Breaking Trauma Bonds: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Healing

Trauma bonds, also known as toxic emotional ties, form in abusive relationships. The victim becomes emotionally attached to their abuser, making it difficult for them to accept that they are being abused and entrapping them in a toxic situation. However, breaking free from trauma bonds is not only possible but necessary for your mental health and overall well-being.

Here is a step-by-step guide to help you on your journey towards breaking trauma bonds and healing.

breaking trauma bonds

What are Trauma Bonds?

Trauma bonds, also known as betrayal bonds, are emotional attachments that form between individuals where abusive cycles of betrayal and mistreatment occur.

These powerful bonds often develop in relationships characterized by a pattern of abuse, neglect, or harm interspersed with moments of love, care, or affection.

The concept of trauma bonding was first introduced by Patrick J. Carnes, a leading expert in the field of addiction and recovery. He found that these bonds are forged when there is a fear of harm, coupled with the promise of reward.

The victim becomes attached to their abuser due to the cycle of abuse and intermittent reinforcement of rewards such as kindness or affection.

breaking trauma bonds

These bonds are not limited to romantic relationships.

They can form between family members, friends, and even in professional settings. They are often characterized by a strong emotional or physical attachment to the abuser, despite the harm they cause.

Trauma bonds can be incredibly powerful and are often difficult to break.

The victim may feel a strong sense of loyalty or attraction towards their abuser and may even defend their actions. This is why understanding trauma bonds is crucial to recognizing them and seeking help to break free.

It’s important to note that trauma bonds are not a sign of weakness or a character flaw. They are a survival response to a harmful situation.

Recognizing and breaking these bonds is a significant step towards healing and recovery.

breaking trauma bonds

Recognizing the Signs of Trauma Bonding

Understanding and recognizing the signs of trauma bonding can be a critical first step towards breaking these bonds.

Here are some common indicators that you might be in a trauma bond:

Unhealthy Attachment

One of the most common signs of trauma bonding is an unhealthy attachment.

Despite being aware of the abuse or mistreatment, you find yourself feeling extremely attached to the person.

This attachment is often so strong that it persists even when you acknowledge that the relationship is harmful.

You may feel a sense of dependency, unable to imagine your life without this person, even though their presence causes pain and distress.

recognizing trauma bonds

Justification of Abuse

Another significant sign of trauma bonding is the constant justification, minimization, or rationalization of abusive behavior.

You might catch yourself blaming yourself for their actions, thinking that if only you were better, they wouldn’t act this way.

Or you may believe that you can change them, that your love and patience will eventually make them treat you right.

This cycle of self-blame and futile hope can keep you stuck in the toxic relationship.

Signs of Trauma Bonding

Emotional Rollercoaster

Trauma bonds often create a relationship that’s characterized by extreme highs and lows.

The cycle of abuse followed by apologies and affection creates an emotional whirlwind.

These periods of kindness can make you forget the pain momentarily and renew your hope in the relationship, making it difficult for you to leave.

emotional rollercoaster

Fear of Leaving

The mere thought of leaving the relationship can induce intense fear or anxiety.

This could be due to fear of retaliation from the abuser, the dread of being alone, or uncertainty about the future.

This fear can be so overwhelming that it paralyzes you, keeping you trapped in the abusive situation.


Isolation is a common tactic used by abusers to exert control.

You may begin to isolate yourself from friends and family, either to hide the reality of your situation or because the person has manipulated you into doing so.

This isolation can make you feel more dependent on the abuser and increase your feelings of helplessness.


Intense Withdrawal Symptoms

When you attempt to distance yourself from the person, you might experience severe withdrawal symptoms.

This could manifest as anxiety, depression, or even physical discomfort.

These withdrawal symptoms can be so intense that they push you back towards the person, perpetuating the cycle of abuse.

breaking trauma bonds

Neglecting Personal Needs

In a trauma bond, you consistently prioritize the needs and wants of the person over your own, often to your detriment.

Your own health, happiness, and well-being take a backseat.

You may neglect your hobbies, interests, and personal growth, focusing instead on appeasing the abuser.

Repeatedly Returning

Despite multiple attempts to leave, you find yourself repeatedly drawn back to the person or the relationship.

Each return reinforces the bond, making it harder to break free.

