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7 Vital Signs of Trauma Bonding You Should Know About

What is trauma bonding and its vital signs

Trauma bonding refers to the situation when a person experiences an abusive relationship with an abusive person and feels close to them. People who have been emotionally or physically abused find it hard to deal with their feelings. It can be tough to understand when the attacker acts loving or kind after the abuse.

Trauma bonding occurs when you feel close to or sympathetic toward a parent, partner, or friend who abuses you. The abusive person often shifts his/her behavior between being lovable or romantic to being aggressive and mean.

Let us learn more about the signs and breaking tips of trauma bonding.

What does Trauma Bonding mean?

When an abuser uses manipulation and cycles of abusive behavior to make a victim feel like they need them for care and approval, a strong attachment or link forms. This is called trauma bonding. This happens a lot in love relationships with narcissists, but it can also occur in family, friendship, or work relationships.

If there is physical or sexual abuse in a partnership, trauma bonding can happen at the same time. But it may feel hard to just “walk away” even when you are being hurt, whether the abuse is only mental or a mix of the two. It may take trauma sufferers a long time to learn how to break free from their trauma bond. Often, they stay too long out of fear for their safety or their ability to make a living, which can lead to even worse abuse before they can get away.

The different types of care can help people form a strong psychological bond. Trauma bonding can make people feel bad about their own self-worth and cause mental illnesses like sadness.

If you know the signs of trauma bonding, you might be able to escape it or break the bond when needed.

What is a Trauma-Bonded relationship?

Trauma bonding happens a lot in romantic partnerships, but it can also occur between:

  • A child and abusive caregiver
  • A hostage and their kidnapper
  • Colleagues at workplaces
  • Friends at high schools or colleges

Who is more prone to Traumatic Bonding?

People who have been through emotional and relational trauma are often targeted by people who have trauma bonding, whether they mean to or not. Abusers often look for people who are strong, driven, educated, and able to think for themselves so that when they finally break them down, they can feel better about themselves.

Some other things that can lead to stress bonding are:

  • People whose personality characteristics are dependent
  • A kind-hearted person, easily forgives others and enjoys being happy too often
  • Anyone who has been abused as a child or in previous relationships
  • People whose relationships are messy, anxious, or avoidant
  • People who often doubt themselves, even when there is substantial proof that they aren’t too guilty
  • Problems with mental health are already there, like sadness, BPD, and anxiety.
  • People who have separation anxiety
  • People who feel hurt when they are rejected

On a logical level, people who have been through a trauma bond probably know that what is going on with them is wrong and can see how painful and crushing their relationship is. Even so, they often find it hard to believe that it is abuse.

Trauma Bonding vs Codependency

Trauma bonding and codependency are both types of behavior that are focused on behavior. Both can be present in the same relationship, though.

Trauma bonding comes from the eager need for the relationship to last. In some ways, it’s like being hooked on the connection with the abuser. This focus can get so strong that you can’t see the relationship as unhealthy, even if the other person abuses or betrays you.

Codependency is more about being hooked on taking care of someone else and putting their wants ahead of your own. People in codependent relationships can’t be happy unless they look out for their partner’s safety and well-being above all else. This behavior often makes it easier for the other partner to keep being cruel or hurtful to the codependent person.

Trauma Bonding vs Love

It can be challenging to tell the difference between real love and trauma bonding, especially if you had unhealthy bonds and early trauma. Trauma-bonded relationships are mostly established on the display of ownership and control by the abuser. Respect for each other is at the heart of romantic relationships, which don’t involve severe abuse, intimate partner violence, or fetal threats.

Healthy loving relationships involve:

  • Emotional safety
  • Physical safety
  • Respect towards each other
  • Total trust in each other
  • Being honest about everything
  • Being accountable and responsible for each other’s actions
  • Mutual and healthy limitations
  • Clear communication and will to work together in any situation

Relationships that are unhealthy or based on stress may include:

  • Scare tactics
  • Possible physical abuse and emotional abuse
  • Mistrust
  • Controlling choices and/or money matters
  • Using threats and insulting behaviors
  • Denial, downplaying, and Blaming
  • Not enough personal limits
  • Isolation from friends and family

How do Trauma Bonds begin?

When a healthy relationship starts, it may seem very loving, emotional, and tight. It can be hard to think that your partner would do something bad to you at first. Abuse of any kind happens at some point, whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional.

People who abuse often try to talk their way out of it by making their partner believe that they love them, that they are going to improve, and that it will never occur again. The other person might not understand, but they trust them because they want things to improve. This is the way trauma bonds start.

