Victims of abuse are going to encounter an overwhelming amount of manipulation, devaluation, and invalidation when they attempt to escape their trauma bonded relationship. They are going to experience a lot of self-doubt, self-blame, and confusion so being aware of just how long trauma bonded relationships last could provide the validation and reassurance that they need to continue down their healing journey without second-guessing themselves.

A study among 300 survivors of trauma bonded relationships showed that the average duration of the relationship for those bonded to a romantic partner who they had children with was 16.4 years, for those without children it was 6.6 years, and for those trauma bonded to a family member it was 26.4 years.

In this study there were 75 participants who were trauma bonded to someone they had kids with, 75 participants who were trauma bonded to someone they didn’t have kids with, and 150 participants who were trauma bonded to a family member. In this study we considered the trauma bonded relationship to be over when the victim was able to emotionally and/or physically escape the relationship.

In this article we are going to guide you through some of the most common reasons that our participants believed that their trauma bonded relationship lasted so long. We’ve also created a short video below with the results of another study we did in our article How Long Do Trauma Bonds Last to determine how long it takes to break a trauma bond after one realizes that they’re trauma bonded.

A Short Video With the Results From a Study About How Long Trauma Bonds Last

Trauma Bonds Last Because You Believe the Negative Things That Your Abuser Says About You

It is really important that victims of abuse understand why they are victims of abuse because it will give them the answers and closure that they may desire while escaping a trauma bonded relationship.

In our article Why Do Trauma Bonds Happen we walk you step-by-step through the different circumstances that can cause trauma bonding but in this article we are going to approach this topic from the abuser’s perspective because understanding their point of view is equally as important because it will help answer many questions you may have when breaking a trauma bond with an abuser.

Generally speaking, abusers are so emotionally inadequate that they’re incapable of regulating their own negative emotions. Again, this isn’t true for all abusers but as a general rule the negative emotions that they’re incapable of regulating are powerful ones like a sense of inadequacy, shame, fear, self-hate, and an overwhelming amount of insecurities and vulnerabilities.

an abuser sad with themselves

A non-abusive person would be able to acknowledge that they have a serious problem and that they need help but abusers use their victims as repositories for their negative emotions, meaning that they project all of their negative emotions onto their victim which is really just an inadequate form of emotional regulation.

The scary part about this emotionally stunted form of regulation is that abusers need their victims to accept all of the negative emotions that they are projecting onto them or else the emotions would just bounce off the victim and come flying back at them which would compromise their emotional stability.

To force the victim to accept their negative emotions the abuser will subject them to an intense amount of invalidation, devaluation, dehumanization, manipulation, and chaos with the intent of destroying the victim’s sense of self and ability to conceptualize their own version of reality accurately.

Once this happens, the victim will become dependent on their abuser to construct a sense of self and conceptualize an “accurate” version of reality. This allows the abuser to effortlessly project all of their negative emotions onto their victim and move on with their insecure pursuit of power, control, validation, admiration, and reassurance.

It is for this reason that despite all of the invalidation, devaluation, dehumanization, and chaos, it is very common for trauma bonded relationships to last for months, years, and even decades. It gets to a point where trauma bonded victims of abuse believe that everything is their fault and don’t believe that they’re worth anymore more than the abuse that they’re enduring because of all the negative emotions that their abuser forced them to adopt as their own.

Trauma Bonded Relationships Last a Long Time When You’re Unable to Let Go of the Wish for Things to Be Different

Trauma bonding destroys your sense of self, ability to conceptualize your own reality, and mental/physical health. It decimates your core values and self-esteem so that abusers can create a new identity for you that holds all of their negative emotions like a sense of inadequacy, shame, fear, self-hate, and an overwhelming amount of insecurities and vulnerabilities.

After a while, the invalidation, devaluation, dehumanization, manipulation, and chaos just becomes your life and who you are. You completely lose sight of who you once were and your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs are neglected so that you can be a viable source of validation, admiration, and reassurance for the abuser in your life.

A narcissist telling at their trauma bonded victim.

Not only does this make escaping and healing from a trauma bonded relationship hard, but it also makes simply acknowledging that what you’re experiencing is abuse nearly impossible.

The reason being that it requires you to acknowledge and accept that someone who has so much power and control over you is not the “perfect” person who wants what is best for you, they are a manipulative abuser that sucks the life out of you.

Once this acknowledgment is made, it destroys the identity that your abuser created for you through invalidation, devaluation, dehumanization, manipulation, and chaos, which is a really good thing, but it also leaves you feeling like you have nothing.