This pattern can make you feel stuck and hopeless, but recognizing it is a crucial step towards breaking the cycle.

the trauma bond

Step 1: Acknowledge the Bond

Acknowledging the existence of a trauma bond signifies the beginning of your healing journey.

This step requires self-awareness, honesty and acceptance.

It may not be comfortable to admit that you’ve been or are currently in a toxic relationship, but it’s necessary.

Start by journaling about your experiences, noting down patterns of abuse and moments of affection.

This will give you a clearer picture of the trauma bond and its impact on your life.

journalling - a useful strategy

Step 2: Seek Professional Help

Reaching out to a trained professional such as a therapist or counselor specialized in trauma recovery is a critical part of this process.

They can provide insights into the nature of trauma bonds, why they form, and how to sever them.

Don’t view seeking help as a sign of weakness. You should see it as a brave step towards reclaiming your life.

Make a list of local therapists, research their specialties and backgrounds, and schedule an appointment with the one you feel most comfortable with.

therapy for breaking trauma bonds

Step 3: Establish Boundaries

Establishing firm boundaries is a crucial step when breaking trauma bonds.

The nature of these boundaries can vary from person to person, based on their unique situation and comfort level.

To establish boundaries, start by identifying what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not.

This might involve some honest introspection and possibly even uncomfortable realizations, but it’s a necessary step in the process.

breaking trauma bonds

Once you’ve defined your boundaries, it’s essential to communicate them assertively.

Be clear and direct, without being aggressive or confrontational.

It is important to note that setting boundaries is not a one-time event but an ongoing process.

As you heal and grow, your boundaries may need to change and evolve.

Regularly reassess your boundaries to ensure they continue to serve your best interests and support your journey towards healing.

One common strategy is going ‘low contact’

This involves limiting interactions with the person as much as possible.

This could be a viable option if total disconnection isn’t immediately possible or practical, such as in situations where the person is a family member or co-worker.

In such cases, it’s important to define the parameters of this limited contact clearly.

Another strategy is going ‘no contact’

This involves completely cutting off all forms of communication with the person who caused the trauma.

This includes not just face-to-face interactions, but also phone calls, text messages, emails, and even social media interactions.

Going no contact can be a powerful way to break free from the cycle of abuse and start the healing process.

Step 4: Practice Self-Care

Self-care is an essential component of healing from trauma.

This involves taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Engage in activities that you enjoy, maintain a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and ensure you get plenty of rest.

Create a daily routine that incorporates these self-care practices.

For example, start your day with a healthy breakfast followed by a short meditation session.

Dedicate time each day to do something you love, like reading a book or taking a walk in the park.


Step 5: Cultivate a Support Network

Creating a reliable support network can significantly aid your healing journey.

This network could include trusted friends, family members, support groups, or individuals who have experienced similar situations.

Reach out to people you trust and express your feelings and experiences.

Consider joining local or online support groups where you can connect with individuals going through the same process.

support group

Step 6: Practice Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation can be powerful tools in managing the stress and anxiety that often accompany trauma recovery.

These practices help you stay present and avoid falling back into harmful patterns.

Start by dedicating a few minutes each day to mindfulness exercises or meditation.

There are numerous resources available online, including guided meditations and mindfulness exercises, to help you get started.


Step 7: Forgive Yourself

Lastly, understand that it’s not your fault for forming these bonds.

Trauma bonding is a survival mechanism, and blaming yourself only hinders your healing process.

Practice self-forgiveness by acknowledging your feelings without judgment and reminding yourself of your worth and strength.

You might find it helpful to write a letter of forgiveness to yourself, acknowledging your past, accepting your present, and expressing hope for your future

forgiveness - breaking trauma bonds

Concluding Thoughts on Breaking Trauma Bonds

Embarking on the journey to break trauma bonds may seem daunting, but it’s an essential step towards reclaiming control over your life and steering it towards a healthier, more fulfilling future.

Each stride you make in breaking these bonds, no matter how small it might seem, is a stride towards healing and self-discovery.

Healing is not a race but a process that requires time, patience, and consistent effort.

Remember, you’re not alone in this journey. With the right support system and resources, you can navigate this challenging phase, break free from the shackles of trauma bonds, and emerge stronger, more resilient, and ready to embrace a brighter future.

Stay strong, keep moving forward, and believe in your ability to heal and grow.

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