It turns into a loop where the abusive partner keeps doing the same thing and then gives their partner false hope by telling them they love them, just to allow it to happen over and over.

How does Trauma Bonding work?

Trauma bonding often indicates a stressful relationship when an abusive person tortures the other and causes problems. But later, the abusive partner also helps the other feel better. For the second person, these traumatic events can trigger a lot of different feelings that are difficult to handle.

So, as a result, the abused person might begin to feel close to the violent one. They start forming an emotional bond because they keep telling themselves it’s love.

The abused person feels an emotional attachment with the abuser in trauma bonding. The abused person thinks that the abusive partner is getting angry or stressed and might calm down with time. The victim also tries to consider the other as he/she was before the abuse. He/she couldn’t break up with the abuser. Both partners feel trapped within a traumatic cycle, along with positive reinforcement.

7 Stages of Trauma Bonding

There are seven stages of trauma bonding that an abused person may go through. Most of the time, romantic relationships begin with happiness. But later, they slowly turn into an abusive relationship. Trauma bonds can have a significant effect on a victim’s view of the world, how they see reality, and how they feel about themselves.

There are seven stages of trauma bonding, which are:

1. Love bombing

Love bombing is when someone suddenly and intensely tries to make a “we” in a relationship by giving too much praise and compliments. Even though this usually happens between an abuser and the abused. It can also occur with other people around the couple. In some abusive situations, the abusive person may not seem to know he/she is manipulating, but that doesn’t happen very often in a trauma bond.

Love bombing can set the stage for abuse in a traumatized relationship by:

  • Putting yourself out there for the abuser to take advantage of your feelings, most profound hopes, wishes, and dreams.
  • Making the victim give up fighting
  • Creating good feelings and reassurance between the possible abuser and victim
  • It’s “proving” that an abuser means well.
  • Giving people a feeling of safety and stability

2. Trust and dependency

At this point, the abuser will do almost anything to get their partner to trust them. Most of the time, he/she tries to move the relationship along quickly so the other person needs him/her. He/she wants the other person to believe that he/she was meant to be together. Along with love bombing, this stage helps the abused person get to know the abuser, which gives them hope for the future after the abuse.

3. Criticism

Emotional abusers may pick some of your traits, seeing them as unimportant or troubling once they have earned your trust. A lot of the time, abusers wait until they know their target and trust them fully before criticizing them. This criticism can feel sudden, especially after the love bombing stage.

When there are big fights or disagreements, the abuser will probably blame their partner, and the abused person may end up saying sorry for things that weren’t their fault too much.

This back-and-forth dance of sharp criticism and over-apologizing holds together the trauma bond.

4. Gaslighting

Gaslighting and manipulation are two types of psychological abuse that happen a lot in trauma bonds and make people question what they see and what they know. Gaslighters never really or fully own up to their mistakes; instead, they tend to put the blame on the other person. It is very common for gaslighters to act calm and collected suddenly after pushing their target to the edge. Gaslighting is a classic behavior of narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths.

The abused person might feel that protesting against the abuser will be worthless. As a result, the abused person may show reactive abusive behavior and act toward the primary abuser out of blind rage. This way, the victim tries to survive or to protect their own mental health. It is usual for people who are victims of reactive abuse to feel very guilty and worried when their behavior gets physical.

When an abused person tries to speak against abusive behavior, the abuser may confuse the victim by calling him/her delusional. This way, the abuser intimidates the victim and makes them feel confused, unsafe, and lonely.

5. Resignation & submission

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, sufferers of domestic violence or abuse usually mention their partner as a “perfect” companion who has “wonderful” behavior 90% of the time. They identify problems only 10% of the time together.

People who are in a trauma bond often give up at some point to avoid more tension. Negotiating and trying to please others may help abusive relationships stay somewhat stable. This is called “fawning” or the “fawn” trauma reaction.

People who are being manipulated may avoid leaving the abusive relationship just yet because they are still not sure if they are to blame for the abuser’s actions.

Experiencing mental abuse for a long time can make the victim more dependent on the abusive partner. They try to avoid relationship problems by getting married, having kids, or depending on their partner more emotionally and financially. An abused individual can’t usually break the bond due to several reasons. The reasons include safety, affection, and finances. An abuser may act worse if he/she feels like losing control. In many cases of disagreements, things become worse and trigger fetal domestic violence.

6. Loss of self

Trauma bonds make a person lose confidence and sense of who they are. Because of this, they feel detached, alone, and unsure of who they are.

