Trauma Bonding Relationships + Signs You May Be In One
Explore the intricacies of trauma bonding in relationships and discover key signs that may indicate you're caught in this emotional web. Gain insights into breaking free and fostering healthier connections.
By Anna Myers / Dec 14 2023
If you’ve been on Instagram or TikTok recently, you might have noticed everyone is talking about trauma.
Trauma bonding relationships, in particular, or “trauma bonds,” seem to be on everyone’s lips ––but as often is the case with social media, the TLDR version of events is too superficial to provide you with a true understanding of something as complex as trauma-related work.
That’s why we’ve put together your ultimate guide to trauma bonding relationships, in the hopes of helping you dive deeper into the topic without feeling like TikTok is just rehashing the same six-second videos on your For You Page without actually telling you what you want to know!
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about trauma bonds: how to spot them, how to understand them, and how to finally break them.
what is a trauma bonding relationship?
Trauma bonding refers to the dysfunctional attachment that someone who has been abused or is currently being abused might develop for their abuser. It is a complex trait and one of the many reasons that leaving an abusive relationship of any kind can feel like an impossible task ––but with the right help and form of support, trauma bonds can be broken and people can be free to start a new, healthier and more fulfilled chapter of their lives.
Trauma bonding is a trauma response, first and foremost, and it is brought on by the impact trauma can have on our brains. This varies wildly from person to person, and can change depending on how different people respond to the severity of the event, as well as the length of time for which it persisted in the person’s life.
Trauma bonding is mostly found to be prevalent in romantic relationships, but it can also be observed in some particularly intense relationships between friends, family members, and colleagues.
why does trauma bonding happen?
A past history of abuse is the main factor leaving someone more vulnerable to future forms of abuse. The most important thing to clarify is that trauma bonding doesn’t happen in our adult lives, as you may have previously believed. Instead, it begins in childhood and is perpetuated through to our adulthood, or until we break the bond and find some form of healing.
Past trauma, abuse, or neglect will have victims normalising abusive behaviour as a coping and survival mechanism. This, in turn, can invite the possibility for more of the same to keep happening in the future, as trauma bonding victims may experience the dysfunctional tendency to connect with others based on what they’ve previously learned from these adverse circumstances, and not their healthy counterparts.
trauma bond vs stockholm syndrome
Trauma bonds have a lot in common with what is commonly known as “Stockholm syndrome,” a psychological response to captivity and abuse.
The key difference between the two is to be found in this simple distinction: a Stockholm syndrome victim has reason to believe their life is in danger, and finds in this strategy a coping mechanism that stops them from reacting in a panicked or anxiety-ridden way; on the other hand, this may not always be the case for a trauma bond victim, who could be struggling to deal with a non-life-threatening situation or some type of dysfunctional relationship.
What the two have in common, however, is the sense of loyalty that victims can have for their abusers, which is often accompanied by a need to minimise and normalise the trauma they are experiencing.
how to recognise you're in a trauma bond
You may recognise yourself or someone in your life as a victim of a trauma bond if you find yourself nodding along to the following signs of trauma bonding:
- Fear of breaking up a relationship and leaving a partner
- Feeling very attached and connected to someone they haven’t known very long
- Belief that the abuser is the only one who can truly ever see and love them
- Readiness to make big life changes for someone they haven’t known for very long
- Inability to see that a partner is isolating them from friends and family, jobs, hobbies
- Lying and covering up for the abuser’s behaviour
- Belief that they are in any way at fault or supposed to feel shame and guilt for the abuse they are on the receiving end of
A trauma bond is intense, emotional, unhealthy and decidedly toxic in nature. Someone in a trauma bonding relationship may find themselves on the receiving end of verbal, physical, financial or emotional abuse, all the while mistaking the other person’s exercise of abuse and toxic power for romantic love.
how to break a trauma bond
If you believe you or someone you know might be in a trauma bond relationship, the most important thing is to get external help. This can be in the form of a trusted person outside of the relationship, like a friend, a family member, a support group, or a mental health professional, who can help you see things clearly and be honest with yourself about the gravity of the situation.
You’ll need to make sure you’re physically safe from harm and put as much distance between you and your abuse as you can, while you figure out your next steps both from a legal and an emotional standpoint.
Trauma-focused types of therapies and treatments such as Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), Cognitive analytic therapy (CAT), somatic experiencing, body-focused therapies, EFT and so on can really help when it comes to addressing the way our past experiences can impact our beliefs and approaches to life, even years after the experience in question.
It’s not easy to prioritise yourself and your healing, and while ending any type of dysfunctional relationship can feel overwhelming and at times impossible, it really is worth it. And it all starts with understanding your situation and getting the right support.
Author’s Note: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 111 or National Domestic Abuse Helpline at 0808 2000 247 or visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk to chat to an operator.