This article is reviewed by a team of registered dietitians and medical doctors with extensive, practical clinical and public health experience.
What Is Trauma Bonding: Definition, Causes & How To Cope [UK] 2023
What is trauma bonding? Trauma bonding typically occurs when you develop a strong emotional attachment to an abusive person or situation. It can result from psychological or physical abuse and adversely impact your overall health.
In this article, we’ll explore trauma-bonding signs and potential causes behind the traumatic connection. We’ll also discuss ways of coping with trauma bonding and provide tips on how to break the cycle of abuse. If you or a loved one have experienced trauma bonding, read on to get valuable insights and resources as you navigate this challenging issue.
- Trauma bonding occurs when a strong emotional attachment develops between an individual and their abuser in an abusive or exploitative situation.
- Recognizing the signs of trauma bonding and acknowledging the presence of abuse are crucial steps in breaking free.
- Seeking professional help from mental health professionals, building a support system, practicing self-care, setting boundaries, and engaging in self-empowerment activities contribute to healing and rebuilding self-esteem.
- Breaking trauma bonds is challenging but possible with courage, support, and a comprehensive approach.
What Is Trauma Bonding?
So, what is a trauma bond? Trauma bonding, often caused by an abusive or exploitative relationship, is a deep emotional attachment between an individual and their abuser. It is often associated with Stockholm Syndrome.
This bond often stems from fear, manipulation, and intermittent positive reinforcement. In this situation, the abuser will typically employ various tactics to control you. Unfortunately, a person experiencing abuse may not be able to recognize it and break free from the cycle of violence.
A trauma-bonded relationship can be characterized by the following:
- Intense emotional attachment despite the abuse.
- Difficulty recognizing the relationship as abusive.
- Making excuses for the abuser’s behavior.
- Dependency on the abuser for validation.
- Fear and anxiety around leaving the abuser.
- Isolation from friends and other support systems.
Individuals experiencing a trauma bond may also prioritize the needs and desires of their abuser over their own. They might experience a loss of self-esteem and self-worth and feel a distorted self-perception. After experiencing trauma bonding, you may find it challenging to establish healthy relationships later in life.
When Can Trauma Bonding Occur?
Trauma bonding can occur within a wide range of abusive relationships, such as
- Domestic violence.
- Human trafficking.
- Financial abuse.
- Sexual abuse.
- Elder abuse.
Causes Of Trauma Bonding
Because experiences can vary significantly between individuals, research regarding trauma bonding remains limited. Sometimes, the bond’s severity may only be seen after a long period of suffering.
Understanding the dynamics of an abusive and traumatic situation is the first step in breaking a trauma bond. Abusive behavior that can contribute to trauma bonding includes:
Intermittent Positive Reinforcement
Abusers use a combination of kindness, love-bombing, and intermittent positive behaviors to create a sense of attachment and dependency. In these situations, an abuser will first show you love, followed by a hateful comment or gesture and a return to positive affirmations. This can be common in domestic violence situations.
Manipulation And Control
Abusers may employ certain behaviors, such as gaslighting and lying, to distort their perception of reality in an attempt to maintain control. These manipulation tactics can make you feel as though you’re to blame for their actions.
Fear And Threat
The presence of fear and threat, whether physical, emotional, or psychological, can reinforce a trauma bond by instilling a sense of helplessness and dependency. Many people stick around in these situations because they fear physical harm if they defy their abuser’s orders.
Trauma bonding may also be fueled by isolation, where the abuser isolates you from your support systems. This makes it more challenging to seek help or escape the abusive situation.
Low self-esteem can make you more susceptible to trauma bonding as you may believe you deserve the abuse. You might even struggle to envision a life without the abuser.
Previous experience with trauma or abuse may contribute to trauma bonding. These unfortunate patterns of familiarity can skew your perceptions of love. This can be seen in cases of teen depression.
In an exploitative relationship, the abuser may use substance abuse to instill a sense of reliance on them for emotional stability or access to substances.
How To Break Trauma Bonds
Breaking cyclical abuse trauma bonds requires courage, support, and a comprehensive approach. Here are helpful tips for breaking free from trauma-bonded relationships:
Recognize The Signs And Acknowledge The Abuse
You can start healing once you identify the signs of trauma bonding. Awareness of the abuse can help you lean on the appropriate resources for help.
Seek Professional Help And Support
Many healthcare providers have been trained to help individuals suffering from abuse. However, it’s best to consult a trauma therapist, addiction professional, or mental healthcare provider specializing in abusive relationships for your long-term treatment needs.
