today.



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