People can lose touch with their personalities because of their shame over time. It might be hard to get over. This affects the mind, and the individual may think about committing suicide. A lot of people carry this mental pain, shame, and guilt around with them for years, which can make it hard to face and move on.

7. Addiction

Most of the time, the stages of trauma bond end up in a cycle. When love-bombing and positive feedback happen again after abuse, it makes the person feel good.

This loop can become very addicting for some people. The abuser may stop paying attention to or avoiding their partner until they get what they want. This makes the abused person think that they are in charge, which makes them believe that the abuser may really love them. As a result, an emotion or a reaction to their feelings can become emotionally addicting.

How Trauma Bonds are felt in the brain

According to research, being exposed to trauma can confuse or shock the brain. This can cause several biological changes and stress responses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use disorders, hormone changes, changes in the limbic system, altered brain chemistry, other mental health disorders, and difficulties in brain function. Some of these changes aren’t visible, making them harder to notice. So, consulting a mental health professional is necessary.

Trauma may also have the following effects on the brain:

  • Increased chances of chronic illnesses
  • Sleep issues (i.e., nightmares, insomnia, etc.)
  • Aggressive emotional distress (panic attacks)
  • Isolation and dissociation
  • Avoidance
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Fear of recurrence
  • Flashbacks

What are the signs of Trauma Bonding?

Signs of trauma bonding can include:

1. Not seeing early warning signs

A trauma bond starts during the honeymoon period with promises of safety, love, and trust. During the sweet beginnings phase, you are fooled by their confidence, control, and charisma, which makes you think they will love and protect you.

Dopamine (released when you’re attracted to someone) and oxytocin (released when you orgasm and hug someone) are happy chemicals that make your connection stronger. In a trauma bond, on the other hand, it can make you “addicted” to them and hold on to the times they are nice to you.

So, there’s a chance that hormones will drive your senses, and you might get manipulated by those sweet gestures. As a result, you might skip the red signs.

2. Trying to hide or make excuses for abusive behavior

If you quickly defend them and explain why they did what they did to you, even though it’s clear they were wrong, that’s a big sign you’re in a trauma bond. The abuser might indicate his/her abusive behavior as a natural behavior and intentionally done to fix issues. Both people in the relationship should step up and own up to it. Something is wrong if they blame you for bad things they did and won’t take responsibility for their actions.

3. Can’t forget the abuser

You may have a trauma bond with someone if you can’t stop thinking about them, even after they’re gone. This is true whether the person is a past romantic partner, family member, or friend. This means that even though they hurt you, you can’t help but think about them or wish you were with or around them again.

4. Being exhausted and avoiding open communication

Some parts of the relationship are significant, but being with your partner doesn’t make you feel alive and refreshed. On the contrary, you’re worn out. People in toxic relationships act in ways that drive you crazy because they change your reality and truth to make their actions seem okay. People who abuse also get support from their friends and family. Because of this, you are afraid to say what you think, so over time, you say and share less.

5. Being secretive and not being yourself

Coercive control is an integral part of trauma bonding. Coercive control is a habit of forcing someone to do what you want and taking away their sense of self. As a result, an abused individual hides the situation from friends or family.

Some examples of coercive control are:

  • Physical and emotional abuse
  • Limiting access to finances
  • Monitoring and interrogating
  • Direct or indirect isolation from your friends and family
  • Deprivation

6. Being loyal even when you’re being abused

Trauma bonding makes the person stay loyal to the violent partner. To stay together, you might try to remember the good times and forget about the bad ones. A trauma bond happens when your partner hurts you on purpose by making threats, intimidating you, manipulating you, lying to you, or betraying you over and over again so they can feel powerful and in charge. So, one of the most important signs of trauma bonding is staying loyal to an abusive partner and continuing to trust them even though you are scared, in pain, or upset.

7. Unwilling to leave the situation

Suppose your partner, friend, or family member hurts you or breaks your trust repeatedly, but you still don’t want to leave the situation or break your bond with them. In that case, you may have a trauma bond. You don’t want to or can leave the violent situation, and you blame yourself for everything that happened.

To be clear, it can be hard to leave. You know they’re lying when they say they’ll change things because they never do. Still, there are mixed feelings, being afraid of “starting over,” not knowing how to pay for it, and other things that make it hard for a person to leave abusive relationships.

