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Trauma Bonding: Definition, Causes, Signs, Situations, and How to Break Free

Trauma Bonding: Definition, Causes, Signs, Situations, and How to Break Free

Updated on Aug 26, 2022

Reviewed by Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD , Certified Psychiatrist

Trauma Bonding - Definition, Causes, Signs, Situations, and How to Break

Key Takeaways

  • In trauma bonding, an abuse victim develops feelings for their abuser which stops them from breaking free. 
  • If you’re trauma bonded you may face withdrawal symptoms and crave trauma to feel loved. 
  • You may hope for a change in the future but staying back in a trauma bonded relationship never works. 
  • If someone says you’re in a toxic or abusive relationship, or stops your partner from hurting you, don’t protect your partner.
  • If you’re abused, seek help from the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) @1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224. Call 911 if you’re in danger.

Wondering what’s trauma bonding? Are you or a loved one in a toxic or abusive relationship? But you can’t break free from this relationship?

I’m torn apart… to know about your relationship dynamics. This confusion about your feelings pains me. But I’m so glad I prepared this think-piece… and so proud that you’re seeking happiness.

With this think-piece, let me soothe every corner of your heart… and step towards the light at the end of this dark tunnel together.

So, hold my hand tight… don’t let go, because I want you to be happy. 

To make it to the brighter side together, let’s begin…

Trauma Bonding Infographics

Trauma Bonding - Definition & 7 Stages
Trauma Bonding – Definition & 7 Stages
Trauma Bonding - Signs & Situations
Trauma Bonding – Signs & Situations
Trauma Bonding - Causes & How To Break It
Trauma Bonding – Causes & How To Break It

What is trauma bonding? (Trauma bonding explained)

Trauma bonding is when an abuse victim empathizes or develops feelings for their abuser. It usually happens due to cyclic abuse and good feelings.

In relationships with recurring patterns of abuse, when the abused person may justify their abuser’s behavior… It’s called trauma bonding. 

The abuse victim feels an emotional attachment with their perp. Usually, it’s due to an endless cycle of abuse and positive feelings.

The abuser abuses, says it’s because they love the victim, apologizes, shows signs of regret and kindness, and tries to win over the victim.

The victim, on the other hand, notices their efforts and believes that it was unintentional. Trauma bond develops when an abusive person succeeds at manipulating the victim.

The positive reinforcements puzzle the victim. It makes it hard for them to break free from abusive relationships.

Generally, trauma bonding seems like a compulsive cycle of tiptoeing in a relationship. The victim doesn’t want to trigger the abuser’s unintentional abuse, so they always try to please them.

However, it again leads to physical, emotional, mental, or verbal abuse.

But, never assume that all abuse victims develop trauma bonds. Victims may take a few days to a few years to develop emotional attachments with their abuser.

Still, many people misunderstand this concept. So, let’s know…

What trauma bonding is not?

Trauma bonding isn’t a bonding between two people who have mutual traumatic experiences. 

Trauma bonding is a part of an unhealthy relationship. But some people misunderstand the concept of trauma bonding and romanticize it.

They feel it’s the relationship between two people who experienced the same or similar trauma. Some define it as people who fight difficulties together.

People assume it’s a form of romantic relationship just from the name. In this world, 25% of women and 10% of men are intimate relationship violence victims.

Hard to understand? Let’s know better from these…

Trauma bonding examples

Trauma bonding can happen between married or unmarried couples, friends, parent-child relationships, or even between a criminal like a human trafficker or abductor and their victims. It doesn’t just end with romance.

So, let’s know of the vast horizons here…

1. Trauma bonding marriage

A husband abuses his wife for years. When she reaches out to her parents, they say that they’re not their family anymore, her husband is. With this idea, she lives on blaming herself for the abuse.

To her counselor, she says she deserves abuse because she’s not the best wife.

2. Trauma bonding parents

Sometimes parents compare their child with another and demean them. Even if their child gets a 99/100, the parents beat him up physically and emotionally for not getting 100.

The child feels overwhelmed yet thinks that’s for the best. Because that’s how he scored better.

3. Trauma bonding friendship

A group of girls bullies another girl. They tell her they’re her friends so she must follow their instructions to keep the friendship. The girl accepts the abuse to have friends and feels lucky.

“At least people hang out with me”… she reasons.

4. Trauma bonding human trafficking

A human trafficker kidnaps a woman. He abuses her every day. One day he shares his past about how he became one and treated her well. The woman feels an emotional connection with her captor.

She justifies her captor’s decisions. This is also called Stockholm Syndrome. This was by far the most commonly used term before Trauma bonding.

5. Trauma bonding relationship

Two people are in a relationship but have no money. Person A asks person B to earn money in exchange for sex. B thinks that A is a genius to save them from hunger so quickly.

However, B never wanted to do that. B wants to break up but feels guilty for hurting A.

So, let’s get a rough idea about such relationships here…

What is a trauma bond relationship?

In a trauma bond relationship, one person abuses the other unless they follow certain rules. If the other person becomes obedient, they reward them.

However, even after obeying them, they won’t treat the victim well forever. The abuser always looks for flaws in the victims and the cycle continues.

Interested in knowing where it began? Let’s check the…

History of Trauma bonding

The concept and term trauma bonding were first introduced in 1997 in Patrick Carnes’ research named Trauma Bonds, Why People Bond to Those That Hurt Them.

