Updated: Aug 29
In this blog put up, we are able to delve how you can heal from trauma bonds, exploring five key exercises that can support you on your recovery journey. Note: Trauma bonds can be incredibly painful and emotionally distressing, and I always advocate therapy that is specialized in this area to help you. The noted exercises are overviews of exercises I have used to support my clients in their healing journey.
Exercise 1: Somatic Awareness:
Our subconscious mind affects 95% of our behaviors - including the actions we take that enable the trauma bonded relationship to live longer. And our subconscious and unconscious minds live inside of our bodies. It is essential to pay attention to the physical sensations that come up that relate to a trauma bond. This may be anxiety or panic when criticized or attacked, or worries about being abandoned. By becoming mindful and curious about your physiological responses in such moments, you will notice physical tensions and other sensations. Typically, you will notice physiological responses within either your stomach, chest or throat. Scientific research suggests that if you are able to breathe deeply and mindfully into these locations - only focusing on the physiological sensation - and considering questions such as "what does it look like, what colour is it, what texture does it have", the sensation subside after 90 seconds. This can allow your subconscious mind and body to process some of the tension that affect your behaviors.
Exercise 2: Emotion Exploration:
In a trauma bond, feelings like anxiety, panic, and frustration can be overwhelming and you might frequently suppress these emotions as a form of defense - as remaining in this emotional distress is extremely challenging and so suppression of these emotions allows you to "avoid" the pain. However, just because you suppress the emotions, does not mean the emotions do not exist. Remember, emotions are here to tell us something - they are teachers and so it would be important to pay attention to the message underlying the emotion. This might look something like this: when becoming curious about what the feeling of anxiety means, it may be "I feel like I'm treated badly and I want to be seen and loved just the way I am". Knowing the message can empower you to consider the next steps you would like to take.
Exercise 3: Mental Processing:
Experiencing gaslighting from your partner can cause cognitive dissonance - you are unsure about your perception of reality and you end up doubting yourself. An exercise you could try is to enquire about the evidence around certain doubts you may have developed - but applying these outside of the relationship. For example, if in the relationship you doubt your worth and believe "I am not good enough", you can ask "what evidence do I have that I am worthy? In what situations was I seen as good enough?" and applying these in other areas of life. It may be that you felt good enough in relationships with friends and family, or that you have succeeded in your career etc. Engaging in this can support you in gaining clarity over the truth.
Exercise 4: Behavioral changes:
Trauma bonds regularly cause you to behave in 2 specific ways - you overcompensate and do a lot to make your partner happy, and you suppress your own needs and wants by not voicing your opinions. This sadly means you reinforce the difficult pattern of "I need to keep my partner happy to maintain the relationship" but also you miss the opportunity to learn what would happen if you did not act this way, "if I did not keep pleasing my partner, there would be a massive argument". What would it be like to find out that you could do "less" and be loved just the same? If you are in a current trauma bonded relationship, you might not feel safe to try this out - so I suggest trying this with trusted others like your friends or family (or someone you're newly dating) - by "not doing everything to make them happy" and "voicing your needs". You can start by testing this out on a small level and see what the other person's response is. This can help you learn that you are allowed to take space in the relationship.
Exercise 5: Engaging the Unconscious Mind:
Our unconscious mind holds deep-rooted beliefs and memories, often formed during childhood and are consolidated around the age of 6-7years old. The programming from this stage often affects your beliefs and actions as an adult, and sometimes there are misunderstandings that our younger child had developed which is we hold onto. For example, as a child you might have believed you had to be "a good girl" and work hard to get good grades, otherwise you would be unloved. As an adult you may unconsciously believe you have to act a certain way in order to maintain relationships. With complete compassion and affection, no judgement or criticism, enter a state of meditation and calm, then get curious to check early memories around this belief. Provide your younger self with as much forgiveness and love as possible for developing a naïve belief, and know the truth is that you have always tried your best and you are infinitely worthy for being here.
If you found this useful, please do me 2 favours. Please have a look at my free e-book here which can help you improve your relationship and heal trauma bonding. Second, please share with other people who you feel would benefit from this - because the more people supported, the better our community can survive and heal.
As always, if you ever want to connect and gain support - I'm here.
All my love, Dr Sarah
improving your relationships