Trauma Bonding: Definition, Examples, Signs, and Treatment

February 10, 2021

Trauma bonds can make it extremely hard to leave an abusive relationship because of the kind of emotional attachment it fosters.

Trauma bonds can be confusing and overwhelming, and if you are looking for a complete guide on what trauma bonding is and how to recognize it and break it, we have you covered. 

What is Trauma Bonding?

Essentially, trauma bonding occurs when an abusive partner and the person they are abusing form an emotional connection, and it most often happens when the victim develops sympathy or affection for the abuser. 

It can take days, weeks, or months for a trauma bond to form, and not everyone who is abused forms a trauma bond. However, when this kind of attachment does form, it can do quite a bit of harm. 

Trauma bonding also happens frequently in relationships where one partner is a narcissist, and the other partner feels loved and cared for by the narcissist. Over time, though, these positive feelings start to break down, and the abuse becomes more apparent. 

How to Recognize Trauma Bonds

Trauma bonds are easily recognizable in instances where the person being abused begins to try to justify or make excuses for their abuse. The abused partner may also:

  • Agree with any reasoning that the abuser may offer regarding their harmful behavior
  • Defend or cover for the abuser
  • Distance themselves from, or even argue with, people who are trying to help, such as family members, friends, or other loved ones
  • Become defensive or hostile if others try to intervene in an attempt to stop the abuse from continuing
  • Be unwilling to take steps to get away from the abuser or leave the relationship

Being able to recognize certain phrases or common statements that an abused partner might make can also be helpful when trying to identify a toxic relationship. 

Some common things that the abused person in a trauma bond relationship might say include:

  • “He only acts this way because he loves me so much”
  • “She can’t help it, she is under a lot of pressure right now and is going through a lot”
  • “He is the love of my life and I won’t leave him” 
  • “You are just jealous”
  • “I make them angry, so it is my own fault”

These are just a few examples that may help you identify this kind of toxic situation. Trauma bonds will also be cyclical in nature, meaning that they depend on a cycle of abuse in order for the relationship to continue. This cycle includes periods of time where the abuser actually does treat their partner well, which reassures the partner that everything is okay. 

Unfortunately, though, these phases are then followed by periods of abuse, and this pattern continues to repeat. 

Other key signs of a trauma bond include:

  • You may feel unable to leave the relationship, even if you want to
  • You feel physically or emotionally distressed whenever you do try to leave the situation
  • Your partner promises to change anytime you threaten to leave, but they do not take any steps to actually do so
  • You use and fixate on the “good” days as an excuse to stick around, even if those days are few and far between
  • You continue to trust your abusive partner and secretly hope you can change them

Why Do Trauma Bonds Happen?

Trauma bonds can happen because of feelings of attachment and dependence, but also because of a cycle of abuse and remorse. 

Attachment

Trauma bonds are often the result of an unhealthy attachment. This is because the abuser becomes the main source of support for the other partner, and the abused partner may turn to the abuser for comfort in times of need. 

Dependence

Trauma bonds can also develop when the abused person begins to rely on the abuser as a means of fulfilling emotional needs. The same way that a child relies on a parent for love and support, the abused partner relies on the abuser, and over time they might start to associate love with abuse. This kind of association can make it hard for the abused partner to see their abuser as toxic because they have begun to believe that the abuse is a show of love. 

Cycle of Abuse

A pattern of abuse followed by periods of remorse can also lead to a trauma bond because the remorse can give false hope that the abuser is going to change their ways. This cycle may also result in the abused person believing that the abuse is the price they have to pay in order to receive love and kindness from their partner. 

Coping with Trauma Bonds and How to Break Them

Leaving trauma bonds can be difficult, but it is not impossible, and with the right kind of guidance and support you can free yourself from the abuse. 

Consulting a mental health professional can allow you to develop strategies, such as:

  • Separation. Physical and emotional separation from your abuser is a critical part of being able to walk away. Physical separation is generally much easier than emotional separation, but they are both equally as important. 
  • Acknowledging the power of your own choice. Acknowledging how much power your own decisions can hold is an important part of breaking trauma bonds. Exploring your relationship in a way that sheds some light on the gaslighting, criticism, control, and addictive aspects of the connection can help you recognize your own choice to leave the situation. 
  • Developing a support network. One of the most important components of leaving a toxic situation is making sure you have a support network of family, friends, and loved ones who are there for you. These should be people that understand your goals and will continue to guide you in the right direction. As you are leaving the relationship, your abusive partner will likely do anything they can to try to coax you back. This can make it hard for you to continue to walk away without turning back. Therefore, having a good support network will ensure that the people around you are continuing to encourage you to keep moving forward.

It is also important to sincerely take care of yourself as you are working to leave the relationship. Practicing positive self-talk, self-care, and being present are all great strategies to build up your confidence and self-esteem. This in turn allows you to see your worth and know that you deserve better. 

Summary

Trauma bonding happens often and can cause a lot of harm to the abused person. 

Generally, a trauma bond is formed when the abuser becomes the main source of support for the other partner, and this partner then turns to them for love and comfort when they need it. This kind of behavior can lead to the abused partner associating love with abuse and other harmful actions, which can make it difficult for them to understand that their abuser is bad for them. 

Developing sympathy and affection for the abuser results in an emotional connection, and the resulting trauma bond likely relies on a cycle of abuse. The abuser will have phases where they exhibit abusive behaviors, and then periods of time where they show affection and remorse —  this is why it becomes so difficult to leave. 

Trauma bonds can be overwhelming and hard to get away from, but achieving freedom is not impossible. Consulting a doctor or mental health professional can get you on the right path. 

Help is out there. 

YANA matches you with an expert mental health doctor for a consultation. From there, your doctor will craft a tailored treatment plan for you, and if medication is necessary, you will receive a prescription discreetly shipped right to your front door. You’ll have access to your doctor from the privacy of your home whenever you need them.

If you are seeking an affordable and convenient way to get the help you need, look no further. YANA is here for you and ready to help you get back on your feet. 

Sources:

https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/trauma-bonding

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/trauma-bonding#:~:text=Trauma%20bonding%20is%20a%20psychological,of%20abuse%2C%20followed%20by%20remorse.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/addiction-and-recovery/201905/trauma-bonding-codependency-and-narcissistic-abuse