Mental Health

Trauma Bonding: Definition, Stages & Treatment

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Trauma bonding is a complex subject that requires empathy and an open mind to grasp fully. It happens when there is a connection with someone who is abusive. It may be difficult for many to understand, but it is unfortunately a stark reality for others. It most often happens in romantic relationships, but other types of traumatic relationships can also lead to trauma bonding.

Trauma bonding is a complex and deeply unsettling psychological phenomenon that can trap people in cycles of abuse and manipulation. It occurs when someone subjected to repeated cycles of abuse develops a profound emotional attachment to their abuser.

This attachment is often reinforced with intermittent periods of kindness or remorse from the abuser, causing the victim to hold onto hope for improved circumstances that rarely materialize.

In this article, we’ll look at what trauma bonding is, what causes it, and how you can overcome it.

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What is Trauma Bonding?

Trauma bonding is a psychological response that occurs when an individual forms a strong emotional attachment to someone who hurts them, usually repetitively. This bond isn’t a healthy connection but rather a toxic one that can lead to a cycle of abuse and pain. It is often a result of repeated cycles of interpersonal violence (IPV), sometimes called domestic violence.

The concept of trauma bonding arises from the theory that intense, shared experiences can result in a deep bond between individuals. But in the case of trauma bonding, the experiences are negative and harmful. The bond formed is not one of mutual respect and love, but rather one of control and manipulation.

It’s crucial to understand that trauma bonding is not a sign of weakness or gullibility. Instead, it is a human reaction to intense emotional experiences, often manipulated by the abuser to maintain control. Recognizing trauma bonding is the first step towards breaking free from it and moving towards healthier relationships.

Why Trauma Bonding Occurs

Trauma bonding is often rooted in manipulation and control. The abuser creates a cycle of abuse, followed by periods of kindness and affection, which leads to a confusing mixture of fear and gratitude in the victim. This cycle can make the victim feel dependent on their abuser, leading to a strong bond despite the harm they are causing.

Trauma bonding can happen to anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background. It often occurs in relationships where there is an imbalance of power, such as abusive romantic partnerships, parent-child relationships, or even within cults or hostage situations. The victim often feels trapped in the situation due to the intense emotional bond formed with their abuser.

Trauma bonding often lies in the human instinct for survival. When faced with a threat, our brain may try to form a bond with the source of the threat as a means of protection. This survival mechanism can lead to trauma bonding, especially when the victim feels helpless or trapped.

The Effects of Trauma Bonding on Mental Health

Trauma bonding can have severe effects on your mental health. The constant cycle of abuse and kindness can lead to confusion, stress, and emotional exhaustion. You may also experience feelings of guilt and shame or blame yourself for the situation.

Trauma bonding can make you more likely to develop anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You may experience fear, sleep disturbances, and difficulty concentrating. Feelings of isolation and being misunderstood are also common.

Trauma bonding can also impact your mental health by way of your self-esteem, leading to a distorted self-image and a feeling of worthlessness.

Recognizing the Signs of Trauma Bonding

Recognizing the signs of trauma bonding is challenging, because it can be hard to see your situation objectively. But there are some common signs to look out for, including a pattern of abuse followed by periods of kindness, an inability to detach from the abuser despite the harm they cause, and a sense of dependency on the abuser.

If you’re experiencing trauma bonding, you might consistently make excuses for the abuser’s behavior, downplaying the severity of the abuse. You might also experience intense fear or anxiety at the thought of leaving the abuser, feeling you cannot survive without them.

Recognizing these signs is a significant step towards breaking free from trauma bonding. Awareness can lead to understanding, and understanding can lead to action.

The Impact of Trauma Bonding in Relationships

Trauma bonding creates a toxic dynamic that is difficult to break. The person experiencing trauma bonding might find it challenging to leave the relationship, despite the harm it’s causing. They might also find it hard to form healthy relationships with others, as their perception of love and affection may be distorted by their experience.

If you’re going through trauma bonding, you may feel trapped in the relationship, unable to break free from the emotional bond despite the pain it causes. This cycle can lead to severe psychological and emotional damage, affecting your ability to trust and connect with others in the future.

How to Break Free from Trauma Bonding

Breaking free from trauma bonding is a journey that requires strength, courage, and support. 

The first step is to recognize the situation for what it is – an unhealthy, abusive dynamic that is causing harm. It’s also essential to understand that the feelings of attachment and dependency are a result of manipulation, not love.

Getting professional help is crucial for breaking free from trauma bonding. Therapists and counselors can provide guidance and support, helping you understand your situation and develop strategies to break the bond. They can also help you rebuild your self-esteem and learn to form healthier relationships.

Social support is also important. Isolation can exacerbate the effects of trauma bonding, so having a support network can be invaluable.

Resources for Trauma Bonding

There are numerous resources available for trauma bonding, including hotlines, counseling services, support groups, and online communities. Many organizations are dedicated to helping individuals break free from abusive situations and heal from their experiences.

Zinnia Health clinicians are well-versed in trauma bonding and can assist you in overcoming unhealthy relationships.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and offers free, confidential help. You can call them at 1-800-799-7233.

Contact one of our providers 24/7 at 1-877-554-0016 to learn more about Trauma Informed Therapy.


Overcoming trauma bonding is a challenging journey, but with understanding, support, and determination, it is entirely possible. Each step you take towards breaking free from this toxic bond is a step towards healing and a healthier future.

Author: Lola Ravid, BSN, RN, PHN is a Pediatric Nurse who is passionate about education and research. In 2009, Lola graduated from Mount St. Mary’s College with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. She has had over ten years of combined experience working with children in hospitals and public school settings. She writes engaging children, parenting, and health content to educate and encourage lifelong learning. Lola’s extensive experiences as a nurse, a mother, traveler, and child advocate inspire her to complete each project; with a relatable, evidence-based approach, and a touch of perspective.


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