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trauma bonding

What is Trauma Bonding?

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Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, domestic violence, or sexual assault. Immediately after a traumatic event, you may experience shock and denial as well as other typical reactions that can cause long-term trauma, including unpredictable flashbacks, strained relationships, and other physical symptoms. 

When a person is exposed to multiple traumatic events such as domestic violence and sexual abuse over time, it often leads that person to be unable to function and cope adequately. This then often results in the development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

There are three main types of trauma. They are classified as acute, chronic, or complex. The three types of trauma are defined below: 

  • Acute Trauma: Acute trauma results from a single event/incident.
  • Chronic Trauma: Chronic trauma is a traumatic incident that reoccurs for a prolonged time, such as domestic violence or sexual abuse.
  • Complex Trauma: Complex trauma is exposure to various traumatic events that are often intrusive, interpersonal, and difficult to control. 

Oftentimes, people who experience any type of trauma believe that if they are abused, then they are still loved. The victim of trauma is made to believe that the abuse is his or her fault and that he or she needs to please the abuser.

Frequently, the victim of trauma doesn’t even realize that he or she is, in fact, being abused. There is a name for this, trauma bonding. Trauma bonding is an attachment you feel toward someone who is causing you trauma.

Trauma bonding causes the following feelings;

  • Sympathy
  • Compassion
  • Love
  • Confusion

Signs of a Trauma Bond

Signs of trauma bonding include:

  • You feel trapped in the relationship and powerless but you want to make the best of it.
  • You can’t leave even though you don’t know if you trust the other person.
  • You would say that your relationship is intense and complex.
  • There are often promises of things getting better in the future.
  • You fixate on the good parts of the relationship even though there are behaviors you know are abusive.
  • You think you can change your abuser.
  • Friends and family have asked you to leave the relationship but you stay.
  • You defend the relationship when other people criticize it.
  • Your abusive partner constantly lets you down, but you still believe him or her.

How Does Trauma Bonding Occur?

Trauma bonding is a psychological response to abuse. It happens when an abused person develops an unhealthy bond with his or her abuser. Typically, it occurs when the abused person starts to develop sympathy or affection for his or her abuser. The bond may form over days, weeks, or months, but not everyone who experiences abuse will develop a trauma bond.

The following are some suspected reasons why some people experience trauma bonding and some don’t. 

Childhood Abuse

Some experts believe that trauma bonding can begin in childhood. Children with abusive parents may grow up to find closeness and familiarity with abusive partners. They may feel a sense of normalcy in being abused.

According to Mo Therese Hannah, Ph.D., co-founder of the Battered Mothers Custody Conference and professor of psychology, many survivors of trauma bonding “were abused as children, often by their father, whom the abuser may remind her of on an unconscious level.” The victim of abuse then hopes that this time he or she will be loved and treated well.


Trauma bonding can also happen when the victim has a feeling of obligation to the abuser. This is especially true in cases where a female survivor becomes bonded to her abuser in her youth. The abused female may feel submissive and obligated to her abuser because he has treated her well in some instances, at least for a while.

A young female’s abuser might have even been her first love, which makes her hesitate to leave. The abused often believes in the abuser’s potential to return to the way he used to be.


Trauma bonding has some similar characteristics to Stockholm Syndrome, a term created to describe how kidnapping victims begin to feel a connection to their captors. Psychotherapist Paul Hokemeyre says Stockholm syndrome and trauma bonding are survival techniques. 

Instead of putting themselves in an increasing cycle of violence, victims figure out ways to decrease and resolve the conflicts. They surrender to win. A victim aligns herself with the source of the abuse. Thus, the victim feels protected by the abuser rather than hostile with him or her.

Some female victims of abuse will even defend their abusers and protect them from the criticisms of others. This may be done out of fear or misplaced loyalty. It might even be magical thinking that if she is protective and loyal to her abuser, he will be the same to her.


Trauma bonding might also be a type of co-dependence. The dependence is not on the abusive parts of the relationship though, but the good. When something good happens in an abusive relationship, the feel-good chemical dopamine, along with adrenaline and norepinephrine, make the victim feel excited by the possibility of loving feelings.

