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.
Featured image by Shutterstock.
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Whether it was your group chat, social media feed, or your favorite media outlet covering the spectacle, I’m pretty sure you’ve come across the viral Black wedding between actress KJ Smith (Sistas, Raising Kanan) and actor Skyh Black (All the Queen’s Men, Sistas). From their grand entrance to Jay-Z, Kayne West, and Beyoncé’s song “Lift Off” to KJ’s standout dance routine and the endless celebrity appearances, it’s an addictive TikTok scroll you can’t help but delve into.
But what many people would be surprised to know is that the couple’s original wedding plan was nothing like what it grew to be. What started as her simply scrolling through posts to get ideas eventually transformed into what the internet knows now as #TheBlackExperience. In an exclusive conversation with xoNecole, KJ walked us through her planning process, the morning of her wedding, and what she thinks of the online response.
Some women have their whole wedding planned out, from the bridal gown and venue to the bridal party and playlist. However, KJ was not one of those people. “I didn’t foresee a wedding in my future,” she reveals. “I was just gonna be the boss chick, rich auntie. I didn’t force love in my life until recently. I never had an idea of what a dream wedding would look like, it was easier for me to elope.”
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
And to many people’s surprise, that was their original plan – until Skyh brought up a valid concern. He was raised by his grandmother and thought she should be at the wedding, and naturally, that led to KJ wanting her grandmother to be there as well – then her mom – and later her sister – and, you’ve gotta invite the besties too, right? From there, the guest list continued to blossom. Much like the updo and pop of color bold red lip, she wore on her special day, which was initially on her Pinterest board as a soft glam look with her hair hanging on her shoulders, KJ is okay with changing her plan if it brings her and her loved ones happiness.
So let’s get into the wedding, which took place in Malibu, CA. The first thing you should know about the celebrity couple is that they’re non-traditional. They know, and they don’t care. So, in true unconventional fashion, they shared the morning of the wedding together.
“I woke up with Skyh, we walked our dog, had black coffee, and said good morning to the people who stayed at the venue with us,” she says.
Now, it was time for hair and makeup. While she was getting glammed up, she had Black-owned McBride Sisters wine and champagne (which ties into The Black Experience theme) on deck with her mom and friends, had her besties help rework her vows, retried on every outfit (sis is very Type-A), took photos, and ended the early-celebration with prayer and meditation. It seems very non-Bridezilla, I said.
“Yeah, I was the most unbothered bride ever. Everyone was just so supportive. As entertainers, we go on red carpets all the time. We actually have a production company,” she explains. “The get-ready process was like a day at work, but with people we love the most. Being entertainers, we didn’t feel stressed at all, but my excitement was so high.”
Things moved quickly, and before she knew it, it was time to line up to walk down the aisle.
“Yeah, I was the most unbothered bride ever. Everyone was just so supportive. As entertainers, we go on red carpets all the time. We actually have a production company. The get-ready process was like a day at work, but with people we love the most. Being entertainers, we didn’t feel stressed at all, but my excitement was so high.”
KJ Smith and her bridal party
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
Since everything started with their grandmothers, the couple wanted to ensure they honored them and planned to keep an element of their wedding traditional. Although we’ve all seen the reception videos and photos online, you may have noticed visuals from the wedding itself are harder to find.
“We planned for it to be traditional, but we’re not like that, so we tried to create those moments. We jumped the broom and had a salt ceremony (where the bride and groom individually pour salt into a glass container, symbolizing their lives becoming one.) But honestly, still, nothing was traditional about it.”
She goes on to explain that her mom caught the holy ghost coming down the aisle, her glam team was on deck, and she became so nervous with excitement that she had an anxiety attack – something she struggled with for years, she explains tearfully. Her friends had to literally cheer her down the aisle because of how overwhelmed she felt until she eventually calmed down.
“Skyh was standing there with his hand on his heart; we have our own little language, and I could feel the support,” she shares.
It was surprising to hear all these emotional moments happened before the party we saw online. That is until she once again got into the backstory.
“As a Black woman actress, for so long, it was popular to be mysterious and secretive, but that’s not who I am or what I like. Plus, we both wanted to create an experience for everyone there. We are the people who always host family and friends,” she says. “Like for me, the first order of business was getting sandals for the women so they can dance all night long. We had oxtail, D'ussé, and a coffee and sativa lounge – which is part of Skyh and I’s lifestyle and routine. We wanted to bring them into our world.”
Skyh Black (L) and KJ Smith (R)
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
She went on to discuss the dance routine she did for her husband at the reception, which has taken over the internet. Apparently, that’s another thing that didn’t go according to plan. According to KJ, she had promised a performance at their joint bachelor/ bachelorette party, but her outfit got stolen from her car. So, Skyh ended up performing for her – complete with a strip tease. Still, she never forgot her promise to dance for him.
So, she hired her friend as a choreographer, learned the routine, made friends and family watch it endless times, and attended Beyoncé’s Renaissance show a few days before for a confidence boost. It ended up being a show to remember. But that wasn’t all the night offered. Lil Mo performed, and the guests received special goody bags featuring their favorite Black-owned products like journals, hair care, and more.