In 1997, Patrick Carnes – an addiction therapy specialist – coined the term trauma bonding. He introduced this concept during his presentation – Trauma Bonds, Why People Bond to Those That Hurt Them.

He’s also the founder of the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals. 

Carnes’ studies focused on how to help victims break trauma bonds without any guilt about their responses.

Let’s know a bit better about his research here…

Trauma Bonding psychology

Trauma bonding is the brain’s biological response to dangerous situations. The brain sends signals to please the abuser for survival. The pleased abuser treats the victim well and the victim misinterprets it as love. Victims even justify their perp’s actions.

Carnes defines this term as “dysfunctional attachments” when a person feels “danger, shame, or exploitation”. He says it’s a pretty common response to traumatic or abusive situations out of all 9.

Trauma bonding is a survival instinct. The brain signals the best possible solution out of abuse. He studied the response to the extent of trauma and the period of the feelings.

It’s a biological change in the brain when people feel extremely frightened. When the fear disappears, the neurochemicals that triggered trauma bonds fade.

The feelings also fade and the victim craves trauma and feels accustomed to it. They behave obediently to please the abuser and believe it’s a healthy relationship.

For instance, children depend on elders to survive, adults depend on other adults for emotional support.

However, if a child has abusive parents, they might give into traumatic bonding. A child can’t think that their parents are bad because they provide them food and shelter.

Instead, they blame themselves for not satisfying their parents’ expectations. They never develop a sense of self as they always earn love after the abuse.

They misinterpret patterns of abuse and positive behavior as love. Further, they look for the same abusive behavior in their romantic relationships.

When abusers promise to treat the victim better, they believe it’s a fruit of endurance. This goes on like a cycle until their thoughts distort.

But a trauma bond is nothing like love. Let’s find more on it here…

Trauma bond vs love

Love develops from positive feelings and it’s unconditional. Trauma bonds develop from negative feelings and are conditional.

In a traumatic bond, one abuses, controls, and violates the other. The victim may experience feelings of love for the abuser but there’s always fear, guilt, and hatred… which is nothing like love.

In healthy relationships or love, there’s no abuse, violence, or manipulation. No person in love treats their loved one like that. Rather, in loving relationships, there’s

  • Physical and emotional security
  • Immense loyalty and support
  • Mutual respect
  •  Honesty
  • Owning responsibility for own actions
  • Sharing responsibilities
  •  Efforts to resolve conflicts
  • Justice

You may feel thankful for your perp and misinterpret it as love. But if there’s abuse, there’s no place for love.

It’s nothing like regular bonding either. Let’s find it over here…

Bonding vs Traumatic Bonding

Bonding happens over mutual emotional connections with positive feelings. Trauma bonds develop from abuse and traumatic experience from the other.

The root causes of bonding and traumatic bonding are completely different.

When two people feel strong and mutual emotional connections towards one another only with positive experiences, it’s bonding.

Traumatic bonding is a result of traumatic or negative experiences like any form of abuse.

But, does it happen in one day? Nope… because there are…

7 stages of trauma bonding

Trauma bonds may develop within days or may take years. It depends on the relationship dynamics and both people.

However, this bond successfully forms only when it goes through seven distinct stages. It starts with too much love and ends with lots of abuse.

But the next moment it begins once again. Let’s know how the cycle works…

Stage 1: Overflowing love

You feel a deep connection with the other person. They express love, care, and affection vividly.

Some also call this love bombing. You feel a shower of positive feelings and believe they’re your fated one.

Stage 2: Developing Trust and Dependency

This person goes all out to gain your trust and you feel they’re trustable. You don’t suspect them because they show excess love.

Due to their love bombing, you begin depending on them for love and validation.

Stage 3: Budding Criticism

When this person starts knowing you, they criticize you about small things. Usually, you don’t notice the diminishing love and emotional abuse because it happens too slowly to notice.

Their demands increase, they criticize you for being imperfect. You slowly start bending to their will and demands.

Stage 4: Gaslighting

In this stage, the love and validation are completely lost. This is the onset of more pronounced trauma and abuse. They blame you for everything that goes wrong in your life.

You feel confused as you can’t find where you went wrong. You second-guess your actions and behavior for gaslighting.

Stage 5: Control Establishment

Since the relationship dynamics are no longer like before, you try to reverse the situation. But you can’t find a way to establish a loving relationship.

So, you give up and let them control you to rekindle the happy times.

Stage 6: Loss of Sense of Self 

Even if you obey them absolutely, things don’t get any better. Whenever you try communicating, they blame you. It was a toxic relationship until the last stage. But once you turned obedient, they became abusive.

You feel lost, lack confidence, and become desperate to avoid fights. Your other family members feel worried about your current situation.

Stage 7: Obsession

You know that this type of relationship isn’t healthy but you stay back. You can’t leave the relationship because they’re your entire life and justify their actions.

You want their love at any cost and experience cravings similar to drug addiction.

Anxious that you’re trauma bonded? Let’s make sure here…

Trauma bonding signs

It isn’t easy to notice a trauma bonded relationship. Especially, if you’re in one, sometimes it’s hard to sort out your feelings.

But don’t think you’re confused… your abuser manipulates you with full knowledge about their actions. It’s no less than a conspiracy, so let’s catch this by its neck here…

1. You ignore the red flags for love

The other person seems very charming and sways your heart. You feel it’s the best relationship so even if there are red flags, you ignore them.

