Trauma Bonding: 6 Signs to Look For & What to Do

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Trauma bonding is a dysfunctional attachment that develops in the presence of danger, shame, or exploitation. Think of such phrases as; “You broke me, but you are the only one who can fix me.” Or “I know my partner is abusive, but I can’t imagine a life without him.” These bonds are common in narcissistic relationships, even if not romantic. Hence, a child may have a trauma bond with an abusive parent out of fear. So, how can you know you are in a relationship based on trauma bonding? 

Let’s explore below: 

How Does Trauma Bonding Develop?

The following seven stages lead to trauma bonding: –

Stage 1: Love Bombing

A manipulative partner, parent, friend, or workmate may convince their target victim to form a relationship with them. They use overwhelming affection and attention like compliments, romantic gestures, extravagant gifts, and excessive communication. Then, they demand a commitment from their victims, ignoring any boundaries they may have. 

Stage 2: Trust & Dependency

The abusers do all they can to make their victims trust and depend on them. For example, they isolate their victims from family and friends or gaslight them to question their sanity. 

Stage 3: Criticism

Once in a codependency relationship, the abusers start to criticize all decisions by their victims. They also become demanding and blame their victims for situations beyond their control.

Stage 4: Further Manipulation

As the gaslighting and criticisms continue, the abuser creates false narratives and changes them several times, leaving their victims confused. 

Stage 5: Giving Up Control

Due to the manipulation and confusion, the victim no longer knows what to believe. They feel obligated to give in to the abuser’s demands to encourage any love and affection. 

Stage 6: Victim Losing Identity

The sixth stage of trauma bonding marks the beginning of a destructive spiral shift for the victim. At this point, the victims cannot differentiate between love and abuse. They are willing to give in to any demands from the abuser to have a form of normalcy in the relationship. 

Stage 7: Addiction to the Trauma Bond

When one is addicted to a trauma bond, they know that the relationship is toxic but find it almost impossible to end it. 

6 Signs of Trauma Bonding

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You are in the addiction stage of trauma bonding if you notice the following tell-tale signs:

#1: Unpredictable Relationships

When you are in a trauma bond with someone, their attitude towards you is unpredictable. Here, there are repeated cycles of abuse towards you. And, you always blame yourself for the abuse, thinking it could be because of what you say or do. In turn, you become too scared to interact with your partner, fearing how they will react to your show of affection. And, every day with them feels like walking on eggshells. Yet, some good days strengthen your affection towards the abuser. 

#2: Trusting Blindly

When you are in a relationship based on a trauma bond, you become too forgiving to your partner. Here, you overlook your partner’s intentional hurt, hoping to get love and approval from them. In turn, the abuser constantly betrays you. And, when they come up with excuses, explanations, and apologies for their actions, you always give them another chance. Such betrayal from people you trust and love leaves you feeling helpless, worthless, stressed, and anxious. 

#3: Taking Responsibility for Other People’s Happiness

If you find yourself willing to sacrifice anything to make your relationship work, you could be in a trauma bond with your partner. A healthy relationship provides you with a safe environment to nurture your strengths and desires. However, when in a relationship held together by trauma bonding, you let go of your desires to keep your partner satisfied. Since the cycles of abuse in trauma bonding include reoccurring periods of reward, you hold on to the relationship, trying to extend these pleasant times as much as possible. Sadly, you neglect your needs and values and never speak your mind.

#4: Relationship Characterized by False Promises

Does your partner always promise that things will change? Or that something they did will never happen again? They use false promises to strengthen the trauma bond and convince you to stick around in the relationship. See, anyone in a trauma bond is emotionally attached to the other person. Consequently, they are inclined to believe such false promises. The false promises create a feeling of hope, giving you something to cling to, even though your logic tells you otherwise. 

#5: Defending an Abusive Relationship

Most people in a trauma bond find it hard to acknowledge the toxicity in their relationship. They deny that their relationship is abusive and traumatic, even when confronted with facts. Instead, they justify their stay by saying that family and friends do not understand their relationship. This defense mechanism helps the victim avoid feelings of inadequacy or weakness. 

#6: Familiarity Ties You to the Abuser

Now, some victims of narcissism acknowledge that they are in an abusive relationship. However, the familial bond they have with the abuser is almost like an addiction. Hence, they may seek advice and therapy, hoping to change the abuser. Yet, when asked, “Why don’t you just leave?” they cannot gather the courage to do so. And, if they leave, they start missing the little day-to-day activities they did with the abuser. More so, the emotional attachment, blind trust, manipulation, and denial make the victim unaware of the toxic nature of the relationship. Sooner or later, they come begging to get back with the abuser.

Breaking Away from a Trauma Bond

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Do you relate to any of the above signs of trauma bonding? Here are some tips to help you break from this abusive connection: 

  • Speak up – Most victims of trauma bonding know that they are in a toxic relationship.
  • Find out what ties you to the abuser and find other healthy ways of filling the void.
  • Prioritize your emotional wellbeing – Set clear boundaries and stick to them.
  • Cut any contact with the abuser – It will give you time to heal, have a better perspective, and make rational decisions.
  • Practice inner child affirmations to heal the child within.
  • Seek professional help.


Do you know anyone in a trauma bond? If so, be part of their support system by remaining empathetic and understanding. Due to their emotional attachment to the abuser, the victims may not appreciate your efforts to help them. And, if you are in a trauma bond, you are not alone. There are a lot of resources to help you heal.