Maneuvering Through a Trauma Bonding Relationship

7 Oct, 2021
man holding hand of stressed woman at rehab meeting

More times than most, a person doesn’t even realize they have formed a trauma bond. Many people may have at least one relationship that meets the criteria of a trauma bonding relationship. What even defines a trauma bonding relationship and how do you prevent or recover from it?

What is Trauma Bonding?

Trauma bonding is a psychological response to abuse. It can occur when someone is being abused and they react by forming an unhealthy bond with their abuser. They may feel sympathy or remorse, at times the person who is being abused will feel a sense of loyalty to a destructive person.

Oftentimes, this creates a powerful emotional bond that is extremely hard for a person to leave. It is common for a person to not realize that they are in a trauma bonding relationship even though others outside of the relationship can see and identify the toxic and destructive patterns.

Why Does it Happen?

Feelings of dependency and attachment can contribute to why a person may form a trauma bond.


Researchers report that a trauma bond is an emotional attachment between an abuser and a victim. This can manifest when a person has an unhealthy attachment to another person, especially in an abusive relationship. Building attachments is normal and healthy, but there comes a point where a person can build an unhealthy attachment to a person who is destructive to them. An abused person can turn to their abuser for comfort when they are hurting, even if the source of comfort is the one who caused the trauma. When someone’s main source of support is from their abuser, a trauma bond may develop.


When a person depends on their abuser to fulfill their emotional needs, they can develop a trauma bond. For example, as a child, we rely on our parents or caregiver to shower us with love and support. If that parent is abusive, the child may start to associate love with abuse. When a child is raised in an abusive environment, they can associate their abuse as being normal and are unable to view their caregiver in any negative manner. In fact, the child tends to blame themselves for the abuse, as if they deserved the act of punishment they received from their parent or caregiver. With this mindset, the relationship with the abuser is viewed as healthy and normal because the child may not have been exposed to any different, healthy behaviors.

When Can Trauma Bonding Occur?

Trauma bonding can occur in many different kinds of situations that involve a form of abuse or exploiting another person. Here are some situations where trauma bonding may transpire:

  • Domestic abuse
  • Child abuse or neglect
  • Incest or molestation
  • Kidnapping
  • Human trafficking
  • Exploitative employment
  • Religious extremism or cults

Signs of Being in a Trauma Bond

  • There is a pattern of non-performance. For example, the abuser constantly promises you things and constantly lets you down.
  • You feel you don’t trust or like the person anymore, yet you cannot bring yourself to leave.
  • Family and friends are oftentimes disturbed by things that they witness or hear about, but you continue to brush it off.
  • You have tried to leave, but you feel as though your life will be destroyed, or you become physically ill.
  • You know that the person is abusive “sometimes”, but you continuously focus on the “good” in them or how they “used” to be or even who you want them to be.
  • You are overly protective of the person and rationalize their behavior due to their difficult past.
  • You believe it is your responsibility to care for them and show them love because they have struggled or been wronged in the past.
  • You know you’re being manipulated, but you block it out and attempt to make excuses to justify their behavior.
  • The relationship is intense and inconsistent. You may feel like you’re constantly walking on eggshells or that you have to cater to their mood or else suffer the consequences.
  • You are being told what you want to hear to resolve issues that may arise.
  • You start to engage in self-destructive behaviors and sometimes self-harm.

Breaking Free From Your Trauma Bond

Leaving a trauma bond relationship can be challenging and the abuse that you’ve gone through can have lasting effects on your mental and physical health. Here are a few ways that can help you as you make this transition.


Speaking with a trained therapist can help you identify symptoms that can be associated with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When these symptoms are treated, your therapist can help you identify triggers and build coping mechanisms. A lot of different disorders can look similar, for example, PTSD and acute stress disorder. A professional diagnosis is essential for the person to get the right kind of help and support.

Support Groups

Finding a group of abuse survivors can help you to feel less alone while also reminding you that they are others who understand and care about what you are going through. Support groups can also help you as others share tips on coping and staying safe.

For anyone who may have a trauma bond, there is help available. Many organizations can provide the emotional support and advice you need that will help you stay safe, both during the abuse and afterward. You do not deserve to endure any type of abuse. You matter and so does your safety, as well as your emotional and physical well-being.  If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse or are in a trauma bond relationship, Sober Life wants to help you through these difficult times. We have a dynamic team that is trained and can provide individualized care for those in need. If you’re unsure what kind of help is available, we can help you. Remember if you or anyone is in immediate danger or experiencing domestic violence call 911 or other emergency assistance. Let Sober Life in San Diego, California help you become the healthiest version of yourself. Call us at 619-542-9542

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