You feel safe because of their charismatic behavior. Moreover, during physical bonding with them, your body releases oxytocin (during hugs and orgasms) and dopamine (when you feel attracted).

You stick to the toxic person remembering the past good feelings. You overlook major red flags because of their love bombing.

2. You’re exhausted but don’t communicate

You know there’s something wrong and want to change it. However, their sudden outbursts of anger make you feel unsafe. You try to hold back from communication as you feel that’s the root of problems.

So, you obey them unconditionally but your mental health deteriorates. You feel exhausted and drained tiptoeing in the relationship.

But you also don’t want to aggravate the situation with communication. It’s an endless loop and you can only hope they’ll understand you someday… with reasons like After all, they did love you in the past.

3. They have controlling behaviors

Another sign is coercive control over you. They want to make you feel indebted and snatch away your independence.

They prevent you from meeting loved ones. They may deprive you of daily necessities and finances.

During their interrogations, you feel the danger and lie to them. You keep unnecessary secrets. They might be emotionally or physically abusive.

Possibly, you also feel that the abuse is a sign of their love because “they do it because they’re worried about you”.

4. You rationalize their behavior

An alarming sign in toxic relationships is justifying their behaviors. You begin to blame yourself for all the toxicity in the relationship. This is a clear sign of a trauma bond.

In a healthy relationship, you confront a person if anything upsets you. In trauma bond, you say “It’s because I made a mistake and deserve it. They only want the best for me. They’re trying to correct me.”

5. You dismiss the bad for the past

Even when they treat you badly, you feel it’s alright because they showered much more love. You allow them to abuse you because they loved you.

You accept conditional love… that only when they abuse you will they shower care. You’re so deeply attached that you stay loyal even when you face danger. You bear with it and long for the good ol’ times.

6. There’s a cycle of abuse

When a relationship is only bad, it’s quite easy to understand that you want out. But in a trauma bond, the other person manipulates you with intermittent reinforcements.

The toxic person deeply scars you and suddenly becomes loving. They tell you they’ll die without you, that you mean the world and other romantic stuff.

They confuse you into staying back and the cycle continues.

To make it clear, this isn’t about ups and downs in relationships. Abuse isn’t an excuse even if someone goes through a hard time.

7. They have the upper hand

If they have some power over you, it’s easier to control you. They might be physically, financially, or in any other areas, more powerful or influential.

If there’s a power imbalance in the relationship, you pretty much feel dependent on them. You might feel helpless without them… and even depend on their abusive nature.

Even after breaking a trauma bond, you might feel withdrawal symptoms or experience physical and emotional distress due to the dependence.

8. You depend on substances

Sometimes, abuse victims depend on addictive substances. Their mood directly impacts yours and you’re mostly agitated, overwhelmed, afraid, and exhausted.

The negative feelings depend on the intensity of your trauma bond. To soothe your emotional and psychological wounds, you might depend on alcohol or drugs to enhance your mood.

This eventually leads to substance addiction.

9. You feel accustomed to abuse

If this relationship is too old, you might feel numb to the abuse. You might accept the abuse as it is… since you didn’t die, you feel it’s perfectly fine to continue this way.

Your loved ones will show concern towards you. However, you might think “it’s no biggie, at least nothing big happened.”

If you’re mentally accustomed to such dynamics, that’s a huge sign.

10. They make fake promises to change

The easiest sign to identify a trauma bond:

The abuser never follows through with their promises. They’ll promise to change, they’ll ask for another chance to cherish you, they’ll make you dream about rekindling the old loving relationship.

But they never make an effort and soon forget about their promises. They follow through for a few days and it becomes the same again. They’re the perfect manipulator and you identify that too late.

Worried that a loved one is in a trauma bonded relationship? Let’s check for these…

Trauma Bonding Symptoms

If someone else is trauma bonded, you can’t feel their emotions unless they express it. Further, they don’t usually express themselves so it becomes harder.

However, you will notice a mild change in their behaviors due to it. So, let’s investigate here…

1. They’re reluctant about leaving the relationship… even if they don’t love them.

2. They defend their abusers whenever someone says, “Leave the relationship, they don’t cherish you”

3. They keep mum about the abusive behaviors even when there’s physical evidence like bruises and burn marks.

4. They argue when someone tries to help them break the bond.

5. When bystanders try to stop the abuse in front of them like loved ones or police, they behave defensively.

6. Their relationship seems too flowery and fast-paced to be true.

7. They want to make big decisions in comparatively young relationships, like marriage, taking babies, sacrificing their own dreams and aspirations.

8. They’re afraid their partner will leave them. So, they’re ready to change entirely for love.

9. They say nobody else in the world can understand them.

10. They’re ready to forget about friends and family for this new person.

Can’t understand if you or a loved one is trauma bonded? Find more ideas here…

Trauma Bonding Situations

It is certainly tough to understand relationships. Moreover, if it’s trauma bonded or plain toxic, that’s hard to understand too. But, if you look for certain situations or occurrences in the relationship, it’s easier.

So, let’s check all the possible incidents that signify a trauma bonded relationship. here…

1. Love bombing

In trauma bonded relationships, abusers sometimes shower you with lots of love and devotion.

It doesn’t imply that whoever gives you too many gifts is an abuser and wants to make you trauma bonded.

Sometimes, it might be a harmless courtship gesture, other times it’s a toxic manipulation technique. Most victims stay back in such relationships as they misinterpret the gifts as love.

