What Is Trauma Bonding?

Couple next to lake

What is trauma bonding? Previously known as Stockholm Syndrome, trauma bonding is the attachment that a victim feels for their abuser because of the love-abuse-love cycle that happens.

This makes an abusive relationship very difficult to leave because the victim always has this hope that things will get better.

The victim is also attached to their abuser through trauma bonding.

While this usually occurs within romantic relationships, it can also happen within parent-child bonds, employee-employer dynamics, cults, and other relationships where one person is in an authority position.

Victims that experience trauma bonding can lose their self-esteem, sense of reality, and identity.

They can also have deep-seated mental issues that, if they don't address them, can cause several problems coping with life.

But why does trauma bonding occur?

Trauma & PTSD Therapists in Colorado

Sarah Munk, LPC

Sarah Munk, LPC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Sara Robbins, LCSW

Sara Robbins, LCSW

Aurora, Colorado
(720) 449-4121
Rodney Collins, LMFT

Rodney Collins, LMFT

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Julia Rosales, MA, LPCC

Julia Rosales, MA, LPCC

Aurora, Colorado
(720) 449-4121
Joseph Anders, LPCC

Joseph Anders, LPCC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 481-3518
Sydnee Wheeler, LPCC

Sydnee Wheeler, LPCC

Aurora, Colorado
(720) 449-4121
Michele Ames-Hodges, PsyD, LPC

Michele Ames-Hodges, PsyD, LPC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424
Sarah Webster, SWC

Sarah Webster, SWC

Colorado
(719) 696-3439
Alex Wiley, LPC

Alex Wiley, LPC

Colorado Springs, Colorado
(719) 452-4374
Winnie Siwa, LPCC

Winnie Siwa, LPCC

Colorado
(719) 345-2424

Why Trauma Bonding Occurs

Trauma bonding happens when the abuser shows their victim love and affection after the abuse.

The abuser might buy an expensive gift, take the victim out for a luxurious evening, or even give the victim the loving attention they so desperately crave.

Then the cycle continues, and eventually, the victim forms a bond with their abuser because they hope the person will change somehow.

An attachment forms during the reconciliation phase, making them feel safe. This safety gives the victim a false sense that everything is okay and things will finally change.

Because the victim wants to feel loved and cared for, they stay even though they know the relationship isn't healthy.


Love Bombing Reinforces Trauma Bonding

But why would someone stay with an abusive person, especially at the beginning of a relationship when the bond isn't as strong?

The abuser might be a master manipulator and uses "love-bombing" techniques to get the victim to trust them and bond with the abuser early on.

Love bombing is when the abuser does the following to get someone to trust them:

  • Uses words like "soulmate" and "the perfect person" almost immediately.
  • They say the right things at the right time.
  • A constant need for validation from you.
  • They cling tightly to you to the point where you feel bad for doing something alone.
  • They become very jealous when you go out with friends.
  • They shower you with expensive gifts early on in the relationship.

These techniques reinforce loving and emotional bonds that we all want to feel, making the abuse more difficult to view rationally.

After abuse occurs, the abuser usually repeatedly apologizes, and because the victim wants to believe the apology, they forgive their partner.

The abuser might cry and claim that they've been under a lot of stress lately or something else to make the victim feel sorry for them.

Is this a familiar scenario for you? Does any of this resonate with you? Perhaps you're experiencing trauma bonding, but how can you know for sure?

Signs That You're Experiencing Trauma Bonding

Trauma bonding shows up when you least expect it, especially if you're in an abusive relationship. But how do you know if you're experiencing trauma bonding?

While there are many signs and symptoms of trauma bonding, here are the most common:

  • Making excuses for the abuser to family, friends, and co-workers.
  • The victim lies about visible marks from abuse, such as a bruise, cut, or burn.
  • The abuser isolates the victim from their families and friends.
  • The victim rationalizes the abuser's behavior and actions and accepts blame for the abuse.
  • The abuser gaslights the victim by saying the victim's reaction to the abuse was out of line.
  • The abuse and love-bombing follow a cycle designed to get the victim to trust the abuser.

Also, if you feel like you and your partner are "soulmates," even though you're abused often, you have a trauma bond.

However, not all abusive situations result in trauma bonding. But if you feel a deep affection for the person and find it difficult to leave, you're likely experiencing a trauma bond.

If you're in this situation, you might not recognize that you're being abused. 

Recognizing Abuse

You might have made excuses for your partner's behavior for so long, or you might have believed your partner's lies for so long you might not recognize an abusive situation.

Put simply, abuse is to "use or treat something or someone improperly for another's benefit or gain."

If you're hurt or injured in any way, whether it's physical, psychological, financial, or spiritual, and it benefits your abuser or gives them control, it's abuse. 

For example, a woman was in a relationship with a man with an overactive sex drive. At least, that's how she saw it.

He would have anal sex with her while she was sleeping because she wouldn't do it while awake. At least, that was what he told her.

She started believing him and felt ashamed that she couldn't do what he wanted.

Her view was that he was "taking advantage of her" rather than what it really was–rape. When she finally opened her eyes to this, she created an escape plan.

If you're making excuses for getting hit, raped, belittled, or humiliated, that's abuse. Nothing more, nothing less.

And if you feel like you're to blame for the abuser's behavior, emotions, or actions, it's abuse–it's not your fault.


Breaking the Trauma Bond

Whether you've left the abusive situation or not, breaking the trauma bond first requires you to realize that you're not to blame for the abuse.

Create a journal about what you're experiencing and the patterns you're seeing. However, you might need to hide it if your abuser constantly needs to know what you write or do.

If you trust them, talk to others, such as your family members or friends, about your situation and ask them their perspectives.

Don't blame yourself for your abuser's actions. Humans make mistakes, but the mistakes are never so bad as to warrant abuse.

Practice self-care, which might be as simple as stepping outside for a few minutes of fresh air and breathing deeply.

Talk with a trauma-trained counselor, such as here at Overcomer's Counseling.

Someone that's trained in healing trauma can help you heal from the trauma bond and go on to live a healthier life.


Conclusion

Trauma bonding can be very confusing, especially if you aren't able to recognize the abuse. It can create low self-esteem, emotional numbness, and losing who they are.

If you've identified with any of this and you think you might have a trauma bond, it's best to seek help from a certified therapist who can help you work through the issues you have.

They can also point you in the direction you may need to go if you're currently in an abusive relationship. 

Resources 

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February 27th, 2024

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