How to break Trauma Bonds

It is best to have instant access to a support system or direct phone support through a reputable hotline when trying to break free from a trauma bond or an abusive situation. This will help you deal with challenging and confusing times. Developing a strategy with your support system to leave without a fight or in peace while your abuser is away might assist you in getting out of the house and staying as safe as possible since leaving an abusive relationship is the most dangerous thing that can happen.

Any person who is a victim of domestic abuse may text “START” to 88788 or contact the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

To break trauma bonds, you can do the following:

1. Focus on what’s true

Breaking out of an abusive or traumatic relationship isn’t a piece of cake! Maintaining romantic relationships depends on both partners. If your partner doesn’t do anything to change or get better, you might want to trust what you see instead of what they say.

2. Pay attention to the current situation

Feeling nostalgic about the past or remembering good times with the person can make a bad bond stronger. Instead, think about what’s happening and how it makes you feel. Keeping a journal might help you get your thoughts on this in order.

3. Practice positive self-talk and care

One significant effect of being abused is that it can make you feel bad about your own self-worth. A person’s self-esteem goes down when he/she is mistreated. Be kind to yourself and believe that you aren’t responsible for the abuse. This might help you break free from your abuser(s).

You might also stay in a relationship with someone who hurts you because they make you feel better even though they hurt you. You might find it helpful to learn about and then use self-care practices. This might help you rely less on them for help. Take care of yourself by doing things you like the most. This can also help you heal. Putting yourself in situations where the things you do make you feel good can help you remember that you don’t need other people to make you feel good. You have free will, and loving actions will help you not forget that more often. This will make it easier for you to feel and believe.

Some examples of self-care can include:

  • Working out to stay active
  • Eating well to stay fit and healthy
  • Getting enough good sleep to energize yourself
  • Practicing Yoga, meditation, or Tai Chi to relax your mind and body
  • Doing something you enjoy as a hobby to increase focus
  • Listening to music to reduce stress and anxiety
  • Spending time with family and friends to refresh your mind and get positive feelings
  • Avoid negative self-talk
  • Maintaining a daily journal to identify issues

4. Journaling to break an overwhelming attachment

A vital sign can be an overwhelming attachment to someone who is manipulative or abusive, yet the bond feels unbreakable, almost magnetic.

In practice, this can manifest as a partner defending or romanticizing their abuser, despite the harm they’re experiencing. Breaking this bond involves cultivating self-compassion. I’d suggest that they should journal their experiences, focusing on the contrast between the abuser’s actions and their own needs and feelings.

As per Bayu Prihandito, Certified Psychology Expert, Life Coach, and Founder, of Life Architekture, It’s a process of externalizing the internal conflict, laying the groundwork to see the situation from a different perspective. Each reflection becomes a step toward reclaiming their identity and autonomy, turning the page to a chapter where self-love and respect take the main role.

5. Going through therapy for trauma

Therapy is a great way to help people get over any trauma-bonding toxic relationships and traumatic events. It can not only help you get through the complicated feelings you’re having after leaving a violent situation, but it can also help you make different decisions in the future.

Matthew Ramirez, Founder of USMLE Test Prep, also believes that overcoming trauma bonds is possible through participating in individual therapy. This can help you better understand yourself and your relationship. A trauma-informed therapist can also help you recognize when you are in a trauma bond.

You can identify the signs of abuse so that you never find yourself in a position like this again. There are many kinds of therapy, but trauma therapy is always the best choice for people who have been through some sort of trauma, like being abused.

There is no one “therapy” that can heal trauma bonds. Instead, many therapies focus on trauma that helps people who have been through trauma, and these therapies can heal trauma bonds. A counselor or trauma-informed therapist can use the following therapy methods to help you move forward.

  • Trauma-focused CBT (tf-CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

6. Support and peer groups

Therapy is an integral part of getting better. Still, it might not be enough for you because of how you experienced stress and emotional attachments. Sharing thoughts with people who have been through the same issue may help in avoiding risk factors and stopping abusive cycles. Professional support might help you to avoid isolation and anxiety about being abused.

If you don’t want to join support groups, talk about what you went through with close friends and family you trust. You have nothing to be ashamed of, and hearing that over and over may help you believe it.


If you have ever been abused in any way, you may have gone through trauma bonding. This is not something to be embarrassed or guilty about. It’s normal to feel that way after going through a traumatic event, and you can get help.

They can help you find a psychologist, or you can use the therapist locator from the American Psychological Association (APA) and make plans to stay safe.

It takes a lot of strength to leave a bad situation and put your health and happiness first. Be kind and gentle with yourself as you get better after a traumatic event.

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Published by Admin, On Nov 24, 2023