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Are You Really In Love Or Just Trauma Bonding?

Here's how you spot trouble before it even starts.

Love & Relationships

What is the difference between being in a loving healthy relationship and trauma bonding? Can you spot the difference between a healthy bond and a toxic one? Sometimes the red flags are so subtle in the beginning, they can be mistaken for love. Growing into a true, loving relationship takes time and is an investment in getting to truly know a person. Being swept off your feet sounds like a fairy tale, but those sometimes only exist in Disney. Trauma and unhealthy dating habits have a way of masquerading as love, and if you are not self-aware, you could get caught in a dangerous situation. Depending on where you are mentally, it may be extremely hard to tell the difference between love and toxicity.

According to Psychology Today, "Trauma bonding is similar to Stockholm Syndrome, in which people held captive come to have feelings of trust or even affection for the very people who captured and held them against their will. This type of survival strategy can also occur in a relationship. It is called trauma bonding, and it can occur when a person is in a relationship with a narcissist."

There are so many times when I think back on my own dating life and wonder what was the connection that I had to that person. It never occurred to me to examine where I was emotionally or mentally at that particular time. It also never dawned on me to understand how I create connections or what I value as important in developing a bond. Oftentimes we are not healed from the traumas of past relationships (whether familial or not) and drag that invisible luggage into every relationship. The bonds and connections we make with new partners are steeped in the traumas of what we never confronted.

What is trauma bonding?

Trauma bonding can be tough to identify. There are a lot of toxic characteristics that disguise themselves as love. Having a clear understanding of what trauma bonding is and how it cultivates can help you navigate your way through any relationship. So how can we recognize what trauma bonding is?

According to Rhonda Richards-Smith, a licensed psychotherapist, it can be tricky to understand. "Essentially trauma bonding is oftentimes steeped in our experiences as kids," she says. "It is how we attach ourselves to our partners and to our abusers." The experiences we have as children bonding with a caretaker shape how we maintain a bond with a romantic partner. If your childhood was filled with abuse and trauma, you will be attracted to that in a partner and a relationship because it is how you understand love.

Richards-Smith states that these patterns are adopted in childhood through a specific means of delivery. For children, it is a survival tool that is learned in order to protect themselves. "So if we experience any kind of childhood abuse, whether it be emotional or physical, we learn as kids that if you want to keep yourself safe and you don't want to be hurt, you have to do everything that you can to please your abuser." If this abuse goes unchecked, it will continue to manifest in a never-ending cycle.

"We replicate the same pattern in our romantic relationships if those issues have not been resolved," explains Richards-Smith. "So, if our partner is physically or emotionally abusive, it's sometimes difficult to even identify that you are being abused because you associate abuse with love."

The connection between receiving love to avoid punishment is conditioned from childhood. The survival tools used then for protection are still being used as an adult, no matter how unhealthy they are.

How do we know when we are trauma bonding vs when we are in a loving healthy relationship?

There are always red flags that should alert you to potential problems you might encounter. A lot of times, abusers use their past traumas to relate to a potential partner to reel them into a relationship, only to use intimate details shared by their partner as a method of control. It is important to take the time to get to know someone you are interested in romantically. Richards-Smith details the following signs/signals that you are in a trauma bond:

1. The relationship is moving too fast.

"One of the signs that you might be heading towards trauma bonding is if the relationship starts and progresses really quickly. Anytime you have a person who is an abuser and looking to get into a relationship, they are going to move things along as quickly as they possibly can in the beginning."

If you are on the receiving end, this may feel very romantic, like a whirlwind love affair or love at first sight. The quickness and intensity are used as ways to mask what the abuser doesn't want you to know. Richards-Smith adds, "When all of that is happening that is typically because that abuser doesn't want you to discover certain things about their past. If there is an insistence to elevate the relationship very quickly, that is definitely a warning sign that trauma bonding might be happening."

2. You have a preoccupation with always presenting the good in your partner.

You might say things like, "He is controlling because of the way he grew up." If you find yourself doing this excessively, it may be a sign you are bonding to your partner's trauma and allowing it to cloud your judgment.

"If you seem preoccupied with presenting your partner as being a good partner in the relationship, meaning you are going to do and say whatever to elevate them in the relationship, you are probably in a trauma bond," Richards-Smith says. "You will do this to be sure that there are no outsiders that can criticize that person in any shape or form on how they behave or how they treat you because they are the cream of the crop. If you are constantly having to make excuses for your partner's negative or bad behavior, that is a sign of trauma bonding. What ultimately ends up happening is that you start to blame yourself for anything that goes wrong in the relationship."

