The realization that many victims of trauma bonded relationships have at one point or another is that someone they feel close with, passionate about, and committed to, is purposely destroying their lives. It often triggers a wave of negative emotions like self-doubt, a sense of helplessness, a sense of hopelessness, and a tremendous sense of loss. As abusive as trauma bonds are, they are still very deep emotional attachments that leave many victims wondering if they truly love the person that they are trauma bonded to.

You can’t love someone that you are trauma bonded to because they have used mirroring to build a falsified identity that is designed to fill a void in your life. The closeness, passion, and commitment that you feel for this person is actually towards an imposter, not an authentic lover.

Accepting that the love that you feel for someone that you are trauma bonded to isn’t real can be really hard. This article is going to guide you through the complexity of it all by explaining how abusers use mirroring to trick you into falling in love with them. We’ve also created a short video below about the difference between trauma bonding and love to help you grasp a comprehensive understanding of the overarching purpose of this article.

A Short Video That Explains the Difference Between Trauma Bonding and Love

Understanding Why You Can’t Love Someone That You’re Trauma Bonded To

As we mentioned before, acknowledging and accepting that you don’t truly love the authentic version of the person that you are trauma bonded to can be a really hard thing to accept. However, it is important to remember that it doesn’t mean that you are incapable of love.

The truth is that you’ve been manipulated into envisioning a healthy relationship with your abuser through a form of manipulating called mirroring.

In a healthy relationship, mirroring allows the people involved to see each other accurately. Mirroring helps facilitate empathy and allows the people involved to strengthen the bond they share significantly. 

Mirroring in a narcissistic relationship is the polar opposite of mirroring in a healthy relationship. 

When an abuser uses mirroring, they are absorbing an extraordinary amount of information about their victim’s identity and using it to create a falsified identity that is designed to fill a void in the victim’s life.

As you can imagine, this ability an abuser has to fill a void in someone’s life creates a powerful trauma bond because it leaves the victim feeling like they have a special connection with the perfect romantic partner, colleague, friend, or family member.

However, it is important to know that mirroring can manifest in many different ways because it works off of the victim’s identity.

For example, a person who grew up in an unhealthy/abusive household who has a corrupted perception of a healthy relationship might gravitate towards an abuser because they’re accustomed to the dysfunctional cycle of an abusive relationship so that is the “void” that they’re missing in their life.

The next section of this article is going to take you through the three most common reasons that trauma bonds are formed to give you the information needed to understand that it is not love, it is manipulation.

Love Bombing

The term “love bombing” is most commonly used to describe the beginning stages of a narcissistic relationship. It’s usually described as a phase full of intimacy, gift giving, spontaneous moments, a lot of communication, and a lot of time spent together. However, that is not necessarily the definition of love bombing. 

When you take a closer look at the love bombing phase, it becomes very clear that it is really just an elite form mirroring.

If the victim has a romanticized perception of the dynamics of a healthy relationship, the abuser will use mirroring to present themselves in a very romanticized way.

There are so many different ways that this could play out but the point is that the abuser’s falsified identity that they’ve created through mirroring is what their victim’s who experience love bombing fall in love with, not the abuser’s authentic self. 

An Unhealthy/Abusive Childhood

The duration of a trauma bonded relationship depends on the abuser’s ability to manipulate his/her victim into justifying, rationalizing, and ultimately normalizing their abusive behavior. This is a very easy task when abusers come across someone who has had an unhealthy/abusive childhood, or at the very least, had an unhealthy/abusive relationship in the past that they haven’t healed from. 

The reason being that the victim is already accustomed to justifying, rationalizing, and ultimately normalizing abusive behavior because of the abuse they’ve experienced in the past.

When a child is forced to grow up in an unhealthy/abusive environment, they often develop a very corrupt perception of healthy relationships and overtime they’ll accidentally equate love with abuse. 

Because of this corrupt perception, they’ll naturally gravitate towards unhealthy/abusive environments simply because they’re familiar. 

An argument could be made that under these circumstances someone could fall in love with the person they’re trauma bonded to because of their corrupt perception of healthy relationships. However, true love of any kind requires the following:

  • One must be comfortable putting the needs of others ahead of their own. 
  • One must be willing to make compromises.
  • One must be willing to give admiration instead of seeking it.
  • One must feel secure in the relationship.
  • One must acknowledge what they have instead of constantly focusing on what they don’t.
  • One must not manipulate the other.

