The love bombing Stage
Imagine this. You meet a charming man with whom you seem to have an instant connection. This man constantly flatters you, praises you, and makes you feel like you are on top of the world. He gives you gifts, he treats you to fancy meals, and he seems so attentive to all of your needs. You quickly open up to him, sharing with him your deepest desires and dreams. Perhaps you even feel like you are sharing with him secrets about your life that you have not shared with anyone else. You appreciate how he listens and how he seems to reciprocate with sharing his own deepest hopes and emotions. Pretty soon you feel like no else could understand or sympathize with you like he does. You have found your match made in heaven.
In addition to love bombing you with his words and gifts, he also flatters you by taking a strong interest in every aspect of your life. Perhaps photography is one of your hobbies and one day he shows up at your house showing off a very expensive camera that you never knew he owned. He tells you that he has always loved photography too and can’t wait to start learning with you. Or maybe you are a devout Methodist and suddenly you are hearing about his great grandma who was also a Methodist and how he always knew he would one day become a Methodist himself. It seems your interests and your values align perfectly. Again, you cannot believe how lucky you are to have met someone who shares so many of your interests!
The trust and dependency stage
Yet you have some doubts about him. Maybe some of what he has shared with you gives you pause about who he is, maybe you discover he comes from a troubled background, or maybe you simply notice some oddities about him, some behaviors or words that just don’t quite add up. At this stage, you still possess enough of a clear head to be questioning some aspects of your relationship. But if you happen to question him to his face, even gently, he makes you feel guilty for doubting him. You’re overthinking, he says. Look at what we have. Look at everything I have done for you. You are never going to find anyone else like me. You are focusing on the negatives when you should be focusing on the positives.
Ok, you tell yourself. Maybe I am overthinking. I’ve never met someone who treats me so well. I can trust him!
The relationship is intense and you feel like it is moving fast. Pretty soon he is asking you if it is okay for him to call you his girlfriend. Let’s do this thing! he says. We know we are right for each other. Why wait?
Perhaps you hesitate one last time. You still feel like there are some unanswered questions. This just doesn’t feel like other relationships you’ve had in the past. Maybe you have a couple of friends, one or two at most, who are telling you to be careful. They tell you that this person doesn’t give them good vibes. There’s just something not right. But you’ve connected with this man on a much deeper level than you ever have with anyone else. You’ve already shared so much with him. He knows you inside and out. Ok, you tell yourself. Maybe this is what love really feels like! My friends don’t know him like I do. Their “bad vibes” are a result of personality differences. Once they get to know him like I do, they’ll love him too!
You are now official. You introduce him as your boyfriend to your friends and family. He charms them too. He makes them feel like they have known him all their lives. He makes them laugh. Almost everyone who meets him loves him. In those first few days of being official, you can’t believe how lucky you are. This is a man that is going to take you places. With him by your side, you are going to be happier than you have ever been in your whole life.
The criticism stage
Within days, however, you begin to feel a shift in your relationship. While he is making fast friends with everyone around you, the first hints of criticism begin to creep into the relationship. I noticed you were engaging in a rather long text discussion the other day, he complains. Was it with another guy? Is this something I should know about? I’m your boyfriend now. You really should include me in any texts with other guys. Or maybe he starts criticizing you for not being available for him whenever he needs you. We’re together now, he says, and we should be available for each other. Even if it means one of us needs to take time off work. This criticism usually starts very slowly, so slowly in fact that you may just chalk it up to what all couples experience in the early stages of a relationship. The trauma bond is beginning to form.
But the criticism builds and it builds quickly. The love bombing dramatically decreases as your boyfriend begins to point fingers at you and blame you for seemingly insignificant or overly hyped up problems in your relationship. You start to feel a little disoriented. What happened to your Prince Charming? Why you can’t seem to please him no matter what you do? Why are you having these long drawn out arguments in which you are always the one who apologizes?
You do apologize over and over again because you want to make the relationship work. You trust him. And you are not perfect, you tell yourself. Not by a long shot. You do need to work on some issues and you should be thankful he is willing to tell you the truth about yourself. And so begins a vicious cycle of accepting blame for problems that may in reality not be your responsibility. But you apologize because it makes the arguments go away and at least temporarily, the love bombing resumes and the initial euphoria of the relationship returns.
The gaslighting stage
Despite your constant apologies and genuine efforts to maintain a healthy relationship with him, the problems don’t seem to go away. You feel like you have to walk on eggshells around him, that anything you do or say might be taken the wrong way and lead to another argument. When you attempt to confront him, you are told in no uncertain terms that you are the problem. You need help, you are told. Why can’t you be grateful for everything I have done for you? What is wrong with you? You are just an unhappy person. Pretty soon you are wondering if he is right. Maybe there is something wrong with you. After all, he is such a great guy, isn’t he?
The resignation and loss of self stages
By this time, however, if you have any perceptive friends or family who genuinely care about you , they are probably begging you to get out of this relationship. They have seen how you have changed for the worst. They have observed how there are certain aspects of the relationship you are trying to hide from them. Some of these people may feel so feel frustrated by your continued involvement with him that they stop talking to you. Yet you hang on to Prince Charming because you are questioning your own reality. Maybe I am the problem, you keep telling yourself. If I just keep working on myself and continue apologizing, all will be well. It feels so good to make up with him. You crave the love bombing. You need his validation. For now, you have resigned yourself to accepting him for who he is and trying to keep him happy.
Now you are addicted!
Deep down inside, you know this relationship is bad for you. You want to leave! But somehow you can’t imagine life without him. Sure, the constant criticism and gaslighting is tough, but when the conflict abates even for a short while, you feel like you are in heaven. Unfortunately, you have become addicted to the high points that follow the low points in your relationship. You can’t leave! Or so it seems. You are glued to this person in the form of a trauma bond.
According to VeryWellMind.com, a trauma bond is “the attachment an abused person feels for their abuser, specifically in a relationship with a cyclical pattern of abuse.” Often within a trauma bond lies a deep rooted addiction which is fueled by the release of the pleasurable hormones dopamine and oxytocin which are triggered when affection is shown by the abuser. The victim becomes addicted to the high points of the relationship, even when they may be very few and far between.
Does this situation sound similar to yours? Even if it is not exactly the same, remember that your experience will be unique to you. No one story will be the same. But if this story does sounds familiar, you may very well be in a relationship with a narcissist or with someone who is at least on the scale of Cluster B personality disorders. Don’t worry about diagnosing them right now. This is best left up to the professionals. What is more important is understanding that you have likely developed a trauma bond which is affecting your perception and your judgement. Recognizing and acknowledging that you have a trauma bond is a very important first step!
In my next blog post, I will discuss what happens when someone tries to leave this type of relationship and what they should expect as they begin severing the bond.
If you believe you are suffering from a trauma bond, please reach out to a professionally accredited counselor or a therapist. Do NOT try to handle this on your own. You can get the help you need but you MUST ask for help.
Also, sharing your experinece and reading about other people’s experiences can play an important role in the healing process. Click here to participate in our online forum. Thank you for stopping by!