The trauma bond is probably the most painful and biggest challenge to overcome when leaving an abuser. To make matters worse, it is possibly the least understood and most confusing aspect of an abusive relationship. It is a contradiction of sorts, making it a conundrum to fully comprehend. To briefly define, the trauma bond is the ‘hook’ that keeps you addicted to the abuser. To explain a little further, here is a quote from Shahida Arabi:
“A trauma bond is a bond that forms due to intense, emotional experiences, usually with a toxic person. Similar to Stockholm Syndrome, it holds us emotionally captive to a manipulator who keeps us “hostage” – whether that be through physical or emotional abuse. Trauma bonds are rampant in unhealthy, abusive or otherwise toxic relationships. They are usually strengthened by intermittent reinforcement, the periodic love-bombing, false promises or “small kindnesses” that a manipulator throws our way to keep us ensnared to the relationship. They can also be exacerbated by our own abandonment wounds.”
Breaking the trauma bond can be the difference between saving and losing your life when in a relationship with a violent abuser. Being aware of the trauma bond, gives the woman a fighting chance of breaking it and moving on.
While recently listening to the song ‘Just Give Me a Reason’ by P!NK, I noticed a dialogue taking place between two lovers. I suspected it was an example of a trauma bond in an abusive relationship. After watching the video, I was convinced that the song was written about a trauma bond with a charming, yet deceptive, manipulator. Let us look at the video and analyse the lyrics, while bearing in mind some of the common signs and symptoms of narcissistic abuse.
Superficial Charm, Idealization and Criminality
Right from the start
You were a thief, you stole my heart
And I your willing victim
The dialogue starts off with powerful accusatory words: thief, stole and victim. These words immediately alert us that this is not a love song about a failing relationship. It is not about two lovers growing apart. Instead something dark and serious is unfolding.
One of the character traits of abusers is superficial charm, which they use to fool people around them, and to attract women during the idealization phase at the beginning of the relationship.
Generally, abusers (especially psychopathic ones) break laws. The exploitation and abuse of their partners usually involves lawbreaking too, through violence and fraud.
She calls herself a willing victim, showing that she ignored the red flags and fell for his superficial charm during the idealization phase.
Idealization, Trust and the Illusion
I let you see the parts of me, that weren’t all that pretty
And with every touch you fixed them
During the idealization phase, the abuser works towards gaining your trust. He creates an illusion of trustworthiness where you feel comfortable to share your innermost thoughts and secrets.
Generally, the abuser uses this information against you, as ammunition, in the devaluation stage of the relationship. As you share your deepest feelings and fears with the abuser, he makes a mental record of your weaknesses. He later uses these weaknesses as an entry point to attack you. If you have childhood wounds, he will bring up these wounds to hurt you.
In the idealization phase, he acts supportive and understanding, which leads you to trust him, fall in love and bond with him. At this point, you may feel that you have found a caring and generous partner who loves you unconditionally. As the trust deepens, you share more and more of yourself with the abuser, not knowing what is to follow in the devaluation stage.
Lies and the Mask
Now you’ve been talking in your sleep oh oh
Things you never say to me oh oh
Tell me that you’ve had enough
Of our love, our love
This part of the dialogues alludes to secrets on the part of the abuser, where he does not disclose true emotions to her. She is beginning to question his feelings. She notices inconsistencies between his words and actions.
Later in the video, we will see that he is responding to her from inside the television. The screen is symbolic of a barrier separating them. He is closed off from her, representing his emotional unavailability. The TV personality is one dimensional, symbolizing the mask the abuser wears to hide his full identity.
Lies are usually uncovered in the devaluation stage of the relationship when the abuser’s mask begins to slip. During devaluation, you realize the abuser never loved you the way he professed to in the idealization stage. The nature of relationship changes in the devaluation stage.
Trauma Bond, the Mask and Past Wounds
Just give me a reason, just a little bit’s enough
Just a second we’re not broken just bent, and we can learn to love again
It’s in the stars, it’s been written in the scars on our hearts
We’re not broken just bent, and we can learn to love again
While addicted to the abuser, the victim looks for any and every excuse to stay with him. She can easily forgive a hundred wrongdoings for one simple kind word or gesture. This is the crux of the trauma bond. She is in love with him from the idealization phase, and she is traumatically bonded to him during the devaluation stage, as he uses intermittent reinforcement to hook her.
He will abuse her then switch to kindness, love and protection. He will return to abuse after a while and the vicious cycle continues. The trauma bond is further entrenched when abuse is mixed with sexual pleasure.
