Trauma Bonding

7 Signs of Trauma Bonding With Your Abuser.

Trauma bonding is a complex psychological phenomenon that often occurs in abusive relationships, making it difficult for victims to break free from their abusers. This bond forms as a result of love and affection always going hand in hand with the abuse. But how do you know if you have a trauma bond with your abuser? Here are a few common signs that you might have a bond that you aren’t even aware of.

What is a trauma bond with your abuser?

A trauma bond with your abuser is a deep and dysfunctional emotional connection that forms between a victim and their abuser. This bond is characterized by intense feelings of attachment, dependency, and loyalty to the person who inflicts harm, whether it be emotional, physical, or psychological.

Victims of trauma bonding may find themselves trapped in a cycle of abuse and reconciliation, where moments of cruelty are followed by periods of affection or remorse from the abuser. This emotional roller-coaster can make it incredibly challenging for the victim to break free from the abusive relationship, as they may become entangled in conflicting emotions, fear, and a distorted sense of love and loyalty to their tormentor.

The 7 Signs of a trauma bond.

Relationships can be incredibly complex, and sometimes, they can take on unhealthy dynamics that are not immediately apparent. There might be signs that you are in a trauma bond with your abuser, and although every situation is different and these bonds may not always be apparent, here are some signs to look out for.

1. The Cycle of Abuse.

The cycle of abuse is a central and defining sign of trauma bonding within an abusive relationship. It comprises distinct phases, often repeating in a continuous pattern.

  1. Tension-building: During this period the atmosphere becomes increasingly tense, and the victim may feel a growing sense of unease.
  2. Abusive episode: During this period there is an outbreak from the abuser towards the victim. This can be emotional, physical, or psychological abuse.
  3. Reconciliation or “honeymoon” period: During this period the abuser may express remorse, offer apologies, or display affection to the victim. This phase can be incredibly confusing, as it may momentarily resemble love and care.
  4. Calm: During this period the abuser will try and justify their actions, find excuses or even revert to “gaslighting”, trying to convince you there was a good reason for their actions or that it wasn’t as bad as you’re making it out to be.

This cycle eventually resets, returning to tension-building and restarting the abusive loop. Trauma bonding thrives on this cycle, as the intermittent moments of affection and remorse can create a powerful emotional attachment, making it exceedingly challenging for the victim to break free from the toxic relationship.

2. Emotional Dependency.

Emotional dependency refers to the profound and unhealthy emotional attachment that forms between a victim and their abuser. This dependency arises from a deep-seated need for the abuser’s validation, affection, or approval, leading the victim to become emotionally reliant on them.

This bond can create a distorted sense of loyalty and love, making it difficult for the victim to break free from the abusive relationship. Emotional dependency blurs the boundaries between what is genuinely caring and what is manipulative, trapping individuals in a cycle of abuse and reconciliation that can be incredibly challenging to overcome.

3. Distance from important relationships.

In these situations, victims find themselves increasingly cut off from friends, family, or any external support network due to manipulative tactics employed by the abuser. The intent behind this isolation is to create a sense of dependency on the abuser as the sole source of emotional support, further strengthening the trauma bond.

Victims may be made to believe that no one else cares about them or understands their situation, intensifying their emotional reliance on the abuser. As a result, breaking the cycle of abuse becomes even more daunting, as the victim’s connections to the outside world are systematically severed, making them feel increasingly trapped and isolated within the abusive relationship.

4. Fear of what they might do.

Victims in such bonds often live in constant fear of their abuser’s reaction if they attempt to seek help. This fear is not unfounded, as abusers may resort to escalated forms of abuse or violence when they sense their control slipping away. Consequently, the fear of retaliation becomes a paralyzing force that holds victims hostage in the abusive relationship.

This is often why victims don’t seek assistance, as they anticipate severe consequences for any perceived betrayal, making it exceedingly challenging to escape the cycle of abuse and trauma bonding.

5. Low Self-Esteem.

Low self-esteem reflects the massive emotional toll that abusive relationships can take on victims. Prolonged exposure to emotional, psychological, or physical abuse erodes a person’s self-worth and self-esteem.

Victims often internalize the negative messages from their abusers, believing they deserve the mistreatment they endure. This distorted self-image keeps them locked in the cycle of trauma bonding, as they may come to believe that they are unworthy of love or incapable of finding a healthier, more fulfilling relationship outside of the abusive one.

6. Justifying their actions.

Justifying actions is a common sign of trauma bonding in abusive relationships. Victims often find themselves rationalizing and justifying their abuser’s hurtful behavior, creating a distorted perception of the dynamics at play.