Richards-Smith says this is problematic because the abuser will transfer blame to you and you will internalize that blame. "It is reinforced by the partner in these relationships. Anything that goes wrong in the relationship is going to be your fault," she explains. The abuser in this case is able to capitalize on you letting their behavior slide which gives them an in to blame you. As the relationship progresses, you will become so accustomed to this negative feedback cycle that you start to believe the lie and accept blame.

3. You have an extreme fear of abandonment.

This is more of a sign that you need to work on yourself before getting into any relationship. A fear of abandonment can lead you to lend yourself to any type of treatment because you want to stay with someone no matter what. This is the most common theme I see in a lot of relationships but most of the time it is subtle.

If you know that you have an extreme fear of abandonment, you should address those issues head-on. This ties itself back to your attachment style and how you were raised. Just as childhood trauma can create an abuser, it can also create victims. "Nobody wants to break up, but if you have this extreme fear of abandonment in your relationships that is how trauma bonding can crop up," Richards-Smith says.

"Your abuser can sense that and you will do anything to stay with them. This is related to attachment, if you are so worried about bonding and staying attached to this person, they are going to use that."

What do you do when you recognize you are in a relationship that is based in trauma bonding?

"If it is a true trauma bond, the relationship is not repairable because the foundation of the relationship is toxic," Richards-Smith says. "If the foundation is toxic, you have to do your own healing, and your partner has to do their own healing. But a lot of times you have narcissists that are involved in trauma-bonded relationships. A narcissist is pretty much not going to counseling because [they believe] they are not the issue—it's you. So oftentimes it is really difficult to repair them.

Richards-Smith offers these resources and suggestions for breaking trauma bonds:

"Reach out to a licensed mental health professional who can help work through some of these things. Since trauma bonding begins in early childhood, there is a lot of work and healing that needs to be done to really make the changes stick in terms of the behaviors we really want to alter. Also, take a look at your existing support network. A lot of times when you are in a trauma-bonded relationship, you will also have a lot of friends who are in trauma-bonded relationships. So this normalizes the trauma bonding. Your perspective can get a little bit skewed when everyone around you is engaging in the same way. Surround yourself with people who are involved in healthy relationships."

If all we know is trauma bonding, how do we recognize a healthy relationship?

It is always good to have someone give a different outside opinion to challenge what you already know. "Consult a mental health professional because you need help from an outsider. We usually go to friends and family but they may not know how to recognize it either, [especially] if they are doing the same thing. It is important to have an outsider to have an objective opinion on what skills you may need and what changes you may need to make. It is tough when you are making the changes to not isolate friends and family, but you have to look at how you are interacting with those people to be sure that it is not reinforcing those trauma-bonding behaviors."

We tend to look to the people closest to us for guidance but if that circle of support is engaged in the same behavior, you will end up with the same results. There is a really great tweet that reads:

"I think the reason people think their partners can be their therapists is because they think therapy is just talking about their feelings. Therapy is a treatment plan, and psychology is a science. Having someone listen to you vent is not the same as creating a plan to heal trauma."

Now that we have taken a deep dive into the depths of trauma bonding, can you assess if you are in a trauma bond? Do you know how to recognize a trauma bond before it starts? Most importantly, do you feel empowered and confident to seek help? There are healthy connections available to us at any time, and we must be mentally prepared to know that the best is what we deserve.

If you would like to reach out for services or information, visit Rhonda Richards-Smith's website, or follow her on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.

Featured image by Shutterstock.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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Sometimes, when things are a little "off" when it comes to our health, there are simple steps that we can take to get ourselves back on track. For instance, did you know that around 92 percent of Americans are considered to be vitamin or mineral deficient in some way? And since there are core nutrients that all of us need in order to function properly, it's important that we're aware of what certain deficiencies are directly linked to.

Today, that is the focus. Here are eight health-related issues that, oftentimes, if we'd just add more of a vitamin or mineral into our system, we will start to feel better in no time (technically a couple of weeks but you get my drift).

1. Muscle Cramping

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Something that happens randomly to me sometimes is I'll have a muscle that cramps up, seemingly out of nowhere. Then I'll snack on a banana and start to feel better. You know why? It's because bananas are high in potassium and potassium is a nutrient that our system needs in order for our muscles to easily contract. If you sweat a lot or don't have enough fluids in your system, you can become a high candidate for being potassium deficient. As far as how much your body requires on a daily basis, it's somewhere between 3,000-4,000 mg a day. Foods that are a good source of this mineral (that is also an electrolyte) include mushrooms, zucchini, cucumbers, sweet potatoes and lentils.

2. Lip Cracking

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If your PMS is off the chain or you've been catching a lot of colds lately, it could be because you need some more Vitamin B6 in your life. However, a telling sign that this is almost definitely the case is if the corners of your lips are cracking or even if your tongue feels a bit swollen.

