Trauma bonding is a psychological reaction to abuse. In this situation, the victim develops a relationship with the abuser. This blog post explores trauma bonding and ways to end it.
CW: Mentions of suicide and abuse.
What is Trauma Bonding?
Many emotions come along with abuse, whether emotional or physical, and it can be challenging to cope with them.
During trauma bonding, one person abuses the other, causing trauma, but then reinforces the other with positive reinforcement. It is sometimes difficult to cope with the complicated emotions triggered by these traumatic experiences for the other person.
Consequently, the abuser may become a part of the person’s identity. As a result, they begin to feel an emotional attachment.
It is common for people to tell themselves that their partner was solely upset, that they will change, or that they will return to their former self after abuse.
As a result, they get caught up in an abuse and positive reinforcement cycle, continually returning to the person, even though they know they are being mistreated.
Trauma bonding signs
Whenever a person tries to justify or defend the abuse, they have bonded with the abuser. It is also possible for them to:
- Justify why the abuser treats them in such a way
- Cover for the abusive person
- Dispute with or distance themselves from family, friends, and neighbors who are trying to help
- In response to someone intervening, they may become hostile or defensive
- To be reluctant to leave an abusive situation or break a bond
Bonding after trauma stages
Trauma bonding involves seven stages. Each trauma bond is unique but often involves some of these familiar patterns.
An act of love bombing occurs when someone overwhelms you with their affection. You might receive extravagant flower bouquets every day for a week, or you might be told that they love you early on.
Psychologists note that narcissists and sociopaths may love bomb to gain the trust of their partners.
To be considered trustworthy, an abuser may perform specific actions. It is possible that you will become offended if you doubt their honesty.
Abusers often criticize their victims so harshly that they even blame themselves. It is common for victims to believe they deserve criticism despite having done nothing wrong.
Those who abuse their victims manipulate them to justify their behavior. Abusers may gaslight victims when they speak out against unfair treatment. For example, they’ll say things like, “You’re imagining it,” “you’re being too sensitive,” or “You’re exaggerating.” They may even normalize the abuse to the victim and convince them it’s not something to worry about.
The fawn response results from repeated abuse, in which a victim resigns to going along with the abuse. Their response to abuse is to give in to what the abuser wants. A fawn response is sometimes referred to as people-pleasing. In addition, it is a survival mechanism.
Abuse causes severe psychological distress; unfortunately, during this stage, the victim may also experience emotional numbness, feeling like they have lost their identity, withdraw from people and activities, and even consider suicide.
For support and assistance from a trained counselor, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. Call 911 if you or someone you know is in immediate danger.
Our National Helpline Database has additional mental health resources.
Repetition of the Cycle
Unfortunately, abuse cycles are characterized by repetition. It is common for abusers to love bomb their victims and gain their trust again following an abuse incident.
Often, the victim makes excuses for the abuser’s actions. Until another incident of abuse occurs, things may seem to be returning to “normal.”
It is possible to break the cycle of abuse. The goal of finding safety in healthy relationships may seem impossible at times, but many people go on to end abusive relationships.
Breaking the bond
Because the brain is already familiar with the highs and lows of abuse in childhood, people who have experienced abuse in childhood are attracted to similar relationships in adulthood.
There are ways to stop the cycle of trauma, even if you have experienced trauma before.
Be aware of what you’re up against
An essential first step is recognizing the bond. Of course, this is easier said than done regarding abuse.
Below are some tips for finding evidence of abuse and recognizing trauma bonding:
- By keeping a journal, you can identify patterns and notice problems with behavior that may not have seemed abusive at the time.
- Take a step back: Pretend you’re reading a book about your relationship. Adverse events are often easier to examine when you are detached from them.
- You can get essential perspectives from loved ones by talking to them. Make a point of listening and considering the accuracy of your observations.
Don’t blame yourself
The belief that you caused or brought the abuse upon yourself can prevent you from exercising your autonomy, effectively keeping you in the relationship.
No matter what, abuse is never your fault.
Completely cut off all contact
When you decide to leave, stop all communication and ultimately disrupt the cycle.
Co-parents may not be able to maintain only necessary contact, but a therapist can assist you.
Make physical distance by staying with a relative or friend. You may also want to consider changing your phone number.
Consult a professional
It’s possible to weaken the trauma bond on your own, but these bonds tend to stick. With professional support, it may be easier for you to break free.
Trauma bonding can often be explained clearly by a therapist’s understanding of abuse patterns.
Working with a trauma-informed therapist is generally recommended. Professionals in our directory specialize in recognizing and treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially complex PTSD.
An abusive situation of any kind may have resulted in trauma bonding. There is nothing to be ashamed of or guilty about. This response to trauma is natural, and there is help available.
It is possible to heal from your trauma bond by talking with a mental health professional, a support group and even trusted loved ones.