Trauma Bonding: A Deep Dive

I just wanted him to love me. More than anything else in the entire world, I wanted him to look at me and tell me he loved me. I wanted him to stop hurting me for a minute and hold me. I wanted to feel like I mattered to him. I wanted to finally do something right.

Sometimes, I'd get that. Just a little glimpse though, he did not want me getting spoiled by his affection. A brief moment of love, and then it was back to the torment. Back to beatings, name calling, and selling my body to the highest bidder.

After just enough love to keep me devoted to him, he went back to conditioning me. I was stupid. He hurt me because I made him. I was punished because I just couldn't follow the rules. He didn't love me because I was unlovable. He was trying his best, but I just had to make life harder for him.

He was my trafficker, and I loved him with everything I had. Sometimes I still do.

This is the reality of trauma bonding. It's cyclical. I'd give everything I had to make him happy. When that wasn't enough, I'd beat myself up over it. He'd beat me up over it, too. But every now and then, and I considered myself lucky in those moments, whatever I'd been doing to win his affection would get me a "good girl" or a kiss on the forehead or maybe he'd even hold me for a moment.

I'm fully aware how crazy that probably sounds, but here's a little perspective:

He'd isolated me from everyone in my life. I was terrified to have friends, what if he hurt them, too? I had been brainwashed not to tell anyone what he was doing to me or suffer dire consequences. I had no one to turn to.

This meant there was no one in my life to love me. No one to hold me when I was frightened. No one to bring me something to eat when I was sick. No one to help me when I was hurt. I had no one, in those worst moments of my life, but him.

And sometimes he'd swoop in and save me from a john who got too rough. Sometimes he'd give me the day off out of the goodness of his heart. Sometimes he'd let me go on a Girl Scout trip with my fellow third grade troop mates.

The reality of trauma bonding is that even now, as an adult, free from my trafficker, I find myself making excuses for him. My family needed the money. He has his own history of abuse. He just never learned how to show love.

I understand that none of those things excuse what he did to me. But I also know that the feelings he coerced me into having don't go away overnight. It took him years to condition me to be this way. It isn't going to be overcome in a few days. I think about those feelings a lot when people ask me as an advocate in the anti-trafficking movement, "Why don't they leave?" For me, it's because my trafficker convinced me he loved me, and I had to believe him to stay alive.