The main thing to keep in mind with this point is if you're noticing indications that you could stand to have more Vitamin B6, there's a pretty good chance that your system has gotten close to totally running out. And just how much does your body need of this vitamin on the daily? About 1.3 mg. Up it up to 1.5 mg if you're over the age of 50.

Foods that are loaded with Vitamin B6 are peanuts, poultry, oats, avocados and pistachios.

3. Brittle Nails

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If it seems like no matter how much pampering you do to your nails, they are brittle and breaking, that could be an indication that you are low in iron and/or Vitamin C. The reality is that just our periods alone can make us vulnerable to having lower iron levels. And just how much should you be getting into your system? A lot of healthcare professionals recommend somewhere around 14.8 mg each day. As far as the Vitamin C goes, not only can you have brittle nails when you're not getting enough of it, this is a nutrient that makes it easier for your body to absorb iron too. 75 mg per day of it is recommended (120 mg each day if you're pregnant or are breastfeeding). Foods that are high in iron include beef, dark leafy greens, quinoa, pumpkin seeds and broccoli. Foods that are a good source of Vitamin C include citrus fruits, peppers, potatoes, berries and Brussel sprouts.

4. Allergy Symptoms

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If you've got allergy symptoms that are driving you totally up the wall or you're someone who deals with asthma or eczema, these things can be so much worse for you if you are low in omega-3. Long story short, they're fatty acids that pretty much every part of our body needs from our skin and hair to our reproductive system and our heart. Matter of fact, I actually read once that if you tend to have an excessive amount of earwax, that can also be a heads up that omega-3 is lacking. As far as how much is good for you, 1.1 grams daily is enough. And as far as foods that have omega-3 in them, those would be walnuts, spinach, salmon, chia seeds and eggs.

5. Weakness

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Magnesium is both a mineral as well as an electrolyte that helps to regulate muscle and nerve functions and keep your blood sugar in balance. Well, when you don't have enough magnesium in you, it can cause you to experience extreme amounts of fatigue and weakness. A part of the reason why is because magnesium is what helps to keep your potassium levels where they should be. So, when your potassium levels are low, your muscles will not perform with as much strength as they should. Somewhere around 315 mg each day is what your system requires. Foods that are loaded with magnesium include whole grains, pumpkin seeds, halibut, bananas and dark chocolate.

6. Hair Loss

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One of the main things that all of us need in order for our hair to flourish is zinc. It's a mineral that assists with hair tissue growth and repair, fights dandruff and, it also helps your scalp to produce the sebum that it needs for your hair follicles to remain healthy. That's why it makes a lot of sense that if you're low in zinc, you could possibly suffer from some hair loss or, the very least, hair breakage. What can keep your tresses in good condition is if you consume around 8 mg of zinc daily. Foods that are high in it include Greek yogurt, cashews, black beans, sesame seeds and kale.

7. Sleepiness

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OK, if you're out here getting less than six hours a night on a consistent basis, that's probably not an indication that you are lacking a nutrient; what that probably means is you are sleep deprived.

However, if it seems like no matter how much sleep you get at night and/or naps you take during the day, you are still sleepy as all get out, what that could be telling you is that you are low in Vitamin B12. I can personally attest to this because I was sleepy a lot (and I get no less than six hours a night and sometimes a nap) until I started taking a B12 supplement. When you're low in this vitamin, it can trigger sleepiness or even sleeplessness because it plays a significant role in maintaining your energy levels.

It's kinda crazy that a lot of us are Vitamin B12 deficient when most of us only need .002 mg a day of it. Anyway, foods that are a good source of this nutrient include liver, fortified cereals, shellfish, nutritional yeast and milk alternatives (like almond or oat milk).

8. Food Cravings

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Last fall, I wrote an article about signs that you've got a sugar addiction going on (you can check it out here). One indication is if you're constantly wanting to eat sweets all of the time. Well, along these same lines, if you're experiencing food cravings, that too could mean that you've not some nutrient deficiencies happening. Sweets typically mean that you can stand to have more magnesium or tryptophan. Fatty foods mean you need more calcium. Red meat, caffeine or the desire to chew ice means you're low in iron. Salt is oftentimes connected to dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance.

Wanting to eat bread all of the time could also mean that you could use a tryptophan boost (because you are looking for something to make you feel better and bread is a comfort food. Tryptophan helps to produce the feel-good hormone serotonin so that you don't want bread as much). Foods that are high in tryptophan include tuna, cheese, turkey, milk and apples.

While I certainly wasn't able to tackle all of the nutrient deficient-related issues that exist, take this as a bit of an intro cheat sheet. Again, if you are currently experiencing any of these issues, try getting more vitamins and minerals into your system. You might be surprised just how big of an impact...a little bit of tweaking can make.

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