Wondering whether you have a trauma bond? This guide will teach you the 7 stages of trauma bonding, plus other important facts about trauma bonds.
This is a topic I’m regularly exploring in my role as a life coach, which people need to be aware of to avoid unhealthy and potentially abusive relationships.
That’s why I’m keen to share this guide with you.
So, let’s dive in.
What Are Trauma Bonds?
A trauma bond is the strong emotional connection that a victim has with their abuser in a toxic relationship.
Such a bond is created by the abuser who uses psychological manipulation to make their partner addicted to their abusive relationship, in spite of their poor treatment.
They do this by creating the 7 stages of trauma bonding, which we’ll explore shortly.
A trauma bond has been compared to a drug addiction because it is so unhealthy, yet so difficult to escape from.
That’s why it’s so important to recognise the stages of trauma bonding as soon as possible, so you can see your partner for the abusive person they are.
7 Stages Of Trauma Bonding
It’s generally regonized by mental health experts that there are 7 stages of trauma bonding. These are the steps used by an abusive partner to make someone feel addicted and unable to leave their toxic relationship.
1. Love Bombing
The love bombing stage of a relationship is where one partner overwhelms the other with attention, compliments, gifts and favors.
This usually happens quickly. It’s rare that a trauma bonded relationship has a normal progression.
Love bombing is often performed by abusers to create a deep emotional bond. It’s only when an emotional connection feels deep that an abused person might feel compelled to stay with their abuser. That’s why love bombing is such a common initial stage of a trauma bond relationship.
It’s worth mentioning that love bombing only tends to work on individuals with low self-esteem. Those with a healthy sense of self-confidence might find these people-pleasing behaviors too overwhelming (in a bad way) and break off the relationship themselves.
However, those with low self-esteem are more likely to quickly fall for someone giving them so much positive attention, especially if (as is often the case) they haven’t received much of this from other people in their lives.
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2. Trust And Dependency
The abuser will make grand gestures to win the trust of their victim and strengthen the emotional attachment further.
Perhaps they will begin making plans to move in with their partner, start talking about their eventual wedding or make other false promises.
When possible, the abuser will do their love huge (and often ongoing) favors. This is because they want their lover to feel dependent on them.
A common strategy to increase this dependency is to isolate their partner from other loved ones.
Once the abuser senses their partner can’t help but feel dependent on them for love and validation, they slowly start to withdraw.
It’s a gradual process, but their praise will begin to turn into criticism.
The abuser might make snarky comments about their partner’s behavior, their personality and even their appearance.
These might only pop up occasionally at first, so there’s not too much attention drawn to the change in the abuser’s behavior.
However, their criticism will typically get worse over time, breaking down the self-esteem of the partner who was once so dependent on them.
4. Gaslighting And Manipulation
The abuser will sometimes apologise and revert back to making their partner feel appreciated as intensely as they did in the early stages of the relationship.
However, the abuser will often resort to gaslighting instead. This is their strategy to shift blame and make the victim believe that they are to blame for the toxic relationship.
This creates a cognitive dissonance around the abuse that’s occurring.The victim may begin to doubt their own thoughts, emotions and memories.
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The abused person – especially one with low self-confidence – may become emotionally exhausted by constantly standing up for themselves.
Realizing that arguing with their partner never allows them to resolve conflict, they instead try giving in to whatever they want. This is seen as the best way to get back to the addictive sense of love and validation they were receiving before.
Indeed, the abuser might train them to believe that, giving their partner a whiff of affection whenever they resign.
However, this sense of resignation ultimately gives the abusive partner a green light to crank up the abuse and emotional manipulation even more.
6. Loss of Self
Acommon symptom of trauma bonding is the abused person ultimately losing all sense of their values, principles and personality. They crave relief from their abuse so badly that all of their energy is put into ensuring there is no more conflict in their relationship.
It’s at this point that friends and family may begin to notice a change in the victim’s personality. They may hear about the abusive behavior that occurs and not understand why their loved one doesn’t leave this unhealthy relationship.
Anyone with an objective perspective and a basic knowledge of healthy relationships could see that the victim should not be with this person anymore. Yet, they stay.
Often, the truth is: their self-esteem has become so destroyed that they feel completely dependent on their abuser.
7. Emotional Addiction
While mental health experts cite ‘emotional addiction’ as the last of the 7 stages of trauma bonding, it’s often just the beginning.
Trauma bonding is more like a vicious cycle than a linear process. Now and again, the abuser will give their partner a hint of the love and affection they could receive in the relationship – and that’s enough to hook them in for more abuse all over again.