Manipulators use the gifts and surprises to seek forgiveness and start all over… but they’re never truly sorry. It’s also a sign of narcissistic abuse. They try to keep you to them for longer periods.

2. Positive reinforcement

Another situation is when the abuser will reward you for obeying them. The rewards help you understand that you did something good. You continue to do that even if you don’t want to.

However, if you don’t obey them, they deny you any loving gesture, rewards, or gifts. They don’t treat you lovingly unless you follow their needs.

They won’t say a word but express it with their non-verbal behavior. You may feel that you’re incapable of bringing them happiness, so they behave that way.

In healthy relationships, there’s no rewarding scheme in return to obedience. Withholding affections is a manipulation technique, not a healthy dynamic.

3. Intermittent reinforcement

This is when your abuser regularly abuses you, but there are times when they show affection. They slowly poison you with brief rewarding moments and make you addicted to their narcissistic abuse.

Naturally, you don’t like the abuse and crave the beautiful moments. You want to get out of the cycle, but they appear with gifts whenever you’re ready.

4. Child abuse

Child abuse isn’t only when someone beats a child. It might include emotional abuse with degradation and comparison with others, sexual abuse from a relative (incest), neglecting their needs.

Many parents yell at children or refuse them regular affections to discipline them. That impacts the mental health of their child beyond imagination.

You, as one of the parents, stay back in the relationship to protect your child. Some abusers force you to have a child to later use it as a trump card. They want to create a power imbalance in the relationship.

Possibly, if you’re not financially stable, even if you get a divorce, your partner will get child custody. It becomes your sole reason to stay behind.

5. Any form of abuse

There are too many types of abuse that may force you to stay behind. For instance…

If you’re an elder abuse victim… you’re possibly dependent on your children for care. However, they mostly neglect you and sometimes reach out to you. You might also be unable to step out of the house because you love them.

For domestic abuse victims, it’s usually because they want to give the child a happy life or not make their family unhappy.

If you’re an immigrant, you might fear they’ll destroy your or your loved ones’ immigration documents. With the documents as a pawn, you continue.

6. Abduction and human trafficking

In kidnapping and human trafficking cases, hostages fight back to the best. They don’t have any feelings for their abductor. They even get beat up… and now refer to the Trauma Bond Psychology.

They try to please their perp to protect themselves. Later on, this feeling changes into gratitude because “Even if they hurt me, they didn’t starve me. It’s because of their circumstances.”

7. Religious cults

In various religions, the religious leaders force absolute obedience on the followers. Even if you, a follower, deny practicing something, they’ll make you feel guilty.

Your beliefs since childhood, your parents’ beliefs, and their position in religious culture… Everything is at stake. You accept it because you can’t bear to trouble your parents.

For your parents, you believe in religion and Gods. Even if there are evil or illegal practices, you give in to loved ones.

8. Mixed signals

Sometimes, your abuser tries to behave as if they don’t remember doing anything wrong. For instance, they abused you this morning, but in the afternoon, they’ll send you a lovely message.

Or, they might call you during a fight and pretend it was an accident. They’ll then act as if it doesn’t matter to talk for a while. You crave them even more because you haven’t talked in a while.

Or, you worked on your flaws to impress them. But they point out another flaw. They continuously make you improve these said flaws. You want to feel appreciated but you always face disappointments. 

9. Silent treatment

This is a usual mind game for abusers. They won’t talk to you as a form of punishment. They act withdrawn and distant to make you feel guilty.

They’ll normally behave with others in front of you but ignore your presence. They want you to bend first and apologize even if you don’t know your faults. This is a toxic trait and a domestic violence technique.

People may ignore it because nobody got physically hurt… but it’s mentally and emotionally exhausting.

10. Victim games

Sometimes, a narcissist abuser might play the victim and turn the tables on you.

For instance, you try communicating about the relationship dynamics and their unnatural behavior. They take it negatively and blame it all on you.

They might say you force them to be like that. Or, that you provoke them knowingly to create problems. If you don’t think the blames make sense, you’re a verbal abuse victim.

Wondering why any abuse victim takes it? Let’s know it here…

Trauma Bonding causes

No abuse survivor takes abuse without a reason. It’s either because of some vulnerability, a soft corner for the abuser, a threatening situation, or even hormones.

Nobody takes abuse willingly. The victims direly want to end this hell. But sometimes, it becomes complicated like these…

1. You romanticize such dynamics

Trauma bonding is usually the result of misunderstanding the extreme hot and cold treatments as love. The change in intensity of the treatment might be the cause.

For trauma bonding, the cyclic cruelty is erratic and irregular with periodic affections. If a victim feels emotionally attached to an abuser, then the abuser wasn’t always mean.

Their caring side allures the victim and makes them feel cherished. The victim doesn’t want to feel threatened either, so encourage such behaviors… even if it’s for a moment, they want the attraction.

The mixture of fear with seduction intensifies trauma bonds. Due to the erratic change in intensity, the victim experiences attraction and even arousal.

This is why people mistake it for love… even though there’s no right reason to love them. The victim feels they’re in love and overlooks the abusive side of the story.

Often, the victims focus on the good feelings and forget about the negative ones completely.

2. You have attachment issues

Do you know if you have any attachment issues? Did you have any traumatic attachment experience in childhood? This is quite the reason for many people.

