Breaking the Chains of Abuse: Overcoming Trauma Bonds in Abusive Dynamics

Breaking the Chains of Abuse: Overcoming Trauma Bonds in Abusive Dynamics

Trauma Bonds & The Trauma of the Human Spirit - Healing and Transformation


A trauma bond forms through a pattern of physical or emotional trauma intertwined with subsequent positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement: refers to instances where, despite experiencing trauma or mistreatment, there are intermittent moments or actions that offer comfort, affection, from the same source of trauma. These positive elements could create a sense of attachment or dependency despite the overall harmful nature of the relationship. This type of attachment often emerges within romantic relationships, making it challenging to leave them. This bond usually follows a repetitive cycle and hinges on an unequal power dynamic. Identifying this bond for what it truly is and seeking support could assist in breaking it.

Leaving an abusive relationship usually isn’t as simple as walking out the door. Along with concerns about finding a place to live, supporting yourself, or being prevented from seeing your children or loved ones, you might feel tied to your partner, unable to break away. This emotional entanglement, recognized as a trauma bond, weaves itself through a relentless cycle of abuse, degradation, and intermittent instances of positive reinforcement. Strangely, this bond finds its roots in a paradox – evolving from the same source that inflicts harm.

Human nature gravitates towards kindness and warmth. Many abusive relationships commence under the guise of love and shower of affection, where assurances of care and devotion form the initial threads of connection. These moments of tenderness, however fleeting, often contribute to the complex web of emotional ties that make breaking away an arduous task. These attempts to manipulate often succeed since you remember the early days of the relationship and believe they can be that person again.


How to Tell if You’re in a Trauma Bonding Relationship

Recognizing signs of trauma bonding within a relationship can be crucial for one’s well-being. This type of unhealthy attachment often manifests in cycles of “love-bombing” and abuse, blurring the lines between affection and harm.

Trauma bonding represents an unhealthy emotional connection to an individual causing physical, emotional, or sexual harm. Insidiously, it develops gradually, often evading recognition by the abused person. In these relationships, the abusive partner oscillates between extreme displays of affection and violent behavior in repetitive patterns.

Individuals with a history of childhood abuse are particularly susceptible to trauma bonding as their understanding of a healthy relationship may be distorted. Breaking free from such bonds may necessitate professional counseling, a strong support network, and legal intervention if there exists a credible threat of violence. Likewise, individuals displaying abusive behavior might initially “test the waters” by gauging a potential partner’s reaction to minor criticisms or insults. As the relationship progresses, these manipulative behaviors can gradually escalate into more deliberate and harmful forms of abuse.

Are You Trauma Bonded To Your Abuser?

Trauma bonding typically affects people who have been abused in the past, often in childhood but also sometimes in previous relationships. Their vulnerability to trauma bonding is not “masochism” (the conscious pursuit of abuse) but rather the result of a distorted perception of what a healthy relationship is. Recognizing these patterns and seeking appropriate help is pivotal in breaking the cycle of trauma bonding.

Traumatic bonding is fueled by imbalance of power in which one partner gradually takes power and the other surrenders; relinquishes it. This dynamic is further marked by unpredictability, shifts between between periods of intense affection and extreme instances of emotional, psychological, physical, or sexual abuse.

9 Clear Signs of Trauma Bonding - Happier Human

The Different Trauma Bond Types

1. Abandonment: This type of trauma bond emerges from feeling unsafe due to threatening circumstances like abuse. It often triggers abandonment fears, stemming from unmet needs during childhood, leading to feelings of neglect or abandonment trauma.

2. Fawning: A trauma bond associated with the “fawn” response, where the individual immediately seeks to appease the abuser to prevent conflict. This behavior, sometimes linked to codependency, involves trying to please the harmful person to avoid escalation.

3. Emotional Neglect: Emotional neglect causes confusion and discomfort, making it challenging to understand one’s emotions or identity due to a lack of guidance or appropriate role modeling. It can occur when a person feels consistently ignored, invalidated, or disregarded in a relationship.

4. Control: This trauma bond involves a power imbalance, where one person exerts excessive control over the other, making it challenging to break free. Despite recognizing the abusive cycle, the familiarity and comfort it provides might lead to returning to the relationship, even after leaving.

