Trauma Bonding: What It Is and How to Break Free

Trauma Bonding: What It Is and How to Break Free

What is trauma bonding? What are the signs of trauma bonding in a relationship? How does a trauma bond happen? What is the difference between love and trauma bonding? How can I break a trauma bond? If you are looking for answers to these and more questions on trauma bonding, this article is for you.

Understanding trauma and relationships can feel complicated if you do not know how to go about it. Hi. My name is Sean Galla. I am a facilitator of support groups and support forums for men, including trauma support groups, with over 10 years of experience. My work involves providing safe spaces for men to talk about issues that affect men, including covering topics such as trauma bonding.

This article offers a fantastic opportunity for anyone looking for support and information and helps better understand trauma bonding and how they can break free. Here is everything you need to know about this topic, including how you can heal from it.

Written by

Sean Galla

An experienced facilitator, community builder and Peer Support Specialist, Sean has been running men's groups for 10+ years. Read Sean's Full Author Bio.

What is Trauma Bonding?

What is Trauma Bonding

Have you ever wondered why people stay in relationships they know are bad for them or why it is sometimes hard to get over an abusive relationship long after it has ended?

Whenever you meet someone, whether, through a friendship or romantic relationship, a bond is created between the two of you. The bonding process is an emotional and biological process that makes someone feel more important to you over time. Bonding is a cumulative process that grows stronger whenever you spend time together and become more important to each other over time. It can be reinforced when you build habits with the same person, like eating together, living together, having children together, having sexual contact, and also sharing stressful and challenging times.

Experiencing extreme situations and feelings with a person can grow this bond and make it feel more special than other bonds. Sometimes, this can be healthy and other times unhealthy.

Wikipedia defines trauma bonding as emotional bonds with an individual or group that arise from a recurring, cyclical pattern of abuse perpetrated by intermittent reinforcement through rewards and punishments. This term was first used by Patrick Carnes, an addiction therapy specialist.

In simpler terms, trauma bonding is an unhealthy attachment an abused person develops for their abuser (often a narcissist), especially in relationships. This bond occurs from a cycle of abuse that follows narcissistic positive reinforcement. Whenever abuse occurs, the abusive partner then professes regret, love, and promise of change. They work to make the relationship feel safe and necessary for the victim, creating codependency. Trauma bonding is also referred to as the traumatic bond, betrayal bond, or Stockholm syndrome.

Since one person has more power and control in the toxic relationship, it can often leave the affected individuals feeling confused, intimidated, diminished, and harmed in some way, which is when it is said that abuse has taken place. This abuse can be psychological, financial, physical, verbal, and even spiritual, and can also be unintentional or intentional.  

Victims of trauma bonding often develop an unexplainable sense of compassion and loyalty to their abuser despite the narcissistic abuse being harmful to their wellbeing. To an observer, this cycle of violence may seem bizarre, especially when they know what is going on in the exploitative relationship.

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How Trauma Bonding Occurs

Trauma bonding can occur in an abusive situation, regardless of the time the situation lasts. In most cases, it occurs in a cyclical pattern where the abuser professes to love and feigns regret for perpetrating abuse and promises never to repeat the abuse after every cycle of abuse. This combination of positive reinforcement and abuse creates a bond that makes the abused believe that the abuser is not that bad.

To control the survivor, the abuser can use a wide range of tactics. These are:

  • Intimidation to instill fear like throwing or destroying things, hurting pets, showing weapons
  • Emotional abuse like using name-calling, humiliation
  • Gaslighting and mind games – Using criticism, manipulative words, situations, or facts to make the trauma survivor doubt their memories of events, perceptions, and sanity.
  • Financial Abuse – withholding money and the ability to work for the victim
  • Isolation – ensuring no contact between the survivor and friends and family members.
  • Love bombing – The abuser showers the victim with love after an abusive episode
  • Threats and Coercion – threatens violence against the trauma survivor, their loved ones, pets, or even themselves to coerce the survivor into doing what the perpetrator wants.
  • Minimization, Denial, and Blaming – the survivor’s feelings and perceptions are dismissed, made light of, or denied. They are made to believe that they deserved the abuse or think it didn’t happen.
  • Decision-Making – The abuser solely makes important decisions without input or consideration of the trauma survivor.

There are numerous situations in which trauma bonding is possible and are often situations where emotional attachments have occurred. This is simply a survival method adapted by the brain to help cope with the uncommon aspect of abuse.