This self-deception can manifest as explanations like “they didn’t mean to hurt me” or “it’s my fault they acted this way.” Such justifications often serve as a coping mechanism, allowing victims to maintain their emotional connection to the abuser and alleviate the cognitive dissonance caused by the abuse.

However, these rationalizations perpetuate the cycle of trauma bonding, making it harder for victims to recognize the harm they’re enduring and further ensnaring them in an abusive relationship.

RELATED: 9 Telltale signs of a pathological liar.

7. Not being able to leave the relationship.

The inability to leave is the most challenging sign of trauma bonding that showcases the tight grip an abusive relationship can have on its victims. Despite recognizing the harm they endure, individuals caught in a trauma bond often find themselves trapped in the relationship.

This inability to leave is rooted in a complex interplay of emotions, fear, emotional dependency, and a distorted sense of loyalty to the abuser. The trauma bond creates a compelling psychological connection that, despite its toxicity, can be as strong as any healthy bond.

This intense attachment can make it excruciatingly difficult for victims to envision life without their abuser, even when their well-being and safety are at stake.

Types of abuse where trauma bonding can be present.

It’s important to recognize that trauma bonding is not exclusive to any particular type of abuse and can occur in various contexts. Understanding the signs and seeking support from professionals and loved ones is crucial for breaking free from these toxic bonds and beginning the healing process.

  1. Domestic Violence: Victims of physical or emotional abuse within intimate partner relationships can develop trauma bonds with their abusers. The cycle of violence, where abuse is followed by apologies and moments of tenderness, can reinforce these bonds.
  2. Child Abuse: Children who experience abuse at the hands of parents, caregivers, or other family members can form trauma bonds. The dependency on caregivers, coupled with the fear and emotional turmoil caused by abuse, can create strong emotional connections.
  3. Sexual Abuse: Survivors of sexual abuse may also experience trauma bonding with their abusers. The manipulation and emotional coercion used by perpetrators can lead survivors to feel trapped and emotionally connected to their abusers.
  4. Cults and Manipulative Groups: Individuals involved in cults or manipulative groups often experience trauma bonding with their leaders or fellow members. Isolation from the outside world, emotional manipulation, and the promise of belonging can create powerful bonds.
  5. Human Trafficking and Stockholm Syndrome: Victims of human trafficking or those who have been kidnapped may develop Stockholm Syndrome, a specific form of trauma bonding where hostages feel sympathy and loyalty toward their captors as a survival mechanism.
  6. Bullying and Peer Abuse: Some individuals who are subjected to bullying or peer abuse can develop trauma bonds with their tormentors, especially when they feel isolated and have no support from peers or adults.
  7. Abuse by Authority Figures: Abuse perpetrated by authority figures, such as teachers, coaches, or religious leaders, can lead to trauma bonding when victims feel powerless to resist or report the abuse due to fear or manipulation.

How to break free from a trauma bond.

Breaking free from a trauma bond can be challenging, but it is essential for one’s well-being and recovery. Here are a few key strategies to help individuals break free from a trauma bond:

  • Seek professional help: Reach out to therapists, counselors, or support groups specializing in trauma and abuse to gain insights, coping strategies, and emotional support.
  • Build a support network: Connect with friends and family who can offer emotional support and a safe environment to discuss your situation.
  • Develop safety plans: Plan for your safety, both emotionally and physically, in case you decide to leave the abusive relationship.
  • Educate yourself: Learn about trauma bonding, the dynamics of abusive relationships, and the red flags of abuse to gain clarity about your situation.
  • Set boundaries: Establish and maintain clear boundaries to protect yourself emotionally and physically from the abuser.
  • Consider restraining orders: If necessary, consult with legal professionals to explore options like restraining orders for your safety.
  • Focus on self-care: Prioritize self-care activities that promote healing, including therapy, exercise, mindfulness, and engaging in hobbies you enjoy.
  • Create a new life plan: Develop a vision for your life beyond the trauma bond, setting goals and taking steps toward a healthier, happier future.
  • Develop a safety exit plan: If you decide to leave, create a well-thought-out exit plan that includes a safe place to go, access to resources, and support.
  • Practice patience: Breaking a trauma bond takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself and seek help when needed. Note, that this is only in non-severe cases of abuse, in more severe cases, getting out of the situation as fast as possible is evident.


Trauma bonding is a complicated and often invisible phenomenon that can trap individuals in unhealthy and abusive relationships. Recognizing the signs of trauma bonding is the first step toward helping yourself or someone you care about break free from the cycle of abuse.

If you or someone you know is experiencing trauma bonding, seeking the support of a therapist or counselor can be a big step in healing and building healthier relationships in the future.

Remember, you deserve love and respect, and there is help available to break the chains of trauma bonding.

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