5. Stockholm Syndrome: Considered an extreme form of trauma bonding, Stockholm syndrome occurs in hostage situations where captives develop an emotional connection with their captors. This phenomenon was named after a 1973 hostage incident in Sweden, where hostages displayed close, sometimes romantic, feelings toward their captors, refusing to testify against them in court.

Each type of trauma bond represents a distinct pattern of emotional response and behavior stemming from various dynamics within relationships, highlighting the complexity and diversity of experiences within these bonds.


Helping and Coping With a Partner Who Has Trauma | Psychology Today

Traits of an Abusive Partner

i. Excessive need for admiration: Abusive partners often seek constant validation and admiration from their partner, demonstrating an insatiable desire for attention and praise.

ii. Disregard for others’ feelings: They frequently show little empathy or concern for their partner’s emotions, disregarding their feelings and needs.

iii. Inability to handle criticism: Abusive individuals typically react negatively to any form of criticism, whether real or perceived, often responding with defensiveness, anger, or hostility.

iv. Sense of entitlement: They believe they deserve special treatment or privileges without considering the feelings or rights of their partner, exhibiting an entitled attitude.

Furthermore, traumatic bonds often manifest in individuals diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Common characteristics of NPD include:

i. A need for excessive admiration: Individuals with NPD have an intense craving for admiration and adoration from others.

ii. Lack of empathy: They often struggle to understand or care about the feelings of others, demonstrating a lack of empathy in their interactions.

iii. Difficulty handling criticism: Criticism is met with extreme sensitivity and defensiveness, causing distress and sometimes aggressive reactions.

iv. Sense of entitlement: Those with NPD often believe they deserve special treatment or privileges due to their perceived superiority or uniqueness.

Abusive partners with NPD may exhibit a cycle of behavior, swinging between moments of affection and instances of inflicting emotional harm or manipulation. Sudden bursts of rage or silent treatment can be triggered by perceived criticisms, real or imagined, which the person with NPD feels justified in reacting to. This pattern often serves to maintain control within the relationship, creating a tumultuous and emotionally distressing environment for their partner.

Trauma Bonding and Intimate Partner Violence

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) often intertwines with trauma bonding, encompassing not only physical actions like hitting but also encompassing sexual and psychological harm. This form of violence might initially manifest subtly in the early stages of a relationship, becoming evident only after a strong emotional bond has been established. At the onset of the relationship, the abuser often attempts to captivate their partner’s affection by employing gestures and assurances that fulfill the partner’s yearning for love and security. Once the bond solidifies, the abuser might exhibit controlling tendencies, often masked as protective behavior.

10 Signs of Trauma Bonding – Carla Corelli

As the dynamics shift and the abuser secures more power, any challenge to their authority or even mere questioning can result in punishment for the partner. Over time, this can escalate into instances of physical, sexual, or psychological violence.

A coercive pattern often emerges, where the abuser alternates between displays of deep remorse, warmth, and kindness after perpetrating harm. This cycle serves to keep the abused individual tethered to the relationship while gradually eroding their willpower to resist or fight back against the abusive behavior.

7 Stages of Trauma Bonding

Abusers tend to feel fully entitled to their actions and behaviors. While they may be fully convinced that they are “acting out of love,” the formation of a trauma bond follows a classic, almost clinical pattern.

1. Love Bombing: The initial phase where the abuser inundates the partner with intense displays of affection, creating a euphoric experience akin to finding a perfect match or soulmate.

2. Trust and Dependency: The abuser gradually assumes control and induces feelings of guilt in their partner for questioning decisions or doubting the relationship.

3. Criticism: The abuser starts to nitpick and criticize the partner, undermining their qualities and making them feel inadequate, wrong, or insignificant.

4. Gaslighting: Employing manipulative tactics, the abuser distorts the partner’s reality, making them doubt their perceptions and culpability, often shifting blame to invalidate their partner’s feelings.

5. Resignation: The abused partner begins to capitulate, yielding to the abuser’s demands in an attempt to stabilize the turbulent relationship and reduce conflict.

6. Loss of Self: The abused individual experiences a gradual erosion of their identity and personal boundaries, leading to isolation as their confidence and self-esteem are steadily undermined.