Your childhood attachment style might impact your confidence and self-esteem. It defines how you’ll bond with any person in the future.

You also build your boundaries and understand your roles in relationships based on that.

You learn your emotional needs from childhood and ways to satisfy them. It also develops thoughts about yourself and your surroundings.

People with a secure attachment style don’t face many problems.

However, those with insecure attachments lean towards trauma bonded relationships easily with a fearful or avoidantly attached abuser.

If your caregiver abused or neglected you, you might develop insecure attachment styles. You’ll seek the same kind of attachment in adult platonic and romantic relationships.

This is a purely subconscious attraction, not an intentional one. It’s because you have known only one kind of relationship since childhood.

So, people seek similar relationships they had in childhood. And if you had too many unhealthy relationships while growing up, you’re more prone to trauma bonds.

3. You have personality issues

Sometimes, it might not have anything to do with your childhood or surroundings. Your personality might also lead you to trauma bonded relationships.

If you’re pretty agreeable and reliable, you might be a target for abusers. As per medical reviewers, women are more susceptible to these innate traits and also fall prey to abusive partners.

Often women who in general benefit others or are selfless attract too many opportunists. Usually, their partners lack such characteristics and seek them to depend and impose on them.

If you’re naturally vulnerable like this, abusers might trap you quite easily. And you won’t be able to break free easily because you’re that selfless.

4. You’re addicted to the familiar dynamics

Sometimes people grow addicted to the dynamics of abusive relationships. It might be your relationships with family or past romantic relationships.

If you have a series of abusive relationships, you come to think of it as normal. Unfortunately, everyone you met was abusive and you don’t give healthy relationships any chance.

Since you never had a healthy one, you judge them and cower away from them. However, out of a sense of familiarity, you accept the abusive ones easily.

This further results in bonding with them easily. If your past relationships were abusive, you’ll always connect love with abuse. You normalize the abuse for the same reason.

Also, if these past relationships were too precious like a parent, sibling, or any other admired person…  you won’t identify them as abusive easily.

You might often blame yourself because the people were too precious to you. This further extends the abusive person’s stay in your life.

5. You’re too hopeful

All the abusive people victim bonds with say: “I’ll change soon; I’ll never treat you the same; I’ll be more careful from next time; it doesn’t usually happen”… too many excuses and nil follow-throughs.

There’s always a promise for a better, brighter, and happier future. Though you’re unhappy now, you root for the unknown. You listen to your abuser’s promises and think…

“Maybe they’ll really change this time; it doesn’t hurt to give another chance; at least they tried and apologized… so they deserve one more chance; oh… it’s okay, it wasn’t that bad; I’ve invested too many emotions in this person, how can I ever move on?”

Noticed how the feelings changed? Your abuser may never change, but you keep justifying them. You feel it’s okay to suffer if you want a healthy relationship.

It’s like your happiness is collateral for a healthy relationship.

6. You freeze to threat

There are four responses to threatening situations… other than fight and flight, there are freeze and fawn.

Possibly, you freeze during dangerous situations… but don’t blame yourself, it’s a natural response. You don’t do it intentionally.

For instance, when you feel a chance of abuse, your nervous system sends signals to your body. Your adrenaline and cortisol level overflows and your survival thoughts kick it.

You feel tense both physically and emotionally. You think that you can’t escape, so you freeze. You believe that keeping quiet or not reacting will calm them quicker.

While you freeze, you’ll usually not focus on the abusive traits and replay the good times in your mind. You might justify their actions to ease the blow.

You make excuses to stay in the relationship as you “don’t have the power to leave”.

Every time something bad happens, you feel more vulnerable and helpless. You give into their controlling habits, believe that you need one another and that you can’t do without them.

7. You’re addicted to hormones

Trauma bonding has lots to do with hormones like dopamine and oxytocin. These hormones make you feel good. You may even get addicted to them.

Your abuser won’t always abuse you. There will be moments of happiness… which keep you hooked to the relationship. You stay back in the dysfunctional relationship because of those momentary highs.

These moments soothe your fear and anxiety. It might be in the form of physical or sexual affections, actions of services, apologies, presents, or anything else that works for you.

Sweet gestures trigger dopamine release in your bloodstream which relaxes, calms, and reassures you. You feel everything is fine and try resuming your life.

Further, physical and sexual contacts also trigger oxytocin release. It helps you feel closer to them, optimistic, and your fear slowly fades.

So, you focus more on the positives in the relationship, even when you’re regularly abused.

8. They have personality disorders

Does this person have underlying mental health illnesses, like narcissistic personality disorders (NPD)? People with NPD tend to be more violent than others.

However, if you know that it’s a mental illness, you might feel more sympathetic towards them. So, whenever the abusive dynamics play in the relationship, you console yourself.

You continuously remind yourself that it’s not them, but their ailment. You focus on their vulnerability and forgive them repeatedly. However, a mental illness isn’t an excuse for abuse.

If they’re abusive for an illness, they must get professional aid.

9. They have other mental health disorders

If they have anger issues or autism, they might again become abusive. For instance, in both cases, the patients might exhibit explosive breakdowns.

Whether you’re their partner, sibling, parent, or child, you’ll naturally feel empathetic towards them. They might really be helpless, however, that’s no reason to be abused silently.  

You can’t confront a mentally sick person. You feel sorry for them and stay behind with the abuse. You deal with it because it’s only once in a while and you believe you can bear it.

