Trauma bonds create cognitive dissonance — i.e., your behaviors, words and beliefs conflict with each other. You’ve lost touch with being honest with yourself, which is the most important thing you can do, as well as being honest with others. As a result, what you’re doing no longer makes sense. In 12-step language, you’re in denial or what’s called “stinking thinking” and your self-will is running riot over your own life and, probably, the lives of others as well. Examples: 

  • You can see that the person you’re trying to relate with cooperating with you. You know you can’t make that work without their cooperation. Yet, you keep trying anyway.
  • You believe you’re good at managing boundaries (belief). Yet, you share confidential information with people whom you know from past experience(s) can’t or won’t keep that information confidential (behavior). 
  • You realize you’ve had a codependent slip. You know that the only person you can change is yourself (belief). Yet, instead of keeping your focus on what you can change — i.e., you — by engaging in self-care, talking honestly with a therapist and/or working a 12-step program, you continue to focus on trying to change other people and solving problems and fixing things that aren’t yours to solve or fix (behavior).
  • You know that initial high is gone. You realize that reality has set in. That high is not coming back (belief). Yet, you persist in trying to recapture it (behavior).
  • You can feel that something’s not right. You know it’s always served you well to pay attention to your gut and your emotions (belief). Yet, instead, you choose to live up in your head, read psychology and self-help books and blogs (yes, including this one), watch YouTube videos by therapists and life coaches, and/or talk it over with a trusted friend in order to try to “solve” a problem that’s either not solvable or not yours to solve (action).

Cognitive dissonance causes feelings of confusion, stress and tension. People attempt to relieve this discomfort by using justifications and rationalizations, which are signals that your brain and your heart/gut/soul are out of sync. Cognitive dissonance, combined with the frustrated spinning of your wheels from repeated attempts to try to recapture that initial “high” can compel people to behave like addicts. They deny the problematic aspects of their trauma-bonded relationships by using justifications and rationalizations. As a result, they become stuck in the problem, stubbornly fixated, obsessed, rather than living in the solution. They try to change their partner or the situation rather than changing themselves or their situations. They desperately look in all of the wrong places for a way to get back to square one, that by now completely elusive elation stage, because it felt so intoxicating. 

Being stuck like that makes it impossible to resolve problems and conflicts effectively or to disengage from the relationship when serious “red flags” emerge. 

“She’s out west a’waiting for the sun to rise..” – folksong writer/singer Jonathan Edwards

The initial elation from the beginning of a trauma-bonded relationship inevitably gets replaced by a real relationship between two real, rather than idealized, people. Real relationships inevitably experience conflicts, problems and challenges. Having been confronted by the depletion, which can feel like withdrawal, one or both partners now function from a place of feeling upset, disappointed, disillusioned, angry, distraught and frustrated because those feelings of elation cannot be recaptured or sustained. Secretly, one or both wonder, “Now what?” They may not realize it; but, what they’ve actually been doing is hanging onto their original trauma experiences from childhood by re-telling their stories once again. If they’re not ready to let go of their need to do that, which can be strongly compelling, they’ll continue to lack the honesty, open-mind, willingness, emotional capacity, and ability to focus that’s required to resolve the inevitable conflicts and address the other challenges that are a natural part of any relationship. 

When the reality of who a partner is, beyond the trauma bond, hits and the demands of real life assert themselves, emotionally, one or both survivors experience having been abandoned yet again. Their idealized companion evaporated and has been replaced by a real person — someone who has annoying faults and other demands competing for their time, energy and attention.

Despite what the lyrics of so many songs say, sorry, no, love is not the answer. This isn’t a song, movie or TV show. This is real life. There’s nothing you can do to make someone who is still so wounded by their past believe in or feel satisfied and secure with your love long-term. And, there is also nothing that you can do to make them love you in a way that makes you feel satisfied and secure long-term. 

When trauma is still so present and active within the emotional life of a person, it can feel as if you are never alone together. Compulsive behaviors and trauma memories, manifesting as visceral emotional and physical reactions, persistently will intrude. While those intense emotions from trauma are still so actively in control, they will continue to have far more power over you, your partner and your relationship than you and your love (which you may have confused with pity) ever will. 

So, what comes next? How do you fill or distract yourself and your partner from experiencing the depletion void? If you don’t end up going your separate ways, future faking is what usually comes next. It’s an effective distraction and, sadly, a bad solution.

What the heck is future faking? That’s part 4.