7. Emotional Addiction: A habitual cycle of conflict and love bombing becomes entrenched, desensitizing the abused individual to the abuse. They become emotionally addicted to the pattern and may no longer consider leaving the relationship, despite the harm inflicted.

These stages form a distressing and cyclic progression in trauma bonding, illustrating how an abuser methodically undermines their partner’s sense of self and agency, fostering dependency and emotional captivity within the relationship.


1. Cyclical Nature: Trauma bonds thrive on intermittent reinforcement, characterized by a cycle of abuse and occasional kindness. In abusive relationships, the abuser might alternate between phases of extreme affection, referred to as “love bombing,” where they lavish their partner with gifts, declarations of love, or acts of kindness. These moments of love and care may overshadow the fear of further abuse, leading the victim to regain a sense of trust and momentarily overlook or suppress memories of past abusive behavior. However, this cycle repeats, perpetuating a pattern of abuse, reconciliation, and further abuse.

2. Power Imbalance: Trauma bonds fundamentally rely on an underlying power imbalance within the relationship. The victim may feel entrapped or controlled to such an extent that they struggle to resist or break free from the abusive cycle. Even if they manage to leave the relationship, breaking the bond might prove challenging without professional intervention. The victim might experience feelings of incompleteness or a sense of being lost without the abuser, leading to a potential return to the relationship. This return often occurs because the familiarity of the abusive cycle becomes the norm, making it difficult for the victim to imagine life without it.

These characteristics illustrate how trauma bonds operate within abusive relationships, entangling victims in a distressing cycle of intermittent kindness and abuse, coupled with an unequal power dynamic that makes breaking free a formidable challenge without external support and assistance.


People who haven’t experienced abuse often find it difficult to understand why people remain in abusive relationships. They might believe you’re perfectly capable of leaving. In reality, though, the trauma bond makes this extremely difficult. People don’t choose abuse. 

1. Trauma Bonding: Trauma bonds, formed through repeated cycles of abuse and intermittent kindness, create an emotional dependency that makes it extremely challenging to leave the relationship. These bonds are powerful and often cloud the victim’s judgment, leading to a deep attachment to the abuser.

2. Emotional and Psychological Manipulation: Abusers utilize manipulative tactics such as gaslighting, manipulation of emotions, and threats to control their victims. This manipulation can lead to confusion, self-doubt, and a distorted perception of reality, making it difficult for the victim to recognize the severity of the situation or take action to leave.

3. Fear: Fear of retaliation or escalation of abuse, threats against the victim or loved ones, and feelings of helplessness can paralyze the victim, deterring them from leaving the abusive relationship.

4. Isolation: Abusers often isolate their victims from support networks, family, and friends, making the victim feel isolated and dependent solely on the abuser for emotional and sometimes financial support. This isolation makes it harder for the victim to seek help or escape the abusive situation.

5. Low Self-Esteem and Guilt: Victims may have low self-esteem due to the constant belittlement and criticism from the abuser. They might also feel guilty or responsible for the abuse, believing they somehow caused or deserved it, making it harder to break free from the relationship.

6. Hope for Change: Victims often hold onto hope that the abuser will change or revert to the initial loving and caring behavior they experienced in the beginning of the relationship, leading them to stay in the hope that things will improve.

Trauma Bonding and the Victim in Narcissistic Abuse – Tegwyn's World

It’s essential to recognize that leaving an abusive relationship is a complex and challenging process. The trauma bonding, emotional manipulation, fear, isolation, and other factors contribute to the difficulty victims face in extricating themselves from such harmful situations. Support, understanding, and professional help are crucial in helping victims break free from these cycles of abuse.


The freeze response is a part of the body’s instinctual reaction to perceived threats, alongside fight, flight, and fawn responses. When an individual faces abuse or anticipates potential harm, their brain initiates a response to the impending danger. This triggers the release of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, activating the body’s survival mechanisms and inducing emotional and physical tension.