10. They have an accidental drug addiction

Perhaps, they were on medicines because of an injury. But with time, they grew tolerant and became dependent on the drugs.

Sometimes, people become depressed when their medicines don’t work. To soothe their depression and frustration, they resort to drug and alcohol addiction.

Alcohol can numb feelings or even make you feel better for some time. Addiction is the root cause of many abusive dynamics. Further, if you know the reasons behind addiction, it plays a major role.

You may pity them and silently bear the abuse. You don’t want to leave them because “it’s not their fault” and blame the ineffective medicines.

You feel that if you leave them, it might become an added pressure in their life.

Since breaking the bond isn’t an option, you might face some consequences. Let’s check them here…

Trauma Bonding Impact

You develop feelings for your abuser. If you try to leave them, you crave abuse when you don’t feel loved. You might also lose your self-esteem and feel you’ll never find love.

Your feelings for your abuser bear the greatest impact. The rest of them are simply linked to your feelings of love or admiration.

You stay behind in an abusive relationship… which might impact your mental health or turn out fatal.

Moreover, if you forcefully separate yourself from them, you might suffer from withdrawal, crave for their toxic affection, or lose confidence.

Many medical reviewers found that the lowered confidence lasted more than half a year after separation.

You might even experience anxiety disorders, depression… and if you had children, it might pass down such behaviors to the next generations.

Wondering about breaking free? Let’s find a way here…

How to break a trauma bond (breaking trauma bonds)

Breaking this bond is inevitably hard. But, if you identify a cyclic pattern, you don’t have a choice.

You have to snap out of it ASAP… before you or a loved one faces irreversible harm. You can’t appease an abuser ever, so come on, let’s get out of here…

1. Journal your relationship

Write down the story of your relationship daily. You may not remember what happened from the beginning. So, whenever anything significant happens, write it down.

However, if you remember something particular like… when the abuse started or the triggers, note them down too. This may support you later when you’ll leave and guarantee your safety.

So, treasure this journal and hide it. If your abuser finds it, it might become fatal.

2. Compare your desires and reality

Write down the details about your relationship from a third person’s point of view. You’ll notice what went wrong much quicker that way. Note down the following:

  • What kind of relationship do you want?
  • What kind of relationship are you in?
  • How do you feel about your relationship?
  • Do you feel responsible for the abusive dynamics?
  • Why do you think you deserve it?

You’ll find out if you’re really happy and loved in this relationship.

3. Learn how often you tried

Note down every time you tried to communicate but failed. What way did you communicate each time? Write down whether you calmly approached him or did you become emotional?

Usually, in trauma bonded relationships, no communication method works out. The only way is to break the bond.

4. Gather evidence

Next, get a small inconspicuous communication device with a camera. If your abuser doesn’t allow you any gadgets, be very careful. If you have a smartphone already, that’ll also work.

Every time you suspect abuse is on your way, record the scene. If there are bruises on your body, take pictures and upload them to your cloud. Make sure you create a different account.

If they notice what you’re up to, it might get dirty.

5. Reach out for help

Talk to your trusted friends and family. Make sure it’s not the blabbermouth ones.

In the past, did you act defensively when they tried to protect you? Then you might feel a bit at edge sharing this news.

But it’s okay so bravely tell them what’s up. If they say “told you”, they’re still on your side. They may help you figure it out.

If they say “this person is your family; don’t talk ill behind them”, that’s the end of the discussion. Don’t bother with someone who can’t take your side.

You might not find that helping hand immediately, so keep looking for them. When you do, know what they think about your relationship. Compare your observations with theirs and take the next step.

6. Secure your way out

If you and this trusted person find you must escape, then be it. Seek their help to carve your safety plan.

For instance, gather info on taking shelter when you escape, on people and organizations that support abuse victims.

List out what and who you’ll take with you. Take the essentials like money, your cards, your and your loved ones’ important documents, and talk to someone who can get you a job.

If you leave behind your children, elders, or pets, they might harm them. So, plan to send them off to a safe place too.

If you already work somewhere, change your working hours. If you crash at your friends, change their locks or passwords.

7. Block them everywhere

When you’re alone, you’ll remember the good times in your relationship. You’ll miss them, have withdrawal symptoms, and even try to contact them.

Block them from your phone and social media, change your social media passwords, and resist the urge to check in on them. Even if they were sick, a check-in won’t help either of you.

Focus on your safety before your perpetrator. If you can’t cope with it, talk to your loved ones.

8. Practice No-Contact

If you have children, you can’t hide them away for too long. They have equal legal rights over children. Consult with legal experts to get help about this.

Remember, you can’t contact them at all, so whatever be the case, you need a mediator. It might be a social worker, your lawyer, or a mutual friend.

If you feel they might hurt your children, again take legal help. Don’t let them contact your children easily. If you must change their schools too.

9. Be hell-bent on your decisions

Once you leave, this person will chase you. They might stalk your workplace, the place you’ll stay, or the stores around your place. Don’t underestimate their capabilities because they’re out to get you.

They might apologize and begin the old love bombing habits. This will trigger you but focus on now. They didn’t treat you well now… will you wait until something really goes wrong?

Don’t give in to their sweet gestures anymore. It’s a matter of life and death… if they get you back, you may never return.

10. Get a restraining order

If they threaten you or your children, try to attack, abduct, or harm you or your loved ones… don’t wait a minute.

Get a restraining order immediately. Use your journal, the pictures, and video records as evidence.