The addictive nature of this repeated cycle means that these types of abusive relationships can last for years before a victim finds the strength to escape.
How Do I Know If I Am Trauma Bonded?
This description of the 7 stages of trauma bonding should be enough to help you realize if you’re in this type of abusive relationship.
But, just in case, I’ve listed 10 more common symptoms of trauma bonding below.
10 Signs Of Trauma Bonding
- Your relationship progressed very quickly.
- Your partner makes you feel like the best and worst person in the world.
- You’re strongly craving the emotional highs of your relationship, especially after devastating lows.
- You can’t imagine life without your partner, even though your relationship is far from perfect.
- You’re the only person in your life with good things to say about your partner.
- You feel stuck in the relationship, but make rationalisations to stay.
- Your partner insists on controlling certain aspects of your life, including where you go and who you spend time with.
- Your self-esteem has dropped since getting into the relationship.
- You doubt your own perceptions and memories a lot more than you used to.
- It has become more important to please your partner than to please yourself.
How To Break A Trauma Bond Fast
Breaking free from a trauma bond is extremely hard. This isn’t just a toxic relationship. This is an emotional addiction, which many mental health experts say can affect your brain chemistry just like a drug addiction.
Awareness is a great first step. Many victims of trauma bonding don’t realize or accept that they’re in an abusive relationship.
If you believe you might be a trauma bonding victim, tell a friend or family member. Hopefully, they’ll give you the emotional strength to break free from this person.
If you seek professional support from a mental health professional, that can help you to break free. You might find a support group for victims of emotional abuse in your local city, while there are sure to be options for affordable online therapy too.
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How Long Does It Take For A Trauma Bond To Heal?
Your healing journey from a trauma bonding relationship will depend on a variety of things, including how long you were in the relationship and what type of professional support you enlist.
Some mental health experts suggest it might be months before you’re ready for another (healthy) relationship, while others say it could take years.
It might be more difficult to trust future partners after this form of emotional trauma, but it is possible if you continue to work on yourself.
The most important thing is: you learn from this experience and work on your confidence so you don’t become a victim of traumatic bonding again.
Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s round off this guide with the answers to some frequently asked questions about trauma bonding.
What Is A Trauma Bond Cycle?
A trauma bond cycle is the pattern of love bombing followed by emotional abuse, which abusers use to make their victims become addicted to them.
Does Stockholm Syndrome Occur During Trauma Bonding?
Stockholm syndrome describes the sensation of a captive falling in love with their captors or abusers. It’s usually an appropriate term to use when describing a trauma bonding situation.
How To Break A Trauma Bond With A Narcissist?
A narcissist’s desire to feel important and special makes them a prime candidate to create a trauma bonding relationship.
My narcissistic abuse guide titled How To Talk To A Narcissist will help you learn more about this specific situation.
With that said, breaking trauma bonds always requires awareness of the situation and the emotional strength to realize you deserve better.
I’d recommend seeking support from your friends, family members and mental health experts to help you make that clean break.
Trauma Bonding BPD
Sufferers of borderline personality disorder (BPD) are other strong candidates to rope people into trauma bond relationships.
You can learn more about this mental health issue in my guide titled: Ways To Say No To Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder.
Does Trauma Bonding Involve Physical Abuse?
It’s absolutely possible that domestic violence can occur within a trauma-bonded relationship.
Perhaps an abuser will use violence as a tool if they feel like they’re losing control of the relationship. Maybe it occurs when someone is pushed to breaking point within an argument.
Either way, the abuser is often still able to obtain forgiveness from their partner and reel them back in using the seven stages of trauma bonding.
Trauma Bond Withdrawal Symptoms
Once you’ve broken free from a trauma bond, you may still have symptoms, including:
- Making excuses to see your abuser again;
- Flashbacks of an extremely stressful event;
- A lack of trust in other potential romantic interests;
- A general state of anxiety;
- Compulsive thoughts about the trauma bonding stage of your relationship.
This is a normal part of the healing process. Professional help from a mental health expert can be extremely helpful in helping you get through this.
Trauma Bonding Test
Still not sure if you’re in a trauma bonded relationship? See this guide for more insight: Trauma Bonding Test: Revealing Questions.
Any More Questions?
Trauma bonding is a form of extreme emotional manipulation and I’m sorry if you have been a victim of these destructive attachments.
If you want to ask me a question about trauma bonding, feel free to leave me a comment below.
I’m happy to engage in any open and logical discussion about this topic.