In the video, we see her struggling to stop the ruminations of the sexual experiences with him. When she recalls the idealization phase, she sees him differently – this represents the mask he once wore. He was a “different person” when she met him and now, he is “someone else.” She wants to bring back the man she met, but he is not there anymore. Her frustration is clearly shown in her exasperated expression. It feels like living with a whole new person.
She is looking for any reason to stay with the abuser. Though she realistically acknowledges her suffering, she looks for spiritual or abstract reasons to stay with him by looking to the stars to define them as soul mates.
The hope that the relationship will return to the idealization phase keeps her wanting him, causing her to remain stuck in the relationship. We will later see how his gaslighting adds to the hope that she has. She cannot accept that the “love” is over and only abuse and neglect remains; she shows signs of denial.
The scars on their hearts, refers to each of their past wounds and possibly the new wounds which they have inflicted on each other. We know that both abusers and victims usually come from backgrounds of childhood abuse or trauma. When both partners have unresolved inner child wounds, these relationships can become toxic and destructive. She is aware that the both of them are scarred; she feels that this common background allows them to relate to each other. She believes that their similar histories bring them closer together, yet it is actually tearing up their relationship.
I’m sorry I don’t understand
Where all of this is coming from
I thought that we were fine (Oh we had everything)
Your head is running wild again
My dear we still have everythin’
And it’s all in your mind (Yeah but this is happenin’)
When it comes to emotional and psychological abusers, their gaslighting can drive you crazy! These abusers mess with your head by trying to change and distort your memories of past conversations and events.
In the song, we are introduced to her partner as he starts gaslighting her. He starts by minimizing and dismissing her concerns, saying that he does not understand why she is bringing up these issues. He denies her reality by countering what she says. He makes her second guess herself by saying that she is imagining the problems. He goes on to insult her by saying that her head is running wild, as if she would make these things up for no reason. She slowly whispers back that this is the reality of it, despite his callous denial of it.
From Idealization to Devaluation
You’ve been havin’ real bad dreams oh oh
You used to lie so close to me oh oh
There’s nothing more than empty sheets between our love, our love
At first, this may simply sound like a couple who are growing apart, but when placing these lyrics within the context of the whole song, we can assume this separation is caused by the abuse and neglect during the devaluation stage of the relationship. He has stopped idealizing her. The relationship has moved from happiness, excitement and lovemaking to emptiness, distance and separation.
Oh tear ducts and rust
I’ll fix it for us
We’re collecting dust, but our love’s enough
You’re holding it in
You’re pouring a drink
No nothing is as bad as it seems
We’ll come clean
Going back to what we said earlier on, about both partners with inner wounds coming together in a destructive manner, we can see here that she is co-dependent. He has a drinking problem which she is enabling. It not unusual at all for abusers to have alcohol and/or drug addictions. She is willing to fix the relationship and be of support to him, but he is not willing to do the same. He says that he can fix things but these are empty promises. They argue with each other and take turns shouting accusations at each other.
She says that she will support him, but he says that she is holding back. She is upset that he is continuing to drink, but he says it is not as bad as it seems. He is pouring a drink, but she says “we’ll” come clean. This shows that she is taking on his problem as her own – she sees them as a couple facing problems together.
This is the trauma bond in its fullness; she is unwilling to let go despite suffering (tears), destruction and hopelessness. She believes their “love” is enough to get them through their problems.
The artistic talent on this song is exceptional. It blows my mind to conceive how profoundly the trauma bond is portrayed. The lyrics are accurately chosen and meaningful. The video is symbolic on many levels, and passionately expresses emotion. The vocals are impressive too. This song is nothing short of perfect! Perfect artistic expression of an important theme!
The writer of this article is not a psychiatrist or psychologist. The commentary provided is based on her own opinions, thoughts, private research, background studies of English literature, and personal experiences in abusive relationships.
The article refers to the abuser as “he” however these words can be substituted with “she” because female abusers do exist as well.
Just Give Me a Reason lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Warner Chappell Music, Inc. Songwriters: Alecia Moore / Jeff Bhasker / Nate Ruess
Psychopath Free by Jackson Mackenzie
Healing from Hidden Abuse by Shannon Thomas
The Journey by Meredith Miller
Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft
The Betrayal Bond by Patrick Carnes
Confessions of a Sociopath by M E Thomas
Women Who Love Psychopaths by Sandra L Brown
Image: Pop Crave on Twitter