Understanding Trauma Responses

The freeze response involves a state of mental and emotional “shutting down” or “numbing” as a coping mechanism. When the thoughts or memories of abuse become too overwhelming or distressing, individuals might consciously or subconsciously choose to focus solely on the positive aspects of the relationship. This selective attention allows them to block or ignore the negative aspects of the abusive behavior. They might also make excuses or justify the abuser’s actions, rationalizing their decision to stay in the relationship. This response serves as a defense mechanism to protect oneself from overwhelming emotional pain or trauma. It’s important to understand that this psychological response is a survival strategy, but it can also contribute to the continuation of the trauma bond, making it harder for individuals to recognize the severity of the abuse and take steps to leave the abusive relationship.

The Influence of Hormones in Reinforcing Abusive Relationships

The impact of hormones is significant in reinforcing abusive dynamics. Gestures such as apologies, gifts, or displays of physical affection from the abusive individual act as rewards, reinforcing a sense of relief and stimulating the release of dopamine. Moreover, physical intimacy or affection triggers the release of oxytocin, an additional feel-good hormone that contributes to strengthening the emotional bonds within the relationship.

Strategies to Identify Abuse and Understand Trauma Bonding

To uncover signs of abuse and identify the effects of trauma bonding, consider these approaches:

i. Maintain a journal: Documenting daily occurrences aids in recognizing patterns and identifying behavioral issues that might not have seemed abusive at the time.

ii. Seek an outsider’s perspective: Imagine analyzing your relationship as an observer reading about it in a book. Detachment often allows for a clearer examination of negative events.

iii. Engage with trusted individuals: Loved ones can provide valuable insights. Challenge yourself to actively listen and genuinely assess the validity of your observations.

Avoid self-blame: Avoiding self-blame is crucial in empowering yourself to break free from an abusive relationship. Remember, the abuse is never your fault, regardless of:

  • Actions you may have taken or not taken
  • Fear of loneliness or uncertainty without the abuser
  • The number of times you’ve returned to the relationship

You deserve better treatment. Replace self-criticism and blame with affirmations and positive self-talk to reinforce this truth and gradually reclaim your sense of self-worth and agency.


Upon deciding to leave, it’s vital to disrupt the abusive cycle by completely severing communication. While total cessation might not be feasible in co-parenting situations, seeking guidance from a therapist can assist in devising a plan for minimal, necessary contact. Additionally, create physical distance by securing a safe place to stay, whether with a trusted relative or friend. Consider changing your phone number if it’s a viable option to further ensure the discontinuation of contact.

Seeking Professional Guidance to Break Trauma Bonds

While personal efforts to weaken trauma bonds are valuable, these bonds often persist strongly. Seeking professional support is common and can be crucial for breaking free. A therapist offers insights into the abusive patterns underlying trauma bonding, offering clarity and understanding.

Therapy provides a platform to:

  • Explore the factors sustaining the bond
  • Establish boundaries for healthier relationships
  • Acquire skills to cultivate healthy relationship dynamics
  • Develop a personalized self-care plan
  • Address mental health symptoms stemming from long-term trauma and abuse

Therapeutic intervention is instrumental in navigating the complexities of trauma bonding and facilitating the healing process.

The science behind trauma bonding and why no contact is so hard


In essence, trauma bonding is a deeply intricate and pervasive phenomenon that intertwines with abusive relationships, exerting a formidable hold on individuals. Its cyclical nature, power dynamics, and the intertwining of affection and abuse create a complex web that challenges one’s ability to break free. Recognizing the signs of trauma bonding, understanding its mechanisms, and acknowledging the need for professional support are crucial steps toward reclaiming autonomy and healing.

Breaking free from the grip of trauma bonding often demands courage, support, and perseverance. Remember, you are not alone in this journey. Seeking guidance from therapists, establishing boundaries, cultivating self-care practices, and nurturing healthy relationships are pivotal steps toward rebuilding a life of safety and empowerment.

It’s imperative to realize that liberation from trauma bonding is possible. With dedication and support, individuals can embark on a path toward healing, self-discovery, and the creation of a fulfilling life free from the shackles of abuse.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Carson Anekeya

    Trauma bonding, a complex fusion of affection and abuse, ensnares individuals in abusive relationships. Recognizing its signs, seeking professional help, and fostering resilience are crucial steps towards breaking free. With support and determination, liberation from this cycle is achievable, paving the way for healing and a life of empowerment…

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