9 signs of trauma bonding and how you can address it


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Trauma is often tied to another person. Many people want to disassociate with the person who is connected to their traumatic experience, but that’s not always the case. In fact, some people, as a reaction to their trauma, want to deepen the bond with the person that’s causing their distress.

Trauma-bonded relationships can have long-term negative effects on a person’s mental and emotional health, and oftentimes, their physical health as well.

Learn about the ins and outs of trauma bonding, signs to look out for, and how mental health professionals can help address it.

What is trauma bonding?

Trauma bonding is a psychological response to an abusive relationship. Instead of pulling away, a person will form an unhealthy bond with the person who is hurting them. This may often happen as a result of the abuser eliciting sympathy by demonstrating remorse and affection after abuse incidents. 

It’s most common in domestic relationships, but trauma bonds can also occur in:

  • Hostage situations
  • Human trafficking
  • Elder abuse
  • Child abuse
  • Exploitative employment

9 signs of trauma bonding

It’s not always easy to determine when one is in an abusive relationship, which makes it even harder to figure out if  trauma bonding is occurring. But by assessing the behaviors and emotions exhibited between two people in any sort of relationship, you can be aware of possible trauma bond signs.

If you’re worried that you or someone you know has a trauma bond, nine signs to look out for are:

  • Cycles of abuse — Trauma bonds are formed through a cycle of emotional, psychological, physical, verbal or sexual abuse, followed by the perpetrator being apologetic and loving.
  • Power imbalance — When the abuser exhibits intimidation or power over you, then you may feel like you’ll be lost or helpless without them. A power imbalance results in a lack of control over your safety and well-being.
  • Inability to leave — Fear plays a major role in trauma bonding. People with a trauma bond may feel like they’re unable to leave their abuser due to fear of their own safety or the safety of their loved ones. A lack of finances or housing can also prevent someone from leaving a dangerous relationship.
  • Dismissed boundaries — When the perpetrator disregards the emotional or physical boundaries that you set, they’re showing that they don’t respect your feelings or safety. They’re depending on the deep emotional connection of your trauma bond for you to stay.
  • Desire to feel loved — Many people will stay in an abusive relationship because they fear that it’s their only chance to feel loved. A trauma bond forms through a person’s insecurities and a deep desire to feel wanted, regardless of the cost.
  • Prioritization of the abuser’s pleasure — If a person is willing to make changes to themselves to please the person they’re in a relationship with, it’s because they desire their abuser’s happiness over their own.
  • Excuses — When a person is in an abusive relationship, they will make excuses for the other person’s behavior to other people. By brushing off their abuser’s negative traits, they are focusing on the love and kindness that their abuser uses as manipulation.
  • Secrecy — Trauma bonds will cause a person to hide the negative aspects of their relationship with their abuser. By keeping it secret, they will continue to be stuck in the abusive cycle without interference from those who care about them.
  • Withdrawal from others — An abuser will often force the other person to distance themselves from their loved ones. This allows the person to feel emotionally dependent on the abuser and reduces the chance of others stepping in to stop the abusive behavior.

How mental health professionals can help someone address a trauma bonding issue

It’s easy enough to just say “leave the relationship” when there’s trauma bonding. But when a person is trapped in that cycle of abuse, it’s not always that simple. That’s why it’s important to enlist the help of professionals to properly address the bond.

Working with a mental health professional will help you gather the insight and resources needed to not only break a trauma bond, but how to heal and thrive afterward as well.

Mental health professionals can help you work through the mental health issues that may stem from trauma bonding, including:

A mental health professional can also help you work on your communication skills and boundaries to help prevent the risk of abuse and trauma bonding in the future. In addition, they can  connect you with resources that will provide you with protection from your abuser as well as support groups for people who have also dealt with trauma bonds.

Lightfully Behavioral Health can help address trauma bonding 

Trauma bonds center on a deep emotional bond between a person and their abuser. And it may seem like that bond is too strong to break. But change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step to address your trauma bonding, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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