What is Trauma Bonding?

What is Trauma Bonding?

Trauma bonding refers to a strong emotional attachment that forms between two people as a result of a traumatic  event. Trauma bonding can happen in hostage situations, or situations where there is extreme stress such as military combat or natural disasters.

In stressful situations, the victim forms an emotional bond with the abuser, and starts to feel a sense of loyalty and devotion to them despite the abusive or dangerous situation. This can be due to the abuser alternating between kindness and cruelty to manipulate them and the victim’s feelings of isolation or powerlessness.

The abuser in a trauma bond can be a partner, family member, friend, or anyone in a position of power or authority. This person may use tactics such as gaslighting, manipulation, isolation, and physical or emotional abuse to maintain control over the victim.

The victim in a trauma bond is the person who is experiencing the abuse or trauma. The victim may feel trapped in the relationship or situation, and may have difficulty leaving or speaking out against the abuser due to fear, shame, or feelings of loyalty. The victim may also experience feelings of attachment or love towards the abuser, despite the harm they are causing.

Why does Trauma Bonding Happen?

Trauma bonding typically occurs when a victim of abuse or trauma becomes emotionally attached to their abuser. This attachment is often based on a complex set of psychological and emotional factors that can include:

  1. Abusive Situations including: Domestic Abuse, Child Abuse, Elder Abuse, Incest, Human Trafficking, Cults, and Religious Extremism.
  2. Dependence: The victim may be financially or emotionally dependent on the abuser, making it difficult for them to leave or seek help.
  3. Isolation: The abuser may isolate the victim from their friends and family, making it difficult for the victim to seek support and reinforcing a sense of dependence on the abuser.
  4. Shared experiences: The victim and abuser may share traumatic experiences or secrets, creating a sense of intimacy and trust between them.
  5. Stockholm syndrome: This is a psychological phenomenon where a victim develops feelings of empathy and affection towards their abuser as a means of coping with the trauma.
  6. Low self-esteem: The victim may have low self-esteem or feel unworthy of love, making them more susceptible to the abuser’s manipulation and control.

It’s important to remember that trauma bonding is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw, and victims should never be blamed for their experiences.

The Stages of Trauma Bonding

There are several stages of trauma bonding, including:

  1. The honeymoon stage: This is the beginning of the relationship, where the abuser is charming, attentive, and loving. The victim feels special and cared for, and they believe that they have found their soulmate.
  2. The building stage: This is when abuser starts to become more controlling, critical, and irritable. The victim may try to please the abuser in order to prevent conflict, but it doesn’t work.
  3. The explosive stage: This is the most intense stage, where the abuser lashes out and becomes physically or emotionally abusive. The victim may feel scared, helpless, and confused.
  4. The reconciliation stage: In this stage, the abuser apologizes and promises to change. The victim may feel relieved and hopeful that the relationship can be salvaged.
  5. The calm stage: This is a temporary period of peace and stability in the relationship, where the abuser is kind and loving again. The victim may feel like the relationship is back on track and that their partner has changed.
  6. The trigger stage: Something happens to trigger the abuser, and the cycle starts again with the tension-building stage.

These stages can be repeated multiple times throughout the relationship, and the victim may become trapped in a cycle of abuse and trauma bonding.

When Is Trauma Bonding Likely to Happen?

It is likely to happen in situations where there is a power imbalance between two people, and one person is using that power to control and manipulate the other. This can occur in a variety of contexts, including:

  1. Intimate partner relationships: Abusive relationships, where one partner uses physical, emotional, or psychological abuse to maintain control over the other.
  2. Parent-child relationships: Occurs between a child and an abusive parent, where the child feels emotionally attached to the parent despite the abuse.
  3. Religious or cult groups: Happens in religious or cult groups, where members are manipulated and controlled by a charismatic leader.
  4. Abusive work environments: Can happen in work environments where an employer or supervisor uses their power to mistreat or manipulate employees.

Trauma bonding can happen to anyone, but it is more likely to occur in people who have experienced repeated or chronic abuse.

How to Safely Get Out of A Trauma Bond Relationship

Getting out of a trauma bond relationship can be difficult, but it is possible. Here are some steps you can take to safely leave a trauma bond relationship and recover from the abuse.

  1. Reach out for support: Talk to a friend, family member, or therapist about your situation. They can provide emotional support and help you create a plan for leaving the relationship safely.
  2. Create a safety plan: Make a plan for leaving the relationship. This might include finding a safe place to stay, changing your phone number, or contacting a domestic violence hotline for support.
  3. Seek legal help: You may be able to obtain a protective order or restraining order to help keep you safe.
  4. Build a support network: Surround yourself with supportive people who can help you stay safe and move forward after leaving the relationship.
  5. Seek therapy:  A therapist can help you process your experiences and develop coping skills for dealing with the trauma.
Psychology Today has a great article here that talks more about Trauma Bonding if you want to read more on the subject.

Trauma Counseling in Lakewood & Longmont Colorado

If you need help with trauma bonding, we are here for you.  We invite you to call us at 720-551-4553 for a free 20-minute phone consultation with a marriage specialist. You can find more information about our Trauma Therapy services by clicking this link.

Self Care Impact Counseling envisions a new age of counseling for adolescents, adults, couples & groups that makes a REAL difference with core values of GROWTH | BALANCE | COMPASSION | INNER HARMONY.