If you have lived with abuse and felt attached to your abuser, you may have experienced trauma bonding.
It might be a romantic partner or a parent, or even a close friend. If a person in your life alternates between treating you abusively then showering you with attention, a powerful bond can result.
You might think having a bond with another person is a positive thing. But trauma bonding is more like an entanglement that keeps you in a dysfunctional relationship.
A trauma bond can reduce your self-esteem and lead to unwanted mental health issues. That’s why it’s important to identify whether you’re in this type of relationship and if so, take steps to break this bond.
Trauma bonding is the formation of an unhealthy bond between a person living with abuse and their abuser.
Trauma bonds are not just found in romantic relationships. They can happen between family members, friends, and even coworkers.
This bond is forged through affection alternating with abuse. The contrast between the two makes the affection seem more valuable and leaves the person hanging on for the next outpouring of positive reinforcement.
Depending on the type of abuse you’re experiencing, you might not feel safe leaving or self-advocating. According to research, victims of intimate partner violence develop bonds with their abusers to survive the abuse.
So instead of fighting back or fleeing, you focus on the good parts of the relationship and ignore the rest. You rationalize the fact that you’ve stayed by making excuses on behalf of your abuser.
This sets you up for a repeated pattern of disregarding abuse. You become habituated to the relationship dynamic and increasingly powerless to leave.
It’s understandable to say nice things about the people you care about. You may miss them when they’re not around and advocate for them when they need support.
But trauma bonding is different. The kindness and commitment you offer come at the expense of your well-being.
In a trauma bond, you might:
- justify abusive behavior, for example: “they’re only yelling at me because they are tired”
- cover for your abuser
- tolerate abuse to please them
- feel like you owe your abuser
- hide your true feelings around them
- be unable to leave the relationship even if you want to or know you should
- offer your trust and goodwill even when the other person betrays you
- blame yourself for their unwanted behaviors
- change your thinking to match their opinions
- distance yourself from people who question the health of your relationship
(Video) How To Break The Trauma Bond
If you have a combative spouse who is overly critical and finds a way to blame their problems on you, your relationship might include a trauma bond. They might be jealous and suspicious of you and try to control you.
Maybe you have a parent with narcissistic traits or narcissistic personality disorder who takes credit for your achievements while criticizing most of what you do. They may be temperamental and use bullying tactics, but they bought you whatever you asked for while you were growing up.
You have a friend who seems to think highly of you but abandons you when other friends are around. You’ve heard your friend has told lies about you and spread unkind rumors. They apologize and treat you like their best friend again, until the next round of abandonment and gossip.
Though it may not be easy, there are ways you may be able to extricate yourself from a trauma bond.
Some types of abuse are clearer than others, like those involving physical contact. Some types are less obvious.
Gaslighting is one such example. When a person gaslights you, they manipulate you so that you doubt yourself. The motivation for gaslighting is often exerting control over the other person.
There are several kinds of non-physical abuse, some of which include:
- verbal abuse, such as name-calling
- emotional abuse, like gaslighting
- economic abuse, when an abuser takes complete control of their spouse’s money
- identity abuse, like threatening to out someone as LGBTQ+ against their wishes
Maybe your abuser tries to isolate you from your friends and family. Or maybe they blame you for their own mistakes or unwanted behavior. They might monitor and interrogate you.
Spotting these types of abuse is an important step in breaking your trauma bond.
If you don’t recognize certain behaviors as abusive, there’s a chance you might internalize their distorted messaging.
However, if you can spot the abuse tactics, you can start to distance yourself from your trauma bond.
If you pay attention to your thoughts, you may find that many are negative and mirror your abuser’s treatment. This is something you can change.
For example, imagine you drop a dish and it breaks. Your reflexive thought might be “I’m so clumsy!” A more helpful alternative might be: “I’m usually more coordinated, but I’m tired. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
The second option takes the fault away from you and accurately frames the event as an accident. It also gives you a constructive suggestion: try to get more sleep.
If you’re caught in a trauma bond, chances are you spend a lot of your energy trying to please your abuser. It can be exhausting, and the futility of your efforts can eat away at your self-esteem.
Instead, turning your care efforts back onto yourself can rejuvenate your spirits. Focusing on self-care can help.
It can also give you some valuable perspective. Unless you remind yourself of what it means to receive respectable treatment, you may lose sight of what your abuser has taken from you.
Recognizing apologies without change
Your abuser may not always be difficult. They might apologize and treat you well between abusive outbursts.
This doesn’t undo the damage from abuse. In fact, it can worsen the situation because it makes it harder for you to leave.
If you remember that apologies don’t count when they’re followed by more abusive behavior, this can help break your trauma bond.
Finding professional support
A therapist trained in the effects of trauma can help you reframe the thought processes that keep you in your trauma bond. Therapists trained in trauma-informed care understand the impact that adverse experiences can have on mental health.
