Trauma bonds: What they are and how to escape them

When it comes to relationships, it's not always easy to walk away from something that isn't good for us. We can find ourselves in what feels like an impossible situation where we feel trapped and unable to leave. This is often because we have developed a trauma bond with our partner.


Defining trauma bonds and their effects

A trauma bond is defined as "an emotional attachment between an abuser and a victim that is formed as a result of the repeated cycles of abuse, violence, and/or control" (Kovacs, 2016). The bond is usually powerful and characterised by codependency, obsessive thoughts, and extreme levels of loyalty, making it incredibly difficult for someone to leave an abusive situation.

Abuse is not just a physical act. It comes in many forms, all of which can be hugely impactful on the individual. Psychological, emotional, financial, spiritual and cultural abuse are all examples of abuse that can have a devastating impact on those concerned.

How do trauma bonds form?

There are a few different factors that contribute to the formation of a trauma bond. First, there is the cycle of abuse itself. When an individual is being abused, it is often a shock to their system. It can cause them to go into fight or flight mode. This means that they are on high alert and have increased adrenaline levels. This is what happens when the body is in a state of panic.

They are then likely to experience a high, which comes from experiencing an adrenaline rush. The adrenaline rush produces endorphins, which are chemicals released into the brain that can cause feelings of pleasure and pain relief. This can cause someone to develop a dependency on being in this state of high. The adrenaline rush also helps create a trauma bond because it heightens the senses, making the abuse feel more intense than it is.

The effects of trauma bonds

A trauma bond is a close, emotional bond that forms between two people because one person consistently traumatises the other. The bond is characterised by feelings of attachment, dependence, and fear. Victims often feel like they need the abuser to feel safe and secure.

Trauma bonds can have several adverse effects on the victim and the abuser. First, victims may feel like they can never leave the abusive relationship because they are so attached to their abuser. This can lead to further physical and emotional abuse. Abusers may also become more aggressive as they try to maintain control over their victims.

Signs you may be in a relationship trauma bond

Trauma bonds can form in any relationship, but they are most common in abusive relationships. The abuser often uses the bond as a way to control the victim. For example, the victim may stay in the relationship because they believe the good moments outweigh the bad or because they feel like they can't leave without the abuser's permission.

Some other signs to look out for are:

  1. You keep returning to the person even though they hurt you.
  2. You make excuses for their behaviour.
  3. You can't stop thinking about them.
  4. You don't feel like you can live without them.
  5. You're continuously checking up on them or waiting for them to return to you.
  6. You're unable to get over them.
  7. You feel like you're better when you're with the person.
  8. You feel like you're not good enough for anyone else.
  9. You feel like the person is your only chance at happiness.

If you think you might be in a trauma bond, it's essential to seek help from a professional. They can help you assess the situation and develop a safe plan to get out of the relationship.

Breaking free from trauma bonds

It can be hard to break free when it comes to toxic and trauma-bonded relationships. The bond can make us feel like we need the other person, even if they're not good for us.

Recognising these bonds is important so we can break free from them and move on with our lives.

Abusive people can often also be skilled manipulators and engage in techniques that reinforce the bond, such as gaslighting and love bombing. Abusers can often work hard to separate you from friends and family by discouraging you from going out or meeting with people. This can make it even harder to leave.

How to heal from a relationship trauma bond

When a relationship ends, it can be hard to let go. You may feel attached to your former partner in a way that doesn't make sense. The good news is that healing from a trauma bond is possible. It will take time and effort, but it is possible to move forward and have healthy relationships in the future. Below are some tips for healing from a trauma bond.

Allow yourself to grieve the loss of the relationship. This is an important first step in healing. You need to mourn the loss of your partner and the relationship before you can move on. Don't rush this step or try to skip it. It's important to give yourself adequate time for healing.

Don't allow your former partner to manipulate you into staying in contact with them. This could delay your recovery from the trauma bond by enabling them to continue to control you. If you are in a relationship with an abusive person, it is important to be clear about its ending. This is a challenging thing to do. You must be very direct and clear about why you need to end the relationship. This may mean that you have to say some challenging things.

It would help if you kept telling yourself that the relationship was unhealthy. You must be willing to accept the consequences. If you cannot end the relationship, then help is available to explore your options.

Moving forward after breaking free

When it comes to breakups, it's often hard to move on after they end. This could be even harder if you were involved in a trauma-bonded relationship.

If you're in a situation like this, it's important to remember that you're not alone. Many people have been in your shoes and have come out the other side. Seek support from friends, family, or a therapist. They can help you process what you're going through and start to rebuild your life.

Such things are not straightforward, but breaking free from a trauma bond is possible. With time and support, you will heal and be able to move on with your life.

How to find a counsellor to help with a trauma-bonded relationship

If you're looking for a counsellor who can help you deal with trauma bonds or the impact of being in such a relationship, you should keep a few things in mind.

First, it's important to find someone who has experience and training working with such relationships. You also need to make sure that the counsellor is someone you feel comfortable working with. Trust is essential in this relationship, so ask plenty of questions before deciding. Finally, be prepared to commit to counselling sessions regularly.

How can Hope Therapy and Counselling Services help?

Hope Therapy and Counselling Services have a team of experienced and fully qualified counsellors with significant experience working with narcissism and the impact of being in a narcissistic relationship. If you or a loved one is struggling, get in touch to learn more about what we can do to support you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Wantage OX12 & Rickmansworth WD3
Written by Hope Therapy & Counselling Services, Offering Counselling, CBT, Hypnotherapy, EMDR & Mindfulness.
Wantage OX12 & Rickmansworth WD3

Ian Stockbridge is the founder and lead counsellor at Hope Therapy and Counselling Services. 

As an experienced Counsellor, Ian recognised a huge societal need for therapeutic services that were often not being met. As such the 'Hope Agency'was born and its counselling team now offers counselling and therapeutic support throughout the UK.

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