What is a trauma bond relationship?

Written by: Vasundhara Shukla – M. Phil (Psychology)

Last updated date : September 29, 2022

Table of Contents Article title – DBT for anger
  1. Chapter 1
  2. Chapter 2
  3. Chapter 3
  4. Chapter 4
  5. Chapter 5
  6. Chapter 6
  7. Chapter 7
  8. Chapter 8

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The trauma bond relationship has been explored in movies when many times the victim develops feelings for the person who was mistreating them. In this relationship, the abuser showers the victim with praise, love, and care after the abuse. Apart from this, they might also become regretful of their behavior and apologize. Eventually, this forms a cycle that makes it difficult for the victim to get out of the relationship. The victim might even struggle to make sense of this treatment. All this seems quite confusing and you might even ask why in the first place does trauma bonding even occur? All your questions related to what is trauma bond relationship and why it happens will be answered in this article.

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Chapter 1:

Situations where trauma bonding relationships occur-

It happens when the person who is maltreating expresses love or care for the victim after the abusive behavior. The victim starts to believe that the abuse is just fueled by anger or frustration and this won’t happen again. This behavior is repeated and thus, a bond is formed. However, all abusive relationships do not have trauma bonds. These bonds can be formed in many situations like-

  1. Kidnapping
  2. Human trafficking
  3. Cults
  4. Elder abuse
  5. Sexual abuse
  6. Domestic violence

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Chapter 2:

Why does trauma bonding occur?

But why does trauma bonding occur in the first place? The answer lies in our history. As early men, we have formed groups and communities to stay safe and survive. Even when survival is not at risk we tend to huddle close to family and friends. We have also formed many communities and societies through which we like to stay close to our well-wishers.

Similarly, the victim becomes dependent on the abuser for necessities and warmth. So despite the abuse, the victim tends to stay close to the abuser because of a lack of alternatives. The power lies in the hands of the abuser which he or she uses to control the actions of the other person for their benefit. It is difficult to break free as the abuser will make the other feel that their lives are incomplete without them. However, it is not impossible and can be done using help from others. And family members, friends, counselors, and the police can be of huge help.

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Chapter 3:

Strategies used by the abuser

Some common ways the abuser uses to maintain control are-

  1. Scaring or frightening the person by throwing things, shouting, or hurting them.
  2. Name-calling, finding faults, playing mind games
  3. Cutting off the person from their friends and family
  4. Not paying attention to the other’s complaints and problems and considering them minor
  5. Ignoring the victim’s point of view in decision making
  6. Controlling the money or bank accounts of the person
  7. Threaten and force the person into things

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Chapter 4:

Signs of Trauma bond relationship in the victim-

Although, not all abusive situations result in such bonds. Here are some of the signs of being in a trauma bonding relationship-

  • The victim covers up or makes excuses to others for an abuser’s behavior
  • The victim lies to friends or family about the abuse
  • A victim doesn’t feel comfortable with or able to leave the abusive situation
  • An abuse victim thinks the abuse is their fault

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Chapter 5:

Trauma Bond Relationship vs. Love

Trauma bonding relations occur when the abuser uses their power to abuse and control the other person. Both partners might express love for one another. But it is far from a healthy relationship as it involves force and violence by one person toward the other. It is a relationship based on fear and control. It lacks the features of a healthy, loving bond.

Loving relationships have-

  • Concern for one another
  • Respect for both the partners
  • Partners support each other
  • They are honest
  • They share responsibilities and all the burden does not end up on one’s shoulder
  • There is fairness in the relationship
  • They are willing to work through conflicts and meet both people’s needs

All or most of these things are absent in a trauma bond relationship.

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Chapter 6:

Signs of Trauma bond relationship in the victim

Although, not all abusive situations result in such bonds. Here are some of the signs of being in a trauma bonding relationship-

  • The victim covers up or makes excuses to others for an abuser’s behavior
  • The victim lies to friends or family about the abuse
  • A victim doesn’t feel comfortable with or able to leave the abusive situation
  • An abuse victim thinks the abuse is their fault

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Chapter 7:

Trauma Bond Relationship vs. Love

Trauma bonding relations occur when the abuser uses their power to abuse and control the other person. Both partners might express love for one another. But it is far from a healthy relationship as it involves force and violence by one person toward the other. It is a relationship based on fear and control. It lacks the features of a healthy, loving bond.

Loving relationships have-

  • Concern for one another
  • Respect for both the partners
  • Partners support each other
  • They are honest
  • They share responsibilities and all the burden does not end up on one’s shoulder
  • There is fairness in the relationship
  • They are willing to work through conflicts and meet both people’s needs

All or most of these things are absent in a trauma bond relationship.

Impact of Trauma Bond Relationship

The most common impact of this is the abused person will not be willing to leave the relationship. Thus, putting them at risk of being abused for a long period. Even after separation, the victim usually struggles with low self-esteem and mental illnesses like anxiety and sadness.

The impact of trauma influences all areas of life but its most serious impact is on relationships. As a result, forming a new bond with others becomes very difficult after being in a trauma bond as you might develop distrust.

How to Break the Trauma Bond Relationship

We have talked about how trauma bonding relations occur now let’s discuss how to break away from the bond. Breaking the relationship is difficult but not impossible. If you feel you have been in such a relationship, the first thing you might want to do is to acknowledge that relationship as an abusive one and get out of it. After getting out of the relationship, you can use the following steps-

Plan for Safety

Make a safety plan for yourself. This includes finding a place to stay where you have support and healthcare. The next step is to contact counseling services for helping you to start the process of healing. This can be very stressful and you might require constant support from your close friends and family. So, don’t hesitate from requesting help from others. Take one step at a time and don’t rush the process so that it doesn’t make you stressed. For example, talk to your close friends if they can take you in for a couple of days till you find a new place. Also, make sure that your partner does not know the address and arrange for food supplies.

The best way to deal with this situation is to gather support from close ones. Breaking the bond becomes easier when others know your situation and can provide care when asked.

Cut off contact

Maintaining a trauma bond can wreck your mental health. The contact must be reduced or cut completely as soon as possible to get better. This can be done by rejecting calls, messages, and social media contact from the partner to give yourself a break.

Avoid blaming yourself

This can result in pushing back healing and maintaining a negative view of yourself. Do not accept what you have been told in the relationship by your partner rather, see a mental health professional to help you see the relationship as it was.

Therapy for trauma bond relationship

This relationship can leave you feeling weak and alone. Maintain contact with close ones and talk about your feelings and thoughts. A mental health professional can also help you in this process. They can help you make sense of your feelings and thoughts and understand the causes behind entering into abusive bonds. You can get a safe space to feel difficult emotions freely and acknowledge what went wrong in the relationship, and avoid such relationships in the future.

Self-compassion

A trauma bond can lower your self-esteem so much that you might feel unworthy of warmth and love. But being careful of how you view yourself and understanding that the abuse was not your fault is healing. Also, showing kindness to yourself is necessary to become free from the bond and to believe that you can change the course of your life at any time.

Support

Many support groups of people who have been in such bonds meet regularly. Get in touch with one such group which meets weekly to discuss each others’ experiences and how they felt. Hearing people talk about being in a similar situation can make you feel less lonely and can provide solutions to dealing with the situation better.

If you are not comfortable discussing details with your friends and family, support groups can be of great help. You connect with others who have gone through trauma. And other survivors can also understand your experiences better.

If you want to read more on the effects of trauma on our self-esteem, please enroll in the course ‘Low Self Esteem‘.

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  • Quizzes
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