Instead of asking what’s different about you, they seek to understand what’s happened to you.
Trauma therapy may enable you to heal from the abuse you’ve experienced and extract yourself from the trauma bond you share with your abuser.
It’s important to find the right therapist. Research has shown that when practitioners aren’t trained in trauma care, providing this service can be retraumatizing for the client, and traumatizing for the therapist.
There is never a justification for abuse.
You might think the other person is treating you badly because you’ve disappointed them. Even if you did make a mistake, you’re human. No mistake should have abuse as a consequence.
Trauma bonds can be difficult to escape, but there are ways to distance yourself emotionally from your abuser. Recognizing abuse for what it is rather than internalizing mistreatment is an important first step.
Reaching out for support from a trauma-informed therapist can also help.
You’re not alone in your situation, and there’s a range of resources available:
- Casa de Esperanza (in Spanish)
- Hope Recovery
- National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health
- National Child Abuse Hotline
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
- National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center
- National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
- National Sexual Assault Hotline
- Pathways to Safety International
- The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community
You may sometimes feel overwhelmed, so it might help to read some success stories like the ones featured at Partnership Against Domestic Violence.
How long does it take to break the trauma bond? There is no set time for how long it takes to heal from a trauma bond, as each person is different. Some people may find that it takes months, or even years, to overcome the effects of being in a trauma bonded relationship.How long does it take trauma bonds to break? ›
How long does it take to break the trauma bond? There is no set time for how long it takes to heal from a trauma bond, as each person is different. Some people may find that it takes months, or even years, to overcome the effects of being in a trauma bonded relationship.Can you break a trauma bond and still be together? ›
While it may seem nearly impossible to exit a situation where a trauma bond is present, there is hope with the proper support and healthy boundaries. Individuals who find themselves in a toxic relationship can break a trauma bond and lead healthy lives with healthy relationships.What are 3 signs of a trauma bond? ›
- An abuse victim covers up or makes excuses to others for an abuser's behavior.
- An abuse victim lies to friends or family about the abuse.
- A victim doesn't feel comfortable with or able to leave the abusive situation.
- An abuse victim thinks the abuse is their fault.
Trauma bonding occurs when a narcissist repeats a cycle of abuse with another person which fuels a need for validation and love from the person being abused. Trauma bonding often happens in romantic relationships, however, it can also occur between colleagues, non-romantic family members, and friends.How do you know when the trauma bond is broken? ›
Breaking a trauma bond comes with intense withdrawal symptoms, flashbacks, cravings for the toxic person, compulsive thoughts about what happened, and an anxious state that may make you feel like you are going backward, without abate.What are the 7 stages of trauma bonding? ›
Breaking a trauma bond starts with identifying the 7 stages of trauma bonding, which encompasses gaslighting, love bombing, emotional addiction, criticism, loss of self, trust and dependency, and resigning to control. It is important to understand how these stages develop in a toxic and abusive relationship.Why is it so hard to break a trauma bond? ›
Trauma bonds aren't simply a challenging relationship: they are deeply rooted in our basic need for attachment and security. The abuser wields tremendous power and control that compound with shame and embarrassment, making it impossible for their abused partner to leave.Why is leaving a trauma bond so hard? ›
Trauma bonds are hard to break because the cycle of abuse that causes them floods the victim's brain with dopamine, causing them to develop an addiction for the relationship and because abusers often victimize themselves to make the victim doubtful, guilty, and ashamed for attempting to break the trauma bond.Do narcissists feel the trauma bond? ›
Narcissists do feel the trauma bond, but not in the same way that the people that they abuse feel it. A trauma bond makes narcissists feel remarkably well because the dynamics of a trauma bonded relationship are designed to help them regulate the painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that they've suppressed.
While you can take action to begin weakening the trauma bond on your own, these bonds tend to hold fast. You might not find it easy to break free without professional support, and that's absolutely normal.Can a trauma bond turn into a healthy relationship? ›
Unfortunately, transforming a trauma bond into a healthy attachment rarely happens, although it is possible to stop one from forming before it's too late. If you know that you are in a toxic relationship, seek help. It may seem difficult, even impossible.What is a toxic trauma bond? ›
Trauma bonding occurs when a person involved in a toxic or abusive relationship forms a strong bond with, and often idealizes, their abuser. This emotional connection with an abuser is an unconscious way of coping with trauma or abuse.Does a trauma bond feel like love? ›
Trauma bonds are bonds that commonly form as a result of abusive relationships. They are the surface-level feelings of attachment and intimacy that can result from an abusive cycle. In a trauma bond, partners think they have true love or connection even though the relationship is harmful.What does trauma bonding do to the brain? ›
Trauma Bonds Create Chemical Warfare in our Brains
Reuniting and the love-bombing that follows then floods our systems with dopamine. Dopamine and oxytocin together strengthen our bond even more and ease our fear and anxiety. We feel loved. We feel safe.
