Trauma Bonding: How to Break the Cycle

What is Trauma Bonding?

Trauma bonding is a psychological response to abuse. It occurs when the abused person forms an unhealthy bond with the person who abuses them. Essentially, they are the dysfunctional attachments that occur in the presence of danger, shame or exploitation committed by an abuser.

What are Symptoms of Trauma Bonds?

  1. Obsessing/ Difficulty controlling obsessive thoughts about people who have caused harm even if they are long gone
  2. Continuing to seek contact with people whom you know will cause further pain 
  3. Going “overboard” to help people who have been destructive or harmful
  4. Being a “team” member when obviously things are becoming destructive in a particular relationship or interpersonal dynamic 
  5. Continual excessive people pleasing behaviors particularly in a cyclical abusive dynamic
  6. Repeatedly trusting people who have proven to be unreliable 
  7. Inability to retreat from unhealthy relationships 
  8. Strong desire to be understood by those who clearly do not care 
  9. Choosing to stay in conflict with others when it would cost nothing to walk away 
  10. Undying loyalty to an abuser 
  11. Covering up or making excuses for abuser’s behavior- Includes lying to close friends and family about abuse
  12. Internalization of abuse and harm caused

Types of Trauma Bonding Situations/ Environments 

There are many types of abusive situations in which trauma bonding can occur, and emotional attachments are common in abusive situations. They are nothing to be ashamed of, as they result from our brains looking for survival methods. it is most likely to happen in a situation where the abuser makes a point of expressing love to the person they are abusing, and where they act as if the abuse will not happen again after each time, it does. It’s that combination of abuse and positive reinforcement that creates the trauma bond or the feeling of the abused that the abuser isn’t all bad. This dynamic causes the victim to feel that the only safe place is with their abuser who has their best interest in mind.

Most common types of trauma bonding:

  1. Domestic/ Intimate-Partner violence and abuse
  2. Pedophilic/ grooming relationships 
  3. Kidnapping 
  4. Cults 
  5. Sexual Abuse

Impact of Trauma Bonding and How to Break the Cycle

Anyone who has trauma bonded to their abuser may experience continued trauma responses, depression, anxiety and even PTSD symptoms. Some studies suggest that delay in support and therapeutic interventions can prolong this symptom and even continue the cycle.

Experiencing trauma bonding may also increase the likelihood of an intergenerational cycle of abuse, especially in familial and domestic abuse environments.

Breaking the cycle:

  1. Identifying trauma bond situation and working towards leaving relationship/environment 
  2. Creating a safety plan and identifying resources, support system to leave abusive situation
  3. Seeking therapeutic spaces whether individual therapy or supportive group therapy with other survivors 
  4. Coping ahead to identify triggers and cyclical patterns to prevent trauma bond from reoccurring.

If you or a loved one are a victim of domestic violence or abuse, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for confidential assistance from trained advocates.

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