The most common situations where trauma bonds can occur include:

  • Domestic abuse
  • Child abuse
  • Incest
  • Kidnapping
  • Sexual abuse
  • Cults
  • Elder abuse
  • Human trafficking

In this cyclical abuse, trauma bonds occur due to the basic human need for attachment for survival. Over time, the victim becomes dependent on the abuser and gets stuck in an abusive cycle where they repeatedly trust the abuser when they promise never to repeat the abuse.

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Signs of Trauma Bonding

Signs of Trauma Bonding

It is important to note that not all abusive relationships become trauma bonding. For this reason, most people can be unsure whether the term refers to the situations they are in. some of the most common signs of trauma bonding include:

A cycle of abuse

As mentioned earlier, trauma bonding is dependent on intermittent reinforcing, which is a cycle of abuse. In this abusive relationship, the abuser occasionally treats the victim well after a series of abuse, which leaves the victim confused.

Power imbalance

Trauma bonds are built on an underlying power imbalance in the relationship. The abuser takes control of the situation and the victim’s life, making them feel powerless without knowing how they can break free.

Other key signs of trauma bonding include:

  • Feeling unhappy and disliking your partner but still, find it hard to end things.
  • Feeling physically and emotionally distressed when you want to leave.
  • There is a never-ending promise to change whenever you threaten to leave but make no effort to do so.
  • A fixation on the “good” days and clinging to them to prove that they genuinely care.
  • Make excuses and defend their behavior when others express concern, including self-blame.
  • You continue to trust them and hope to change them.
  • Protecting them by keeping the abusive behavior secret.

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How to Heal from Trauma Bonding

Most people who went through abuse growing up end up seeking similar situations in adulthood because the brain is already familiar with the highs and lows of the cycle. While it is harder to break trauma bonds for people with a history of trauma, learning how to stop the cycle is possible.

Create a safety plan

If you are experiencing this type of trauma and want to leave, you first need to plan for your safety, including ensuring you have somewhere safe to go. If you are feeling stuck, you can call one of the many support hotlines like The National Domestic Violence Hotline or the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline to get assistance.

Seek therapy

Therapy has proven to be a necessary tool for anyone looking to recover from trauma. One can process and move past the complex emotions and complexities they experience after leaving an abusive relationship through therapy. Working on these issues allows you to make better partner choices in the future.

Speaking to a mental health professional also makes it possible for you to better understand the red flags and warning signs of abuse to ensure you do not fall back into an abusive cycle again. Professional help is highly recommended for people with abuse trauma.

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Personal care and positive self-talk

One of the most significant impacts of surviving trauma bonding is the negative impact on your self-esteem and body image. You are made to be dependent on the abuser, neglect self-care, take physical abuse, and normalize being spoken down to, which completely shatters your sense of self-worth.   

Part of breaking the bond from your abuser is learning to speak kindly to yourself and understand that the abuse was not your fault. Practicing self-care is also an essential aspect of the recovery process.

Join a peer support group

MensGroup

While therapy is ideal for trauma survivors, sometimes it may not be enough on its own for trauma survivors. Joining a trauma survivors support forum is highly recommended alongside therapy. A support group gives you access to other survivors of relationship trauma, where you meet and learn, support, and help one another through the healing process. A support group makes you feel less alone and enables you to overcome the shame associated with abuse.

If you are a man looking for a trauma support group that specifically caters to men, mensgroup.com is a leading men-only online support group ideal for trauma survivors.

About MensGroup

This is an online support group that seeks to mentor all men, including relationship trauma survivors while equipping them with the right additional resources to become better versions of themselves.

Whether you are looking for a healing, support, or just a haven, mensgroup.com has mentors ready to help you overcome your trauma while making new friends. Becoming part of the Men’s Group will build healthy relationships and become a better man even after the traumatic experience.

Conclusion

The greatest hindrance to seeking help for relationship trauma survivors is the fear of being judged and even blamed for what they went through. Trauma support groups offer a safe space for survivors to come forth and be amongst other survivors. These groups make it easy for survivors to seek help and find healing away from society’s judging eyes. If you are a male survivor looking for support, MensGroup is an ideal support forum to find help and get back on your feet. You can lead a happy and normal everyday life by joining a support group even after a traumatic experience.

*Sources:
1. Emotional attachments in abusive relationships: a test of traumatic bonding theory
2. Women of Intimate Partner Abuse: Traumatic Bonding Phenomenon
3. What is trauma bonding?
4. How to Recognize and Break Traumatic Bonds
5. What Is Trauma Bonding?

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