Trauma bonds are rooted in a person's innate need for attachment and security. They can cause you to develop sympathy or affection for your abuser. The abuser wields power over you, convincing you that you can't live without them. You may turn to the abuser for comfort, even though the abuser hurts you.What strengthens a trauma bond? ›
Trauma bonding is a bond that develops when two people undergo intense, risky emotional experiences together. In the context of an abusive relationship, this bond is strengthened due to the heightenedintimacy and danger.What is trauma dumping? ›
Trauma dumping is defined as unloading traumatic experiences on others without warning or invitation. It's often done to seek validation, attention, or sympathy. While some initial relief may come from dumping your trauma onto someone else, the habit actually does more harm than good.What does a trauma bond look like? ›
A trauma bond is attaching to someone who causes you harm. It is characterised by abuse where the abuser uses manipulative tactics to keep control. Abuse can be emotional, physical, sexual, domestic, financial, and/or cultural. Trauma bonds can easily be misinterpreted as feelings of passion or closeness.What is the best example of trauma bonding? ›
In a trauma bond, you might: justify abusive behavior, for example: “they're only yelling at me because they are tired” cover for your abuser. tolerate abuse to please them.
In order to heal and find trauma resolution, a person must be able and willing to see how their compulsive behavior only aids in forming trauma bonds and therefore they must break the compulsivity. Codependency on the other hand, focuses more on the addiction.Is Stockholm Syndrome the same as trauma bonding? ›
The term 'trauma bond' is also known as Stockholm Syndrome. It describes a deep bond which forms between a victim and their abuser. Victims of abuse often develop a strong sense of loyalty towards their abuser, despite the fact that the bond is damaging to them.What is the silent treatment for trauma bonding? ›
This form of abuse involves the partner not speaking to you as punishment, acting like they're part of a group of people more important than you. This is a toxic health communications technique. The silent treatment involves not talking to a person for a long time until they break down and beg for forgiveness.Which words would hurt a narcissist and make him leave you alone? ›
- 1. “ ...
- “I Can't Control How You Feel About Me” ...
- “I Hear What You're Saying” ...
- “I'm Sorry You Feel That Way” ...
- “Everything Is Okay” ...
- “We Both Have a Right to Our Own Opinions” ...
- “I Can Accept How You Feel” ...
- “I Don't Like How You're Speaking to Me so I Will not Engage”
Trauma bonds can last from several months up to a few years. For some people it might not fade away completely and can take longer to fully recover. The impact of the confusion, lack of closure, and cognitive dissonance caused by narcissists can make the trauma bond last longer.How do you break a trauma bond with a narcissist? ›
- 1) Know what you're dealing with. ...
- 2) Learn to recognize a trauma bond. ...
- 3) Stop beating yourself up. ...
- 4) Get yourself in a good place. ...
- 5) Take an honest look at the narcissist's behavior. ...
- 6) Identify and bust down the narcissists' control strategies.
Some long-term impacts of trauma bonding include remaining in abusive relationships, having adverse mental health outcomes like low self-esteem, negative self image, and increased likelihood of depression and bipolar disorder, and perpetuating a generational cycle of abuse.Is trauma a bond or love? ›
One way to determine whether you're in a healthy relationship or a trauma bond is to focus on how your relationship consistently makes you feel. A healthy relationship makes you feel supported, secure, and confident, while a trauma bond makes you feel fearful, anxious, or put down.Can you turn a trauma bond into a healthy relationship? ›
And the fact is, a trauma bond will not transform into a healthy relationship, no matter how much the person being abused hopes so or tries to fix it. “It's often mistaken for love,” Wilform says. “But love doesn't consist of you having to be in a cycle of being mentally diminished or physically hurt.”What are the negatives of trauma bonding? ›
Some long-term impacts of trauma bonding include remaining in abusive relationships, having adverse mental health outcomes like low self-esteem, negative self image, and increased likelihood of depression and bipolar disorder, and perpetuating a generational cycle of abuse.
The relationship cycle typical of extreme narcissistic abuse generally follows a pattern. Individuals in emotionally abusive relationships experience a dizzying whirlwind that includes three stages: idealization, devaluing, and discarding.What is the difference between trauma bonding and codependency? ›
In order to heal and find trauma resolution, a person must be able and willing to see how their compulsive behavior only aids in forming trauma bonds and therefore they must break the compulsivity. Codependency on the other hand, focuses more on the addiction.Do people trauma bond on purpose? ›
This explains why trying to stop contact feels like you are coming off a drug. Survivors and perpetrators of domestic abuse will often form trauma bonds whereby they both become emotionally hooked into the relationship – this can make it extremely difficult for the survivor to unlock herself and escape from the abuse.