Every time I left Jerkface, I was still in love with him. I know how hard it is to leave when you’re still in love with your abuser. Yes, being with him or her makes you feel sad, small, unappreciated, scared, and ugly – and maybe there are physical bruises too – but being away from Jerkface somehow hurts even more! How is this possible?
Enter the trauma bond, and yes, it’s as bad as it sounds.
According to this powerful post What Abusers Hope We Never Learn About Trauma Bonding, trauma bonding “…happens when you feel emotionally and physically dependent upon a dominant partner – who dishes out abuse and rewards so you believe that he’s all-powerful.”
With a Jerkface, your relationship isn’t built on mutual trust, respect, and enjoyment. It’s built on power and control, and guess what – Jerkface has both of those. Over time and a series of exchanges, you and Jerkface have agreed to a sort of crappy dance routine that goes like this:
- Jerkface treats you like garbage with their signature abuse style (verbal, financial, physical, some sort of combo)
- You protest to the degree you are able to/unafraid to
- Jerkface rewrites reality (gaslighting) and projects onto you (YOU’RE the abuser for complaining about being abused!)
- You feel crazy and bad so you apologize
- Jerkface rewards you (pick your poison: hot sex, a fancy dinner, confessions that s/he could never love anyone but you, jewelry, an ENTIRE day where they’re just so damn nice to you for once…)
The problem with this, besides that it completely sucks, is that it’s a sort of addictive cycle, especially for those of us who grew up in families where this seems normal.
The pain can seem to enhance the pleasure. The lows make the highs feel so much higher. But that’s an illusion. The bad times hurt so much that little crumbs of good times just feel SO GOOD in comparison. But you haven’t suddenly figured out how to make Jerkface happy. You’ve been starved for kindness. And Jerkface is just performing the next part of their evil dance routine and s/he loves that you fall for it EVERY.SINGLE.TIME.
You see, the “good times” are an essential part of the abuse. I’m going to repeat that and be really obnoxious about it by screaming in allcaps now: THE GOOD TIMES ARE PART OF THE ABUSE. If there were no good times at all, almost no one would sign up for a relationship where you don’t keep your money or your friends or your favorite foods or clothes. If there were no good times, who would stay with someone who accuses them of being a liar and a whore and a stupid loser?
Without the honeymoon period of the abusive cycle, there would be no bond, only trauma. The good times create the bond – and that’s what makes it hard to leave.
Good times with your abuser doesn’t mean you’ve finally broken through and are going to live happily ever after. With a Jerkface, good times only mean one thing: bad times are just around the corner.
I know it hurts to think you’re being played, but it could be the one thing that helps you leave Jerkface for good. Real love doesn’t hurt like this. I know you feel like you can’t live without him or her, but you can. By the way, Jerkface doesn’t deserve a heads-up or a nice little chat to get on the same page (you will NEVER win that discussion and it will be used against you). If you have no resources or if you have kids and can’t just leave, reach out to your local domestic violence shelter.
SUMMARY: If leaving Jerkface seems impossible, blame the trauma bond – then GET OUT ANYWAY. The combination of abuse + reward creates an addictive, harmful cycle that can be hard to beat. But you can get out by focusing on facts, not feelings. You can still feel like you love Jerkface but leave because you love yourself more.