Trauma bonding is when a victim develops feelings of closeness and dependence on a person who has abused them. They may feel guilty for even thinking about leaving or angry about the idea of being “abandoned” by the abuser. This type of bond often gets stronger because each traumatic act reinforces the connection.
The impact of trauma bonding can be devastating. Victims may feel like they’re stuck in a cycle of abuse and that there’s no way out. They may feel like they’re not good enough or deserve any better. The abuser often plays on these feelings, convincing the victim that they are the only ones who can help them. This is what keeps the victim trapped in the cycle of abuse.
If you’re in an abusive relationship, it cannot be easy to think about leaving. You may feel guilty or ashamed for even considering it and afraid of being abandoned by the abuser. The relationship is often intense, with lots of highs and lows, and your feelings towards the abuser are complicated — you love them and hate them simultaneously.
Signs of Trauma bonding
You may have experienced traumatic events while in the relationship, which has taken an emotional toll on you. The abuse has made it hard to think or function normally. If this sounds like your situation, then you may be experiencing trauma bonding. Here are some signs of trauma bonding:
- You feel guilty or ashamed for even thinking about leaving.
- You’re afraid of being abandoned by the abuser.
- The relationship is extremely intense, with lots of highs and lows.
- Your feelings towards the abuser are complicated — you love them and hate them at the same time.
- You’ve experienced traumatic events while in the relationship.
- The abuse has taken an emotional toll on you, making it hard to think or function normally.
Impact of Trauma bonding
- One study claimed((Dutton DG, Painter S. Emotional attachments in abusive relationships: a test of traumatic bonding theory. Violence Vict. 1993;8(2):105-120.)) that after separation from the abuser, the impact of trauma on self-esteem could continue to six months.
- Another impact of trauma bonding is the victim developing positive feelings((Campbell JC, Webster D, Koziol-McLain J, et al. Risk factors for femicide in abusive relationships: results from a multisite case control study. Am J Public Health. 2003;93(7):1089-1097. doi:10.2105/ajph.93.7.1089)) for an abuser, leading a person to live in an abusive relationship.
- A victim can also experience anxiety and depression((Van Wert M, Anreiter I, Fallon BA, Sokolowski MB. Intergenerational transmission of child abuse and neglect: a transdisciplinary analysis. Gender and the Genome. 2019;3:247028971982610. doi:10.1177/2470289719826101)) after leaving a trauma bond.
How does trauma bonding work?
Trauma bonding often gets stronger as each traumatic act reinforces the connection. The abuser may use threats, violence, or emotional manipulation to keep the victim attached. The victim may feel like they can’t live without the abuser and may be afraid of what will happen if they leave.
Does trauma bonding occur only in narcissistic relationships?
There is some debate over whether or not trauma bonding occurs only in narcissistic relationships. Some believe that it can happen in an abusive relationship, where the abuser uses tactics like intimidation, manipulation, and guilt to keep the victim attached. Others maintain that trauma bonding is more likely to form in relationships with a solid emotional connection, such as with narcissists.
While there is no definitive answer, it is important to be aware of the possibility of trauma bonding if you find yourself in an abusive relationship.
Codependency and trauma bonding
Codependency is often seen in relationships where there is trauma bonding. The codependent person often feels responsible for the abuser and tries to take care of them in any way they can. They may feel like they need to make things right for the abuser, even if it means putting their own needs and safety last. This type of behavior can keep you trapped in the cycle of abuse.
Who is most at risk for developing a trauma bond from abuse?
Anyone can develop a trauma bond from abuse, but some people are more at risk than others. Victims who have low self-esteem or feelings of worthlessness are more likely to form a trauma bond with their abuser. People who have experienced neglect or abuse in childhood are also more likely to bond with their abuser.
How to deal with trauma bonding?
If you’re in an abusive relationship and you think you may be experiencing trauma bonding, there are steps you can take to break free from the cycle of abuse.
1. Seek professional help
This can be a difficult step, but it’s essential to have someone to talk to who understands what you’re going through. A therapist can help you deal with the emotional effects of the abuse and explore your options for leaving the relationship.
2. Get support from friends and family
Talk to the people who care about you and let them know what’s going on. They can offer emotional support and practical help, such as accompanying you to court hearings or providing a place to stay if necessary.
3. Create a safety plan
If you decide to leave the relationship, it’s important to have a plan in place for your safety. This may include having a friend or family member stay with you, having money saved up if you need to leave quickly, and having a safe place to go if things get dangerous.
4. Take care of yourself
It’s essential to focus on your own needs and the needs of your children, if you have any. Ensure you’re getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and exercising. Taking care of yourself will help you deal with the stress of the situation and give you the strength to move on.
Trauma bonding is a deep-rooted, destructive bond that can form between a victim and their abuser. It can be tough to break free from this cycle, but it’s possible. If you think you may be in a trauma bond, there are some signs to look for. Sharing your story in the comments box is a great way to help others who might be struggling with the same issue.