It’s best to file a complaint before anything happens. Add three trusted contacts to your speed dial. If you feel unsafe to go outside, have someone always drop and pick you up.

Broke free? But wanna get back? NO… let’s work more on it…

How to heal from trauma bonding?

Whether your trauma bonded relationship was of few months or years… it leaves permanent wounds on your brain.

You may feel less than because that’s what you learned from your abuser. You may also crave for them or find life pointless. But no more, let’s begin the healing process here…

1. Stop with the fantasies

Your mind is full of “what if you didn’t end it” thoughts. Mostly, you have the possible positives. You might feel that things would be different if you stayed longer. Hey… Are you sure about it?

Isn’t this the same fantasy that kept you caged? Promise yourself to snap out of it and return to reality.

2. Take baby steps towards a better life

You’re living in the future your past self never thought. So, what’s the point of thinking about tomorrow?

It’s scary, but tomorrow is so uncertain that even I might not exist. But, let’s cherish our today because this is what matters. If you focus on a good life now, you’ll have a good future eventually.

Don’t worry about not falling in love later or not getting attached with a toxic person. If you have the spirits, I’m all for you, but let’s enjoy the present because every moment is precious.

3. Make self-care a ritual

Imagine your best friend going through this situation. You’ll obviously encourage them in various ways, and focus on nourishing them.

Do the same for yourself… don’t berate your spirits when you feel low. Indulge in positive self-talk, show compassion to yourself, have healthy, timely meals, and exercise.

Whenever that person’s thoughts flood your mind, distract yourself with your favorite music, show, or activity. Don’t keep their memories around you.

4. Vibe with your emotions

Instead of acting out the troublesome thoughts like “I want to see them…”, journal them. Write down what you feel like doing and what you must do. For instance,

“I want to see them. But that’s no good, I’ll hurt myself again. I’ll rather write it all in here”

You’ll become strong every time you link logic with desires. Deal with your feelings for them and yourself. The separation will hurt, so don’t deny it. If you wanna cry, shed it all out.

Don’t suppress the feelings because you did it for too long.

5. Identify the root cause

What got you so hooked with that person? What did you like about them? Was any of their qualities a major red flag? Did you match with any of the causes?

Did that person promise you something great? What made you think they’re irreplaceable? Find out these to further treat yourself.

6. Set new boundaries

Whether it was a romantic relationship or any other interpersonal one… it will have some impact on you. You might look forward to a similar pattern. So, build boundaries to prevent that.

Perhaps, you won’t trust anyone too fast. Or, you won’t stand anyone who even jokingly curses you.

Or, you might stop showing your vulnerabilities until a certain period. You may also keep a distance from regular drinkers.

Picture what you don’t want in your next partner or relationship… it’s easier to figure out that way.

7. Become a busy body

Reconnect with loved ones, go on trips, focus on your forgotten dreams, enroll in a new activity, start gardening, get a puppy, get a job if you don’t have one.

If you want to push negativity out of your head, engage yourself in many activities. But don’t exhaust yourself to impact your health. Do things that bring joy and hope and a brighter future.

Don’t connect with pessimistic people. If a neighbor judges you for getting divorced too fast or for giving up too easily… let them be. They don’t know your story and don’t need to.

8. Reach out to a support group

Seek offline or online support groups. Know how they fought their way out of trauma bonding. Share your story with them and listen to their opinions about it.

You’ll learn a lot from them, so don’t ignore their thoughts. These fighters will understand your story the best. You won’t feel lonely when you know some people relate to you.

They won’t judge you and show you ways to cope, stay safe, and move on from your circumstances.

9. Consider medications

If you got anxiety disorders or depression from the abuse or after separating, consider having medications.

Speak to a clinician about your symptoms and get medicines. Learn what your options are… but if there’s no choice then….

10. Consider therapy

After you separate from the abusive situation, you may experience a mental blow. You may feel you lost a part of yourself, pain, grief, or even extreme paranoia.

Consider psychotherapy in this situation. Give preference to someone who has experience with abuse and trauma victims. It might be a support worker, a counselor, or a licensed therapist.

They’ll allow you a safe space so don’t be afraid to share your feelings.

A therapist will ask you to get a thorough check-up to check for underlying physical or mental ailments. They’ll also figure out a coping plan for your conditions.

However, if things get worse before you escape… let’s know more here…

When should you seek expert help?

For any emergency, contact 911. If you or a loved one develops a trauma bond, contact one of the following for 24/7 advice for safety and emotional support…

1. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH)

Call @1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224; Text “START” to 88788; live chat @

2. The National Resource Directory

Call @1-866-331-9474 or 1-866-331-8453; Text “LOVEIS” to 22522; live chat @

3. The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline

Call or text @1-800-422-4453; live chat @

4. State Elder Abuse Hotline

Depending on your state, pick your hotline from

5. The National Coalition against Domestic Violence

6. The Office on Women’s Health

7. For the UK, National Domestic Violence Freephone Helpline

Contact 0808-2000-247

To work on the healing more meticulously, check out these…

Trauma bonding Books

Trauma bonding though sounds new, many authors, counselors, and therapists already worked on it. They made great workbooks to grow out of your fears.

If you can’t forget about the abusive situation, if the past pain still haunts your soul, definitely try out these…

1. Loving Someone with PTSD: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Connecting with Your Partner after Trauma (Aphrodite T. Matsakis)

If your partner is a trauma victim, it might be hard to understand and support them sometimes. Read this book to learn the best way to stand beside them during trying times.  

