All is Fair in Love and Trauma Bonds

Content warning: sexual abuse, physical abuse, self harm, violence

I became familiar with the concept of trauma bonds at the age of 8 years old, and they became a reoccurring theme in my life by 20. In my childhood, there was a man in my life who had access to me in the mornings. He would wake me up, gently. Sometimes, he’d pick me up and swing me around. The sounds of my laughter would echo through the halls. He built up my trust and our bond. This man had the opportunity to fill the void where my father should’ve been, and opted to exploit his position. Eventually, I woke up to him, in the fifth grade, with his fingers in my panties. Our relationship changed, and months down the road, I was being disciplined regularly for disrespecting him. In between that, he would surprise me with gifts and goodies. If he wasn’t smacking my ass and sniffing my underwear, he was offering me rides to the mall and teaching me how to cook. That’s all our relationship was: periods of down time and abuse.

What should be red flags end up looking like fresh bruises that need nurturing.

The male partners in my life all created this same punishment and reward system relationship and expected me to follow suit. From pimps to boyfriends, I spent so many nights cuddled in someone’s arms, with tears framing my eyes, while they explain to me why I deserved it. This is a sentiment I know I share with so many; being victim blamed by your abuser is manipulation, and I don’t need to be wax poetic about the detriment that brings us.

All photos by Katy Fulp / / @ka.tyf

Having this hang up made hooking up and dating a mess. What should be red flags end up looking like fresh bruises that need nurturing. What should be a deal breaker, I was willing to reason with. Growing up in trauma left me assuming that no matter what, I’m always the bad guy. I’m the reason this is happening. I have been spit on, sexually assaulted, physically assaulted, taunted and tainted by people who would tell you to this day I was the best thing that ever happened to them. Eventually, I realized that no amount of kisses, warm dinners, patience or silence was going to make someone love me. I tried biting my tongue and biting theirs. I tried stabbing them and cutting myself. Through institutionalization and Stockholm Syndrome, I always gave it my best. This is the year I recognized my patterns, at 24 years old, married, with a child. I could not be further removed from the lives I’ve lived, and only now am I processing where I’ve been.

This was my own trauma and generational chains I’d never seen broken.

No amount of Chicken Soup for the Soul excerpts ever helped. Telling me to love myself over and over didn’t make any sense, because I did. This wasn’t about not loving me; this was about not knowing what healthy love looks like. This was about witnessing women before me stick by bad love over and over. This was my own trauma and generational chains I’d never seen broken. This was the negative reinforcement of true love in media being hard and fast, intense passion. Looking back at the 15 year old girl spiraling out and crashing into the dating scene, I never even had a chance.

All of this to say, I have a target audience. If you’ve ever pushed your friends away for the abuser you loved the most; if you’ve ever wiped your make up off because you were told you’re wearing too much/you look like you’re hunting for someone else; if you’ve ever changed your outfit; if you’ve ever had to speak with your bottom lip pulled in because they busted it; if you’ve ever decided you can’t do what you want because you know it’ll start a fight; if you’ve ever been called a whore by your lover and still to this day don’t know why; if you’ve ever been reprimanded just for speaking up to your partner; I just want to be the last to say, that you will find sunshine. Be it in your heart or in the sky, it’ll be waiting for you when you get out. Believe it or not, there can be warmth on your skin that isn’t from someone else’s hands. You’ll see.

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