Since unhealthy/abusive environments don’t consist of any of the requirements listed above, how could one truly love if they’ve never been shown how to truly love?

Again, this isn’t meant to suggest that victims of abuse are incapable of love, we are only suggesting that their definition of love is corrupted and that their abuser has used mirroring to exploit it.

Let us explain…

There are six different types of love: liking, empty love, consummate love, companionate love, romantic love, and fatuous love. According to the triangular theory of love, there are three variables that define love: intimacy, passion, and commitment. 

You can learn all about these types of love and six other types of lovers in our article Can Narcissists Love but in this article we want to focus your attention on consummate love and empty love. 

Consummate love is the healthiest type of love. It is when all three variables, intimacy, passion, and commitment, are present in a relationship. Abusers are incapable of this type of love because of their self-centered, manipulative, and entitled characteristics/personality traits.

Empty love occurs when commitment is the only variable present in the relationship. The people in these relationships aren’t close, they don’t feel loved, there’s no connection, trust, or respect, it is just two people existing together. 

A narcissist in a relationship with empty love

There are many other types of love that abusers can display, but as a general rule, empty love is the most common. If you grow up in an environment where you’re abused on a regular basis, you don’t feel loved, your well-being is neglected, and you’re in a constant state of confusion. This will eventually destroy your perception of consummate love. 

In fact, many victims of unhealthy/abusive childhoods have reported that at one point, the dynamics of a healthy relationship were destabilizing and that they felt more comfortable in the dysfunctional cycle of an abusive relationship, just because it is what they were familiar with!

It doesn’t mean they’re incapable of love, it means that their definition of love is severely damaged making them incapable of consummate love until they’re able to rebuild it with the guidance of a qualified professional.

If you’ve grown up in an unhealthy/abusive environment and feel like you have a corrupted perception of love, you should know that you deserve consummate love and shouldn’t settle for anything less.

Do not feel guilty or ashamed for wanting to be the best version of yourself. It is an important lesson to remember because abusers are really good at making their victims feel like their own well being is insignificant in comparison to the abuser’s.

Low Self-Esteem

There are a multitude of reasons that one could develop low self-esteem but the overarching issue is that these individuals remain stuck in trauma bonded relationships because they don’t believe they’re worth anything more than the abuse they’re enduring. 

The narcissistic behavior patterns seen in all types of abusive relationships, regardless if the abuser is a narcissist or not, are designed to hijack the victim’s identity, manipulate their reality, and corrupt their core values so the abuser can regulate all of their suppressed negative emotions. 

What does this mean? 

When an abuser is able to dictate how the victim thinks about themselves and what they believe in, they’re able to turn their victim into a repository for all of their negative emotions. It’s a long process that often takes months to achieve but from an abuser’s perspective, it’s a really important step on their quest for permanent power and control over their victim.

When they come across someone who has low self-esteem and already believes negative thoughts about themselves, it makes mirroring to fill a void in their life incredibly easy. Meaning that the bond that they form with the victim is not even close to consummate love nor will it ever be.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

The information in this article is very important for those attempting to escape their trauma bonded relationships. The reason being that abusers are masterful at creating narratives that portray the abuser as the victim and the victim as the abuser. 

A narcissist recruiting a flying monkey

Having a clear understanding that the feelings you have towards your abuser can’t possibly be true love because they’ve been developed through manipulation will help you become indifferent to the negative emotions that come with acknowledging the presence of and breaking a trauma bond.

If you want to develop a healthy definition of love after realizing that the love you had for the narcissist in your life was built off of lies, you should create a list of things you want in a partner and be specific about the things that you don’t. I believe consistency, honesty and someone who has done work on themselves are prerequisites. – Advice From Vanessa Reiser, LCSW

Even though your abuser is going to try to portray you in a very negative light the moment you confront them about their behavior, seek out a qualified professional for guidance, or leave the relationship, it is important to remember that you don’t owe them ANYTHING!

It’s a lot easier said than done but learning how to manage an abusive relationship in a way that allows you to be happy is the most important step of your healing journey.

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Get a Free Healing Bundle Every Week!

  • 1 Educational Video From a Mental Health Professional
  • 1 Informative PDF About Narcissistic Abuse
  • 1 Journaling Exercise With Multiple Prompts
  • 7 Affirmations for the Upcoming Week
  • Lifetime Access to Our Private Online Community

All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References:

Reid, Joan, et al. “Trauma bonding and interpersonal violence.” Psychology of trauma (2013).