Your healthcare provider may encourage you to engage in trauma-informed care, affordable online therapy, rehabilitation, and medication management.
Build A Support System
To reduce your chances of relapse, surround yourself with an understanding and empathetic support group. This may look different for everyone, but friends, family members, and other trusted supporters can help you feel safe and stay accountable to your goals.
Connect with local resources, trained advocates, and support organizations that assist survivors of trauma bonding in various capacities. You may also seek specialized groups focusing on trauma bonds similar to your experiences.
Practice Self-Care And Self-Empowerment
Perhaps the most crucial strategy to break the cycle of abuse is to prioritize self-care to promote healing. Practice mindfulness, think positively, exercise, and embrace creative outlets.
Cultivate positive feelings, practice positive self-talk, and challenge negative beliefs to rebuild your self-esteem.
Set Boundaries And Create A Safety Plan
Establish clear boundaries with an abuser and communicate them assertively. And be sure to develop a safety plan to protect yourself if the situation escalates. Safety plans may include running away or hiding in a safe place while calling a friend, the police, or the neighbors to come to the rescue.
It can be quite a task to break a trauma bond. However, with professional help and a commitment to your well-being, reclaiming your life is possible.
When To Seek Professional Help
It is crucial to seek professional help when experiencing abuse or trauma bonding. If you find yourself trapped in an abusive dynamic or dealing with the aftermath of trauma bonding, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. You can rely on a hotline advocate, trauma therapist, or specialized counselor.
These professionals can provide valuable guidance, support, and therapeutic interventions tailored to your needs. Finding the right therapist can help significantly if you struggle with mental health issues and overcoming trauma bonds.
The Bottom Line
Trauma bonding can profoundly impact your health if caught in an abusive relationship or an exploitative cycle. It can destroy a person’s self-esteem, cause pain, and annihilate all future connections. Recognizing the common signs, seeking professional help, and building a strong support system are vital steps towards breaking free from the trauma bond and reclaiming your well-being.
It can be challenging, but prioritizing self-care, engaging in therapy or trauma-informed care, and accessing local resources and support groups can help. Finding relief is possible, and with the right guidance, you can establish healthy relationships, regain your self-esteem, and move forward on a path of recovery.
This article does not serve as medical advice. Don’t hesitate to contact mental health services provider for professional help. Trauma therapists and trained advocates can provide assistance to help you overcome the effects of trauma bonding explained above and lead a safe and fulfilling life.
+ 8 sources
Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here
- Clinic, C. (2022). Stockholm Syndrome: What It Is, Symptoms & How to Treat – Cleveland Clinic. [online] Cleveland Clinic. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22387-stockholm-syndrome
- Oram, S., Trevillion, K., Feder, G. and Howard, L.M. (2013). Prevalence of experiences of domestic violence among psychiatric patients: systematic review. [online] 202(2), pp.94–99. doi:https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.bp.112.109934.
- SAGE Journals. (2023). American Sociological Review: SAGE Journals. [online] Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/home/asr
- Hadeed, L. (2021). Why Women Stay: Understanding the Trauma Bond Between Victim and Abuser Case Studies Were Written. Gender, Development and Social Change, [online] pp.195–207. Available at: https://ideas.repec.org/h/pal/gdechp/978-3-030-73472-5_12.html
- Towler, A. (2020). Warning Signs of Partner Abuse in Intimate Relationships: Gender Differences in Young Adults’ Perceptions of Seriousness – Anna Towler, Areana Eivers, Ron Frey, 2020. [online] Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0886260517696869?journalCode=jiva
- Prasad, M. (2021). Role of Social Support in Women facing Domestic Violence during Lockdown of Covid-19 while Cohabiting with the Abusers: Analysis of Cases Registered with the Family Counseling Centre, Alwar, India – Meerambika Mahapatro, Moksh M. Prasad, Sudhir Pratap Singh, 2021. [online] Journal of Family Issues. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0192513X20984496
- Ayşe Güler, Bankston, K. and Smith, C.A. (2022). Self‐esteem in the context of intimate partner violence: A concept analysis. [online] 57(6), pp.1484–1490. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/nuf.12798.
- Hegarty, K., McKibbin, G., Hameed, M., Koziol-McLain, J., Feder, G., Tarzia, L. and Hooker, L. (2020). Health practitioners’ readiness to address domestic violence and abuse: A qualitative meta-synthesis. [online] 15(6), pp.e0234067–e0234067. doi:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0234067.