Although not dependent on dopamine or other brain chemicals, people’s memories will remind them of the good feelings they felt, thus making people seek out those experiences again. Therefore, abuse victims may be waiting for that next “feel-good” moment in their relationships. It also doesn’t help that abusers will sometimes“love-bomb” their victims, keeping them trapped in a cycle of abuse and relief.

When Can Trauma Bonding Occur?

Conceivably, trauma bonding can happen in any situation that involves one person abusing or exploiting another. This could include situations that involve:

  • Domestic abuse
  • Child abuse
  • Incest
  • Elder abuse
  • Exploitative employment, such as what happens to people who immigrated without documentation
  • Hostage-taking or kidnapping
  • Human trafficking
  • Religious extremism or cults

A trauma bond develops under certain conditions. According to Parents Against Child Exploitation, a person must:

  • Feel a real threat of danger from his or her abuser
  • Experience severe treatment with brief periods of kindness
  • Be isolated from other people and their viewpoints
  • Believe that he or she can’t escape

Can You Break the Bond?

Survivors of abuse can break trauma bonds during their abusive relationships and after they have separated from their abusive partners. Here are some ways to do it.

Document Everything

Start keeping a record of the abuse your partner is forcing on you. This will help you see the cycle or frequency of abuse and recognize its escalation. Think about keeping a log at your workplace or a relative or friend’s home where the abuser can’t find it. Also, there are smartphone apps that can help you keep your records nearby. It may come in handy as evidence in court later.

Ask for Help

Speak to a trained domestic violence advocate at a shelter near you. The advocate will be able to help you with safety planning so you can separate from the abuser. You can call an advocate for other reasons besides finding shelter as well.

End All Contact

After you have separated from your abuser, avoid all contact. Do not answer texts, phone calls, or emails. Delete or make your social media profiles private. Also, don’t check your partner’s social media accounts.

Being totally separated from your abuser will help you recognize what you were trapped in and give you time to figure out what to do next.

Find Out What Caused You to be in the Situation 

Working on rebuilding your self-esteem requires learning. You should learn things about yourself by answering the following questions:

  • Why you were drawn to this relationship?
  • What you won’t accept in the next relationship?
  • How you can set boundaries in the next relationships? 

Draw Clear Boundaries 

Take what you’ve learned from previous toxic relationships and move forward into healthier ones by drawing clear boundaries at the beginning. Don’t settle for less.


The trauma resulting from abuse can have lasting effects on one’s physical and mental health. But you don’t have to deal with it alone. There are several ways to help people understand their experiences and talk about related issues such as depression and anxiety.


An individual might feel pain, a feeling of loss, and grief after escaping an abusive relationship. An understanding counselor, therapist, or support worker can help individuals work through those feelings though. It helps to find a therapist who has experience with trauma and abuse survivors. 

A therapist will provide a safe place to discuss all thoughts, feelings, and experiences. A therapist will also identify and treat conditions that might develop because of the abuse, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Support Groups

Through support groups, abuse survivors can share their stories with others who understand. This helps a person feel less alone and points out that others care. Members of a support group also share tips on coping and staying safe. They can provide other practical advice about moving forward from abusive circumstances.


If a person develops depression or an anxiety disorder because of abuse, medications may help relieve some of those symptoms. The option of discussing medication for anxiety or depression with a physician or psychiatrist is always open.

Where to Get Help for Trauma Bonding

If you have developed a trauma bond, there is help available. Many organizations provide emotional support and advice about staying safe during abuse and after.  Some examples are:

  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-7233)
  • or Text: LOVEIS to 22522
  • The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline
  • Elder abuse hotlines available in each state

Montare Behavioral Health Can Help You Recover

Breaking a trauma bond and recovering from trauma can be a long process. However, recognizing the true, negative quality of the bond is an important place to start. You can find caring and trustworthy therapists, support services, and other survivors, who can help you heal at Montare Behavioral Health. 

We recognize the complicated nature of trauma bonding and are experienced in helping people recover from its destructive effects. Once you are away from the situation, there is much-needed help available to help you heal your body, mind, and spirit at Montare. If you’re struggling with issues as a result of the trauma you’ve been through, contact us today. Don’t wait.