2. The Complex PTSD Workbook: A Mind-Body Approach to Regaining Emotional Control and Becoming Whole (Arielle Schwartz)

If you have childhood trauma, try this workbook to recover slowly yet surely. Try the exercises to soak in the positivity. There is a lot of advice and guidelines to lead a healthy life too.

3. Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy (Francine Shapiro)

EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy is a great therapy option for trauma patients. Give it a good read and consider trying it out.

4. The PTSD Workbook: Simple, Effective Techniques for Overcoming Traumatic Stress Symptoms (Mary Beth Williams and Soili Poijula)

Do images of your painful past flash frequently? Do traumatic events haunt you suddenly? This workbook might be your best pick to heal yourself from within.

5. Trauma, PTSD, Grief & Loss: The 10 Core Competencies for Evidence-Based Treatment (Michael Dubi, Patrick Powell, and Eric Gentry)

A book based on different ways to treat your trauma. You’ll identify all possible signs, symptoms, and triggers that make your journey harder.

6. What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, (Oprah Winfrey and Bruce D. Perry)

A collection of stories from real-life victims and survivors. They disclosed their struggles in the interviews and how they overcame those.

7. Trauma Bonding: How to Stop Feeling Stuck, Overcome Heartache, Anxiety, and PTSD (Dr. Annely Alexander)

For those who still can’t move on from their abusive partner, learn to detach yourself slowly but completely with this book. Move on to the beautiful life waiting for you.

8. It Didn’t Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle (Mark Wolynn)

You might even inherit trauma from your family. Your thoughts about yourself, the way you deal with stress… All of it has a hidden message for your healing process.

9. The Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook, Revised and Expanded Second Edition: A Guide to Healing, Recovery, and Growth (Glenn Schiraldi)

A workbook and all-inclusive info resource about grief, childhood trauma, and PTSD. It has many prospective treatment ways for PTSD.

10. Traumatized: Identify, Understand, and Cope with PTSD and Emotional Stress (Kati Morton)

A book that helps you identify all the signs, the reasons behind experiencing them, and how it impacts your life. It has loads of logical advice taking possible situations of victims into account.

If you’re still unsure whether it’s a traumatic bonding, move on to this…

Trauma bonding test

As said, you might face difficulties identifying trauma bonds. However, it might be that your relationship isn’t that bad but you still want to make sure. Either way, I’ll support you to take this trauma bonding quiz and understand your relationship better….

1. Do you cover for their mistakes?

A. Yes, because they can’t ever do anything wrong.

B. Usually not. Even if I do, we talk it out privately.

2. Do you ignore others’ advice about your relationship?

A. Even if I need it, I won’t/can’t

B. I listen to them. You never know what’s useful

3. Do you always try to make them happy?

A. Yes… even if I must sacrifice myself

B. No, not always. My happiness matters too.

4. Do you tell others you’re alright even when you’re not?

A. Yes. I don’t want to part from them so soon. I must try harder until the end.

B. Maybe sometimes/Mostly not

5. Do they abuse you but also show affection?

A. Yes, it’s the extreme of either

B. No, we don’t have such dynamics

6. How fast did you two progress in the relationship?

A. Everyone said it was too fast

B. We had our sweet time to know one another

7. Are there extreme highs or lows in your relationship?

A. Yes, always

B. It’s a mixture

8. Do they love you unconditionally?

A. No, I must obey them

B. Yes

9. Do you relate the relationship with erratic or chaotic?

A. Yes… that pretty much defines it

B. No… that never happened

10. Do you sometimes wanna fix or heal them?

A. Yes, that’s my life purpose

B. No

11. Do you tiptoe a lot in your relationship?

A. Yes, never know when they’ll lose it

B. No

12. Do they keep their promises?

A. They mostly break it

B. They try their best… but sometimes, life doesn’t work out

13. Do you wait for some change in them?

A. Yes, things can get better

B. No, I love it how they are

14. Do you have privacy in the relationship?

A. No, they force me to share lots of things

B. Yes, we trust one another lots

15. Do you feel confused about your relationship?

A. Yes, I don’t know if we’re lovers or enemies

B. No, nothing like that

If you mostly answered A’s

You’re in a trauma bonded relationship. Quickly seek help and escape from the situation. Don’t look back, take your most important possessions and people and get out of there. If you stay any longer, you might put yourself or your loved ones in danger. 

If you mostly answered B’s 

Your relationship doesn’t seem trauma bonded. However, if you still doubt it… get help from a counselor. Don’t worry, nobody will judge you for your feelings. Make sure you reach out to someone with experience dealing with trauma bonds.

A word from ThePleasantRelationship

Even if you’re in an unhealthy relationship, it’s hard to accept you loved the wrong person. It’s also hard to accept that all your dreams will soon shatter. You might even feel ashamed and guilty.

Human beings try to protect their heart even at the cost of fake promises. Sometimes, you might lie to yourself… either because you fear they’ll hurt you or your loved ones. 

However, staying back in a toxic or abusive relationship isn’t the answer. It never gets any better so stop hoping for a better future with your abuser. 

Seek help from loved ones and come out of it at once. Live your life for yourself from scratch. You still didn’t lose anything despite your age.

Be the hero you wanted for yourself. Inspire more people with your journey.

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