“We made sure everyone was taken care of all night. That kind of stuff makes us happy. I wanted everyone there to experience the joy and love I have for myself, my partner, and for them. I wanted them to feel full and whole, and they had the time of their lives,” she says.
But naturally, the internet is going to internet, and while there were countless people praising the event and applauding the newlyweds, some thought it was too over the top. I was curious to know her thoughts on some of the criticism.
“It’s cool. We did what we wanted to do. I’ve decided to share my world with people. Just how I went on social media platforms and found inspiration, I want people to do the same,” she explains. “I don’t think it's fair to my supporters not to give that out. There’s so much I wanna share with brides, specifically Black brides. I love that people are adding it to their Pinterest boards."
"I wanted everyone there to experience the joy and love I have for myself, my partner, and for them. I wanted them to feel full and whole, and they had the time of their lives."
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
“I’m happy with it because we did what we wanted to do. They can do what they wanna do. Don’t be cruel, though, because you will get blocked,” she said, laughing.
The more I spoke with her, the more her sense of freedom shined through. People are always going to have their opinions, but at the end of the day, it’s you who has to live your life, and it seems like the couple realizes that and embraces that power. She also stressed the importance of not living for others and the lessons life has taught her.
“I’ve been to countless weddings, and I’ve been in countless weddings. I’m a generally older bride. So when women in my demographic get married, and you and your husband are busy working people like us, you deserve to have the one you want to have,” she shares.
“This is what we wanted to do. Our loved ones love and support us. We did so much to honor them, but we also wanted to start our own tradition, legacy, and creation. I'm not going to be pulled back into ideas of the past when I’m trying to create a future with my partner. “
If you’d like to see more of the couple, you probably won’t have to wait long. Although no content is planned yet, she admits to being an oversharer. “Me being open and transparent about my experiences lets people know it’s okay to have flaws; it makes you human, and for many years, I didn’t believe that was okay. I had pressure to be perfect, and I’d crumble every time,” she explains to xoNecole.
Now, she owns her flaws and uses them as a superpower to connect with her community and feel and express her love.
“Some people give us [Skyh and KJ] a hard time because they say we just seem too perfect. I’m like, why is that a bad thing? I love the people I love. From my man to my mama, to my friends - unabashedly. We move through time and space how we want to move. If we did it another way, we’d let ourselves and our union down.”
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Feature image by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
It seems reasonable to assume that new music will slow down in tempo to coincide with the fall season that quickly approaches. However, musicians, ever the unreasonable, are constantly showing us that they have different ideas. They have chosen to keep releasing club hits rather than slow tunes to get us ready for cuffing season, letting people know that while summer may be coming to an end, it may last as long as they want it to.
We are waving goodbye to summer with the new music from last week, but we might also be welcoming another week of tunes designed only for dancing. And honestly, who can complain about that? Here's this week's new music to make you move at every tempo.
"Another One of Me" - Diddy ft. The Weeknd, 21 Savage, & French Montana
Since its original recording in 2016, this song has undergone a great deal of alterations. The Weeknd previewed the new version of the song on his recent European tour, though it was originally scheduled to be released in 2020 and again in 2022. Nevertheless, with the release of this song, The Weeknd also declared that this would be his final "guest" appearance for some time, if ever. Therefore, the Weeknd sings about how there will "never be another one of [him]" again in this unique, enticing, and bold farewell. Thus, we must value him and the rest of his crew--French Montana and 21 Savage--while we still have the chance.
The musicians deliver vocal bars and complimentary rhymes on the song, which is accompanied by a drum sample from what seems like Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight," as they consider their timeliness and what Diddy has done for the hip-hop/R&B community over the past few decades and on newly released The Love Album.
"Slime You Out" - Drake ft. SZA
On my first listen, it took everything I had in me not to abruptly end this song. However, by the time Drake begins to sing—heavily using auto-tune—and the beat begins to drop, there is enough of an allure to keep me listening. "Slime You Out" which features SZA is the lead single to Drake's highly anticipated eighth studio album, For All The Dogs. In the song, both musicians talk about being exploited by their ex-lovers and share their own emotional experiences.
They also disclose their malice towards their exes, as "sliming" someone out refers to using them for sex. The single and its meaning works perfectly for the duo, especially after it was revealed on Twitter (RIP) that Drake and SZA used to date back in '08--or was it '09? Regardless, this song allows the exes to focus on past relationships, even their own, as they take turns talking about ex-lovers and finally putting their years of subtle back and forth to rest.
"Lexicon" - Vagabon
Vagabon, also known as Laetitia Tamko, debuted her new album Sorry I Haven't Called on Friday, September 15, as well as her most recent single "Lexicon." Sorry I Haven't Called is a loving and tenacious album about enjoying the exhilarating moments wherever you can by understanding how you love and grieve. The album was formed out of sadness when her closest friend passed away in 2021.