In a perfect world, acknowledging that what you’re experiencing is abuse would destroy the identity that your abuser created for you and allow you to return to who you were before the abuse. Unfortunately, that rarely happens.

More often than not, trauma bonded victims of abuse are left broken, confused, lost, and terribly alone, but fail to realize that it is just part of the healing journey. It is for this reason that being unable to let go of the wish for things to be different by refusing to acknowledge that what you’re experiencing is abuse, and deciding to give the abusive relationship another chance can make trauma bonded relationships last for a very long time.

The healing journey after a trauma bonded relationship is a dark and painful path to walk down but it is necessary when reconstructing your identity to be the best version of yourself.

Trauma Bonded Relationships Last a Long Time Because of Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is a theory that suggests when we experience an inconsistency among belief, behavior, and information, it causes a tremendous amount of psychological tension. To ease this tension we will change one or more of the elements that are causing the inconsistency to make everything consistent. In abusive relationships, cognitive dissonance is the justification, rationalization, and normalization of abuse.

An Example of Cognitive Dissonance

Jack and Sarah have been dating for a few months now and it has been fantastic. Sarah feels like Jack understands her better than anyone else has, he is constantly surprising her, he makes her feel so special and wanted. He makes her truly believe that he is the perfect person for her and she loves him.

As time goes on, the magical spark that Jack and Sarah once had begins to fade away. Jack doesn’t want to see Sarah as much, he deletes all of their photos off of social media but tells Sarah it’s nothing to worry about, he has a nasty temper that he says is because of stress, and he start pointing out all of Sarah’s insecurities and vulnerabilities in a very devaluing, invalidating, and dehumanizing way.

It is really confusing for Sarah but she doesn’t think much of it because of how much she loves him. One day she is out eating dinner with Jack and she runs into a guy that she went to high school with. She is excited to see him because they were really good friends and gives him a hug.

Jack seemed fine with it but once they got in the car he exploded with rage and hit her. She is shocked, embarrassed, and hurt. Jack continues to rage and project all of his negative emotions onto her. It is so intense and contradicts all of her beliefs about Jack that she is left with no choice but to believe the things he is saying.

She starts second guessing herself, wondering if she was flirting or if she hugged him inappropriately. She decides that she should have just walked right past him without saying a word. She felt like she was being really inappropriate and unfaithful to Jack.

What Should You Have Learned From This Example?

Take a moment to remember the three pillars of cognitive dissonance: behavior, information, and belief. In the beginning stages of the relationship, Jack demeanor showed Sarah the behavior and gave her the information needed to manipulate her into developing a belief that she was in a happy, healthy, and secure relationship.

When the relationship stopped being happy and became physically abusive, Jack’s demeanor changed the behavior Sarah saw and the information she was given, leaving her with only the belief that she was still in a happy, healthy, and secure relationship.

Acknowledging that the man that she thought was “perfect” for her was actually a manipulative abuser would cause a tremendous amount of psychological tension so instead she changed one or more of the elements to make the downfall of the relationship her fault instead of Jack’s fault.

We created a very thorough guide through cognitive dissonance and how victims of abuse end up justifying, rationalizing, and normalizing abuse in our article How Long Do Trauma Bonds Last that we highly recommend that you read through.

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

A trauma bonded relationship is so dangerous. If you are unsure whether or not you are in a trauma bonded relationship, we recommend that you familiarize your self with our article What Are the Signs of a Trauma Bonded Relationship?

If you still have a lot of feelings for the abuser in your life, our article Can You Love Someone That You’re Trauma Bonded To should help you a lot. If you want to know what breaking a trauma bond is like, our articles Why Are Trauma Bonds So Hard to Break, What does Breaking a Trauma Bond Feel Like, and Why Do Trauma Bonds Feel Like an Addiction are must reads!

With all of that being said, the one thing that we want you to walk away from this article with is a clear understanding that abuse is never your fault but it is your responsibility to pull yourself out of the darkness that your abuser is trapping you in.

It is going to be hard and hopefully you’ll be able to find amazing people who can help you on your healing journey, but you are going to have to do the heavy lifting which begins with educating yourself on the complexity of abuse so that you can dismantle the manipulative structure it creates.

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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

Dutton, Donald G., and Susan Painter. “Emotional attachments in abusive relationships: A test of traumatic bonding theory.” Violence and victims 8.2 (1993): 105-120.