Exploring trauma bonding and dysfunctional family relationships: Is it love or fear that keeps you going back for more?

Trauma bonding between siblings can also be mischaracterised as love when in fact the underlying emotion is fear, guilt or shame. Siblings can mischaracterise a dependence on each other for safety as sibling love. As an adult, a person may feel guilty if they abandon a sibling who would then be left to fend for themselves against the abusive and toxic family member/s. Ultimately, it is this lack of understanding which often makes it so difficult for people to go ‘no contact’ with family members should it be absolutely necessary to do so. The trauma bond can become so strong and distorted that it becomes extremely difficult for people to escape abusive and toxic families. It is not until the person can assess whether it is love or trauma bonding can they become empowered to make conscious decisions which are in their best interests. They, as an adult, can call the police and press charges if they are abused by a parent, sibling or other family member. They, as an adult, can recognize that they are not responsible for other people’s actions or decisions and can therefore realise they are not responsible if a parent or family member chooses to kill or hurt themselves.

It is up to you to assess whether trauma bonding or love is the most likely explanation for the relationship you may have with a toxic parent, sibling or family member by taking into account the circumstances in which you were raised. It is always important to assess the degree to which the family toxicity affects your own physical, mental and emotional health and safety before deciding to reduce or eliminate contact. Assess the degree of reciprocity and determine whether both sides are equal or you give 100% and they give nothing. Assess the percentage of toxicity you can realistically live with without compromising your health and safety before making any final decisions.


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