Trauma Bonding- Why I stayed

I’m not a psychologist, I’m not a doctor, or a health professional. I’m just a survivor who has spent countless hours trying to figure out why it’s so hard to leave. Why even when it was so bad I feared for my life at times, I didn’t want to leave. When I did leave It mentally and physically hurt, I felt even less in control than when I stayed.

My therapist described it really well one day when we were talking. She explained I was on this emotional rollercoaster constantly going up and plummeting back down, my brain got used to this pattern like we do with anything else in our lives. This meant that even when I cut him off and left, my brain was still doing these wild ups and downs leaving me feeling so confused. I should have felt better after cutting him out of my life. Why did I feel so crazy still?? why did I feel even more off balance?? because I was now feeling crazy for no reason at all!

She explained it’s very similar to bi-polar disorder. My brain is still stuck in these crazy extremes, throw some PTSD on top of that and any trigger could send me spiraling in any direction. In that chaos and spiral, I wanted [L] again. He had isolated me from everyone at this point so he was also the only one I thought I could go to for comfort, he was still my grounding point. He had lived the crazy with me up until the time I left. He had seen the highs and lows already, taking him back and at least having someone to hold onto felt safer than being on the rollercoaster alone, or inviting someone I didn’t know or hadn’t spoken to in years to join me on the rollercoaster. I thought surely no one else in my life could possibly understand.

My brain was physically addicted to these ups and downs. It didn’t know how to stop the rollercoaster much like a drug addict doesn’t know how to live without those chemicals in their brain. It wasn’t drugs my brain needed but the dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin that would pull me out of the dark places; after the cortisol, adrenaline tore me down. I needed the next “up” to pull me out of the spiral I was in, and the one who was supplying those “ups” for so long, my “dealer of choice” was [L]. He was my “bipolar medication”, when he was being good and nice and kind, that is, he was the one who could pull me out of those deep holes. He could help me feel whole and sain again…… until the next time he shoved me back down.

The dopamine trap- Dopamine is a happy hormone! Dopamine is the happiness that comes with sunshine, finishing a task, a good caffeine boost. Dopamine is also tied to the reward center of our brain. When something good happens to us our brain releases dopamine, when something unexpectedly good happens our brain releases more dopamine. I’ve been in healthy relationships before that begin to feel stale even though the guy is generally sweet and things are going okay, it just starts to feel blah. With [L] things were never blah because I was living on this constant rollercoaster of emotions. Unlike the healthy relationships I had been in my brain never knew when to expect good things to come, he was always so hot and cold, so when he did something nice and sweet finally my brain released more dopamine than it would have when a previous partner might have done something for me. Because of his unpredictability MY BRAIN would actually reward his good behavior more than it would other peoples who I expected good behavior from. Essentially I would be happier due to a love note from him after a whole week of fighting than I would be from the daily affirmations my friend was sending me that entire week trying to help me get through it. The dopamine release with him was larger, it would shove that rollercoaster back up into a climb way faster than the smaller ones my brain was used to….. and Life was always good when the roller coaster was on its way up.

Oxytocin– Mama’s bonding with their babies, the warm fuzzies after really good sex, the nice peacefulness that comes with a good cuddle session at the end of the day. The love hormone. [L] and I had a very active physical connection, on the days he was “being good” and nice and loving. On the days he was playing that dopamine trap he would also be overly affectionate. He was doubling the happy hormones, a dopamine jump from the unexpected kindness, and an oxytocin spike from the physical closeness that came with it.

I’m not saying that [L] was some mad neuroscientist and knew that he could create physical neurological needs in my brain by using this pattern. But it is a pattern most narcissists use because it works. It uses our brain chemistry against us. This is how codependents are created.

**I will continue to add to this post as time goes on and I learn more. I know a lot about cortisol and adrenaline and PTSD but I’m not sure how I want to frame them within the terms of this post as I am still learning more every day.

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