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How to Heal From Trauma Bonding

What is trauma bonding? Learn about trauma bonding, its signs, what causes this form of attachment, and where to seek help.

What Is Trauma Bonding?

Trauma bonding is a complex and dangerous phenomenon that occurs between an abuser and their victim. It is a formed attachment resulting from intense emotional and psychological peaks and valleys experienced in a relationship. This creates a bond that, while incredibly unhealthy, can also be very strong.

The abuse can be acute but is generally chronic and prolonged. Trauma bonding is often one of the causes of the victim remaining in a relationship with their abuser. Many different types of traumatic events or relationships can create different forms of trauma bonding, resulting in various ways to treat and cope with the damage.

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Ways Abusers Stimulate Trauma Bonding

Some ways abusers create an environment that fosters trauma bonding include:

  • Intimidation toward their victim, such as destroying possessions, displaying weapons or potential weapons, or even causing harm to pets
  • Threatening the victim or using coercion, such as making implicit or explicit threats of violence or making threats of suicide if the victim were to leave or take other undesirable action
  • Isolating the victim from nearly all other relationships, including friends and family members
  • Denial of the victim’s feelings or gaslighting them into thinking they are the problem and somehow the cause of the abuse
  • Emotional abuse tactics, including degradation, humiliation, and constant criticism
  • Financial abuse, including forbidding the victim from working so that they must rely financially on the abuser
  • Making all of the decisions in the relationship, including important decisions that would generally benefit from the input of both parties

Why Does Trauma Bonding Happen?

Trauma bonding happens as a natural result of a prolonged focus on the abuser’s actions, words, and conveyed wants. The victim develops this intense focus on their abuser as a defense mechanism and survival tactic. Eventually, this focus leads to a near-complete disconnect from the victim’s own sense of individuality or self, their personal needs, and the values they held before the abuse began.

In addition, research shows that recurring trauma throughout childhood can disrupt attachment and development, affecting major aspects of people’s lives.1

When Can Trauma Bonding Happen?

There are countless ways in which trauma bonds can develop, though the most common include:

  • Domestic physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse
  • Any forms of child abuse
  • Physical or emotional incest
  • Elder abuse
  • Kidnapping or hostage-taking
  • Human trafficking
  • Religious extremism or cults

Signs of Trauma Bonding

trauma bonding

Trauma bonding has many signs, and while some trauma bond relationships may show many of the signs below, some may only display a select few. The trauma bonding signs are incredibly similar to those of the well-known Stockholm syndrome and often result in similar sympathizing and rationalizing of the abuse by the victim.

The most common trauma bonding signs include: 

  1. Showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  2. Experiencing a strong emotional bond with the perpetrator
  3. Gratitude for small acts of kindness by the perpetrator
  4. Denying the abuse or rationalizing it
  5.  Hyper-focused on the perpetrator’s wants and needs
  6. Accepting and agreeing with the perpetrator’s point of view
  7. Acting in ways that are contrary to their own values to appease the perpetrator
  8. Perceiving anyone who encourages them to escape from the abusive relationship as an enemy
  9. Difficulty leaving the abusive relationship 

Causes of Trauma Bonding

A study found that the most significant causes of trauma bonding are perceived power imbalances and intermittent abuse.

Power Imbalance
The victim in the trauma bond relationship is conditioned to see themselves as inferior or less powerful than their abuser. They are frequently the target of several types of abuse, including sexual, physical, emotional, and financial. They eventually become convinced that their well-being depends on the abuser being kept happy or satisfied.

Intermittent Abuse
The intermittent abuse is often one of the biggest reasons it can be difficult to heal from the trauma of domestic abuse since there is a cycle that gives the victim the impression that “it’s not always bad.” The bad times are often followed by apologies and promises of improvement or treatment that go unfulfilled.

Aside from the two primary causes noted above, polyvictimization is another possible cause of trauma bonding. Polyvictimization, or complex trauma, is when someone is the victim of multiple types of abuse. Research has shown that polyvictimization is far more powerful than experiencing one type of abuse on multiple occasions.3

Trauma Bond vs. Love

To be in a loving relationship, the following traits must be present:

  • Physical and emotional safety
  • Mutual respect
  • Trust and support
  • Honesty
  • Shared responsibilities
  • Fairness

Without fulfilling these conditions, the relationship is likely unhealthy at a minimum and potentially trauma bonded in the worst case.

How Do You Heal From Trauma Bonding?

No matter how healthy or normal the relationship may feel, if it is based on a trauma bond, it is unhealthy and problematic. If you feel you may have trauma bonding, these tips should help you start on the path to recovery.

Know What You’re Dealing With

Many victims stuck in a trauma bond relationship feel like it’s healthy. Therefore, identifying the trauma is key to beginning the path to acceptance and healing.4

Talk to Loved Ones

Lean on a support network if possible, as friends and family can be a powerful resource.

Make a Safe Exit Plan

Having a plan in place to get out of the relationship is a major contributor to breaking the trauma bond.

Avoid Blaming Yourself

This will be a difficult but essential factor. The abuse usually conditions the victim into thinking they were the problem, so learning to reverse that ideology and realizing it was not their fault is important.

Cut Off Contact Completely

There likely won’t be any practical reason to stay in contact with the abuser while healing from trauma bonding, so cutting off all contact is often necessary.

Get Professional Help

One of the most crucial steps is to get help from trained recovery professionals.

Treatment of Trauma Bonding at Boardwalk Recovery

trauma bonding
There are many different ways to treat and heal from trauma. At Boardwalk Recovery Center, we offer various types of treatments to address and treat situations of all kinds.4


Therapy is a common choice, particularly in cases of PTSD trauma bonding, and can involve several different methods or techniques. We provide therapy options such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), cognitive processing therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, and more.

Support Groups

Support groups are also an effective way to heal from trauma bonds in a variety of relationships, including trauma bonding in marriage. Support groups allow people to discuss their experiences with other victims who have been in similar situations, with everyone sharing and coping at their own pace and in their own ways.


Therapy and support group leverage may also be supplemented by medication, especially in cases where the victim may have neurochemical imbalances. This can give them a more stable and sturdy footing to begin or continue other treatments.

Reach out to Boardwalk Recovery today to discuss your needs with a local recovery expert.
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