It's an LP that draws inspiration from both group dance floor revelations and the enlightening calm of isolation; it represents both a creative and emotional resurrection. She claims that the record was made to include every feeling she had at the time, even when there was none. In "Lexicon," Vagabon invites the listener to let go of words and the meaning of things, as she repeatedly sings atop a bed of rhythmic noises in "Lexicon" to communicate her longing for oblivion.
"You Wish" - Flyana Boss
Last week, I had the pleasure of watching Flyana Boss open for Janelle Monáe. During their introduction, they discussed being best friends and explained that this foundation allowed them to become the artists that they desired to be. Within moments, the chemistry between the duo was fathomable as they easily played off one another and allowed room for each other to easily shine.
Though it's not a new single, the official video for the song dropped last week. In it, Flyana Boss mocks those who refer to them as "industry plants," while the song brings attention to their infamous "Hello Christ, I am about to sin again," challenge that TikTok sparked to life these last couple of months. They are strange, but in the coolest of ways, mainly because they don't wish to be like anyone else. However, it is clear that with their success others might.
"SKED" - Denzel Curry
Denzel Curry starts his song, which is almost an interlude, by outlining the reasons why he does not feel the need to trust others. He then goes on to tell people that because of their treatment and actions, he is unwilling to find a reason to comprehend those in positions of power and how they utilize their influence. He comes to the conclusion that these actions are the result of fear, and he merely declares that his adversaries are afraid before leaving it at just that. This brand-new song and its accompanying video leave the audience wanting more in less than two minutes. However, as he has stated, he's said all that he has needed to say.
"FAN" - Offset
This song is not long, and if you aren't paying attention, you won't be sure that the first minute is the same as the first 0:00 to 0:50 seconds. Regardless, when it kicks off, boy does it run and it takes off with Offset's insistence on shouting "f**k everybody" kicks in. Offset creates an entertaining video that draws inspiration from his admiration for Michael Jackson and his showmanship to demonstrate the necessity to destroy every bridge he has built since everyone is deserving of a sharp and clear "FU."
This video definitely shows how he has grown as an artist over the last couple of years, and after the grief he has faced from his cousin Takeoff's death, it only makes sense why he doesn't give a damn or two about turning his back on everyone.
"Balut" - Doja Cat
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I hate how much I love Doja Cat's music. I don't want to, I've actively been resisting it. However, I must say that since her "MOO[ing]" days, she has developed into a dynamic artist, and this has only led to the creation of vibes, bops, and songs that are worth listening to. Consider her most recent song, "Balut." It is a total vibe. She boasts about her ability to create hits and her distinctive artistic range in her most recent song.
In fact, she thinks that her artistic ability is as simple as "taking candy from a baby." She is correct that it is that simple; or at least for her it is. It is difficult to believe otherwise while listening to her mid-tempo, brag-tinged tune with its smooth flow. Her newest LP Scarlet drops this Friday, and like a moth to a flame, Doja knows we will all be anxiously awaiting its arrival.
"Snooze (Acoustic)" - SZA ft. Justin Bieber
I would not have wagered a single penny that this collaboration would truly take place. But now that it has, many question whether it ought to have. Lyrically, there is nothing fresh to concentrate on. SZA continues to explain why she would be prepared to break the law and compromise her values for the person she loves, but they are still hesitant to meet her halfway. The only thing that has changed is that we now have Justin Beiber's face to place her pleas upon. When Justin Beiber and SZA join in on the acoustic version of "Snooze," they produce a silky, smooth duet that is harmonized flawlessly with daunting echoes and heavenly vocals that coo over one another smoothly.
"Peaches & Eggplants" - Young Nudy ft. Latto & Sexyy Red (Remix)
I'll give you a second to consider what the song "Peaches and Eggplants" by Young Nudy feat. Latto & Sexxy Red could be about. Yes, now that you've experienced that moment. You are correct, that is what it is about. It is all about sex—and more sex—and, well, you get the idea. Even though the song's basic structure is straightforward, it nonetheless provides a fun finish to the summer. The song's production features synthesizers, "pounding" percussion, and Young Nudy's gunshot emulation in the background.
However, the remix now has a more feminine, more confident (if that could have been possible) edge to it thanks to Latto and Sexyy Redd. No one holds back on this song, but then again, the title never implied that they would.
"Swing" - EARTHGANG ft. Benji
And when we ask them when they been at, EARTHGANG will simply say they've been over here. On the right side of things, where they have always belonged. Fresh on the release track of their newest single "Swing" for Marvel's Spider-Man 2 video game soundtrack, EARTHGANG has returned to make us move like they always have. Joined by Benji, the song is loud, with a guitar rift that sounds like Imagine Dragons' "I'm So Sorry," and simultaneously lowers the tempo to make the perfect illustration of a song fusing several genres.
The song shouldn't make sense, much as when Imagine Dragons and Kendrick Lamar collaborated at the VMAs, yet the seamless genre-hopping makes the song engaging and ideal for the video game platform it advertises.
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Featured image via SZA "Snooze"/YouTube