Trauma bonding refers to an intense emotional connection that creates an intense attachment in relationships.
The term trauma bonded is sometimes used by people when they experience a traumatic event together – such as a couple having a car accident or pregnancy loss. In this instance, the traumatic event supported a deepening of a secure and supportive attachment as the two people navigated their traumatic pain together.
The term trauma bonding, however, refers to an attachment that occurs in a relationship with a lot of traumatic stuff happening mixed with a few great things. A common example of this is when an abused person develops sympathetic or affectionate feelings towards their abuser. When this intense attachment occurs, it can negatively influence an abused individual’s ability to leave the relationship and can cause feelings of low self-esteem, and depression. Trauma bonding behaviors may be difficult to spot and are often reinforced by the abuser through a variety of tactics intended to keep their partner stuck in the cycle of abuse.
Signs of trauma bonding
A few common signs of problematic trauma bonding include:
- You keep returning to a negative environment when you try to leave
- Constantly making excuses for someone else’s bad behavior and actions
- Having extreme fear of leaving the relationship
- Being ‘love-bombed’
- Feeling unable to openly express yourself and your feelings
- There is a highly unequal power dynamic in the relationship
Trauma bonds don’t happen only in romantic relationships. Dynamics of trauma bonding can also occur in cases of kidnapping, child abuse, fraternity hazing, cults, political torture, war, and military training.
Breaking a trauma bond
If you are recovering from or in a trauma-bonded relationship, first it is important to be gentle with yourself. Try not to get stuck in a shame and self-blame tunnel. Abusive trauma bonds are often reinforced by an abuser and can be incredibly challenging to identify. Trauma bonds are also incredibly confusing to your nervous system’s ability to discern safety from danger in relationships. For children, the rupture of attachment can be incredibly destabilizing. Seeking professional help from a trauma therapist that specializes in embodied therapy and complex PTSD is an important step in your healing.
[Read: Why choose embodied or somatic therapy for trauma and Developmental Transformations for trauma: Entering the playspace]
There are a few steps you can take on your own to support your healing if safe to do so:
- Take notes of everything – writing down all the events can help you identify behavioral patterns in the relationship
- Family & friends – surround yourself with people who are unbiased and love you unconditionally
- Realignment – realign your focus and energy on identifying and pursuing your passions and interests
- Love yourself – learn to love yourself instead of blaming yourself. You deserve happiness
- Set boundaries – identify your boundaries, communicate them, and stand by them
Ready to begin trauma therapy in Missouri?
At Emovere, we are a team of compassionate humans and trauma experts in St. Louis, Missouri who can support you to heal from a trauma-bonding experience. Do not give up on yourself, freedom and happiness are possible. Contact us today to schedule a no-cost consultation with one of our trauma therapists.
About the Author
Katie Bohn, LPC, BC-DMT, SEP is a trauma therapist and owner of Emovere, LLC. She provides clinical supervision and consultation to an amazing team of therapists. She loves helping people recover from traumatic experiences and find meaning and hope in their lives through embodiment, creativity, and psychotherapy.