What is a Trauma Bond?
A trauma bond is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when a victim of trauma forms an emotional attachment to their abuser.
The trauma bond forms because of the basic human need for attachment as a means of survival. The victim may feel as if they are in love with their abuser and may feel they need to stay in the abusive relationship.
A trauma bond can be created in many ways, but it is usually created when the victim is subjected to ongoing abuse or neglect, and doesn’t have another person to turn to for support. A typical cycle consists of periods of mistreatment, after which the abuser will try to make up for their behaviour by expressing love and regret, designed to reassure the victim and convince them that there is no reason to leave.
Trauma bonds often arise during childhood abuse or domestic violence. They have also been reported to occur after a victim experiences a traumatic situation like hostage-taking, kidnapping or cult membership – a phenomenon that is called the Stockholm Syndrome.
What Causes Trauma Bonds?
One of the most common reasons for the formation of trauma bonded relationships is that the person who is being abused has a difficult time understanding that they deserve better treatment. They may also come to believe that they deserve the abuse because they think it’s their fault.
Victims of narcissistic abuse are often at risk of developing trauma bonds with the narcissist. This is because of the gaslighting, abuse by proxy, and other psychological tactics used by the narcissist to confuse, hurt and undermine them.
Signs of a trauma bonded relationship
When a victim of narcissistic abuse forms a trauma bond with their abuser, they often cover up the abuse or make excuses for the narcissist. They will lie to friends and family and insist that the narcissist’s behaviour is justified, and blame themselves for what they are going through. They will also refuse to leave the narcissist, claiming that they are in love with them.
A trauma bonded victim often says things like:
“He complains when I go out with my friends because he misses me when I am gone. He loves me and wants me to be with him all the time.”
“She is going through a hard time at the moment. She did not mean what she said. When she calms down she will apologise.”
“I know that she is difficult and demanding, but she is my soulmate. I cannot live without her.”
“I’m sorry he got so angry. It was my fault. I should not have contradicted him.”
How to Break Free from a Trauma Bond
Once you are in the grip of a trauma bond, it can be hard to get out. However if you are in an abusive relationship it is important to break free. Ask for help and support from family and friends, and seek advice from a therapist or counsellor.
Traumatic experiences often makes people want to hold on to hope that the abuser will change. Try taking time to acknowledge what’s happening, what it’s doing to you and how it makes you feel, and whether you’re safe in that moment. How would you feel if someone treated your friend the way you are being treated?
Narcissistic abuse has a terrible impact on people’s self-esteem. Challenge your negative thinking with positive alternatives, and you will gradually reprogramme your mind to recognize your value and your strength.
Taking some time out for yourself and caring for yourself can help release some stress and reduce the urge to return to an abusive partner. Journaling, meditation, exercise, hobbies or talking to friends or a therapist may be helpful.
Remember this – you deserve respect and you should walk away if it is not on offer.
For Further Reading:
Check out the following posts if you are interested in understanding the impact of narcissistic abuse on victims –
- Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
- Alienation (after trauma)
- Child affected by Parental Relationship Distress (CAPRD)
- Codependent or codependency
- Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD or C-PTSD)
- Learned Helplessness
- Linen Cupboard Metaphor
- Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
- Narcissistic FOG
- Negative Self-Talk
- Parental Alienation
- PTSD – Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Trauma Bond
- Trauma Trigger
- Can You Get PTSD From Narcissistic Abuse? The Toxic Impact of the Narcissist
- What Happens after a Narcissist Maliciously Destroys Our Self-Image?
- Narcissistic Family Roles – the impact on the narcissist’s close family members
- The Devastating Impact of Childhood Trauma on Substance Abuse in Adulthood
- Shame – the legacy of a toxic childhood
- The devastating impact of emotional abuse – how to recognise the signs
- The Long-Term Effects of Narcissistic Abuse – How Narcissists Damage Their Victims