Trauma bonding is an unhealthy attachment that forms between an abusive person and the person that they abuse. This bond forms as a result of constant mental and emotional abuse, gaslighting, and prolonged feelings of dependence that occur as a result of the abuser cutting them off from their support network.
One of the most well-known forms of trauma bonding is Stockholm Syndrome, although this is only one very specific example of the phenomenon.2 Trauma bonding of all kinds is always the result of psychological abuse and emotional abuse.
It is not completely understood why this response happens in certain individuals in toxic relationships. However, it is believed to be a response of the parasympathetic nervous system as a survival mechanism.2
When a person experiences constant abuse of trauma, they find themselves constantly in “flight” mode due to the inherent and constant stress of the situation. Because of this feeling, trauma bonding may occur as a way of unconsciously attempting to deescalate the abuse.
If you or someone you know are a victim of domestic violence, emotional abuse, or narcissistic behavior, call the domestic violence hotline for help at 1-800-799-7233.
In cases of domestic violence, the victim of abuse is usually completely dependent on their abuser financially, emotionally, and mentally. They will have usually been systematically cut off from their friends and family members by their partner’s narcissistic behavior, and in many cases may have been convinced to give up their job or means of income.
A toxic relationship gives the abuser essentially full control over the person that they are abusing as they have no one else to turn to for help or support. It is important to note that this type of narcissistic behavior also happens in parent-child relationships when a child is too young to be able to take care of or provide for themselves.
There are numerous signs that a person may have formed some sort of trauma bond with a potential abuser. These can be emotional or physical cues that may signify that the person needs help. Some of these signs include:
Trauma bonding often happens as a freeze response to a situation. In situations of abuse, a person’s body tends to “shut off” to avoid as much pain as it can. This response manifests itself as dissociation and is the mind’s way of trying to protect itself.
Humans are not built to be able to withstand abuse. However, we are incredibly resilient, and our bodies will do whatever they have to in order to survive. A freeze response makes a person numb and is a primary response to extended trauma.
Unfortunately, several significant factors may make a person more susceptible to abuse and trauma bonding. Many of these factors are established at a young age and make a person more likely to enter a toxic relationship or be the victim of domestic violence as they age. Some of the most common factors of trauma bonding are:
Some of these factors, such as poor mental health, lack of support, and lack of employment also tend to be common in situations of elder abuse and abuse of vulnerable persons. If you suspect that you may know a situation where this is happening, reach out to your state’s Adult Protective Services for help.
Breaking a trauma bond is difficult, but not impossible. The first step is to educate yourself to recognize toxic relationships and to be able to identify the signs that you are in one. From there, it can be extremely beneficial to get professional help, such as a therapist, to guide you and support you as you work to break your connection with your abuser.
If possible, go no-contact as quickly as you can. By completely cutting off your abuser, you will be able to move on and recover more quickly than if the separation was prolonged. Reach out to any friends or family members that may be willing to help you find a place to stay while you get back on your feet.
For some, it may be beneficial to attend a support group with others who have experienced similar situations. Support groups can help a person learn other signs to look for, learn how to protect themselves from entering another toxic relationship, and help them understand healthy bonds and attachments with others.3
It can be incredibly difficult to break the cycle of abuse and violence on your own. There are many sources available that provide significant support to those who are in abusive situations. In addition, these sources may be able to help you help another person who you suspect may be in an abusive situation.