Trauma bonding: What it is and how to recognize the signs

Trauma bonding is a psychological phenomenon that happens when a person experiences abuse. This condition occurs when a person who is being abused begins to feel emotionally attached to the person who is performing the abuse. It is an unhealthy and potentially dangerous situation for the person who is being abused to remain in. Trauma bonding is most commonly known to occur in romantic relationships, but it can also occur in a variety of other interpersonal relationships.

What are some common signs of trauma bonding?

  • The person being abused feels empathy for their abuser — In a dynamic where trauma bonding is occurring, the person who is experiencing abuse may feel empathetic toward their abuser. 
  • The partner being abused feels shame — Another emotion that can contribute to a trauma-bonding dynamic is shame. Shame may make it difficult for the person who is being abused to reach out for help or to permanently leave their abuser.
  • The person being abused feels dependent on their abuser — It’s common to see in trauma bonds that the person who is being abused feels dependent on their abuser. This may make leaving their abuser more difficult to do. 
  • The person being abused feels attachment toward their abuser — While someone is trauma bonded to another, the person being abused may feel attachment toward their abuser that prevents them from leaving the abusive relationship.

In what types of situations may trauma bonding occur?

  • Romantic relationships — One of the most well-known types of situations where trauma bonding may occur is during a romantic relationship.
  • Parent-and-child relationships — Another type of situation where trauma bonding can occur is parent-child relationships.
  • Co-worker relationships — Trauma bonding can happen between co-workers and even between an employee and boss.
  • Close friends — Relationship abuse can happen between close friends too, not just between romantic partners.
  • Cult groups — Members of cult groups may often experience this type of relationship.
  • Sororities and fraternities — Sororities and fraternities who participate in hazing rituals may also harbor abusive relationships between students.
  • Kidnapping — Kidnapping victims may sometimes report feeling bonded to their captor, which can be the result of trying to cope with a traumatic experience.

What are the specific types of trauma bonding?

  • Stockholm syndromeStockholm syndrome is a term used to describe the relationship between an individual who is being abused and their abuser. Research has found that Stockholm syndrome occurs when the person being abused begins to rationalize their abuse.
  • Fawning — Fawning is another type of trauma-related response. It occurs when a person who is being abused or neglected develops people-pleasing tendencies. These tendencies may be performed at the expense of oneself in an effort to create a sense of security in a relationship.

What are the stages of trauma bonding?

  • Love bombing
  • Trusting
  • Criticizing
  • Manipulating
  • Resigning
  • Distressing
  • Repeating

How can you cope if you’ve trauma bonded with someone?

If you think you may have trauma bonded with someone, there are steps you can take for yourself. The first, and arguably the most important, is seeking help. You can get professional guidance from a licensed mental health counselor. 

They can help you process your relationship and manage your emotions. That way, you can potentially untether yourself from an abusive situation. Therapists are specialists in helping you move through your trauma bond. Their end goal is to help you enter into healthier interpersonal relationships. Therapy may be intimidating at first, but overcoming your fear can enable you to move in the direction that’s right for you.

Lightfully wants to help you understand what recovery from trauma bonding feels like

Our mission at Lightfully is to work with individuals to change their life compassionately. We strive to provide high-quality mental health care to various types of clients through a focused approach to process-based therapy. The framework of our clinic consists of evidence-based, clearly defined, data-driven and whole-person-centered care. Lightfully offers various layers of service to both adults and teens: residential treatment, Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (vIOP), Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), and Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), also referred to as our Day Treatment Program. We regularly see clients who actively manage mood disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders and trauma disorders. If you think you may be in a relationship where you’re trauma bonded to another person, we’d like to help you. The licensed experts at each one of our locations are experienced in helping clients who are experiencing trauma bonding. If this is you, we believe we can help. 

Our licensed, clinical experts see each client as a complex and layered human — not just a diagnosis. We value our clients as they are and hope to enrich their lives through treatment. Our vision for the future is an authentic and loving community where everyone can be seen, heard, and valued as they are. We believe in the light within each individual, and when that light is properly nurtured it can allow a person to shine brighter than ever before.

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step, 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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