Trauma bonding is a psychological response to abuse. It occurs when the abused person forms an unhealthy bond with the person who abuses them. The person experiencing abuse may develop sympathy for the abusive person, which becomes reinforced by cycles of abuse, followed by remorse. Stockholm syndrome is one type of trauma bonding.

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The biggest problem with trauma bonding is that the victim becomes trapped in a toxic relationship and will not leave. Especially in terms of emotional abuse, the toxicity in the relationship may be more subtle. They may dismiss or downplay the harmfulness of their situation and instead attempt to make the most of it. This type of thinking means that they will continue to put themselves in harm’s way whether it is physical or emotional abuse.

A trauma bond is a connection between an abusive person and the individual they abuse. It typically occurs when the abused person begins to develop sympathy or affection for the abuser. This bond can develop over days, weeks, or months. Not everyone who experiences abuse develops a trauma bond.

Trauma bonding may also impact the person’s attachment style and lead to other unhealthy relationships. For young children, this could mean relationship problems in adulthood. For adults, trauma bonding may even lead them to push away their other loved ones for fear of judgment.

Addiction may also be a part of a trauma bond relationship. While the addict may have gone to a behavioral health center and gotten sober, it doesn’t seem to last. Their constant cycle of relapse and sobriety may cause their loved one to stick around when they shouldn’t and could also create a codependent relationship.

When someone’s main source of support is also their abuser, a trauma bond can develop. An abused person may turn to the abusive person for comfort when they are hurt, even if the other person was the one who caused it.

Signs of trauma bonding

The main sign that a person has bonded with an abuser is that they try to justify or defend the abuse. They may also:

  • agree with the abusive person’s reasons for treating them badly 
  • try to cover for the abusive person 
  • argue with or distance themselves from people trying to help, such as friends, family members, or neighbors 
  • become defensive or hostile if someone intervenes and attempts to stop the abuse, such as a bystander or police officer 
  • be reluctant or unwilling to take steps to leave the abusive situation or break the bond

It is worth noting that these feelings of attachment do not necessarily end when the person leaves the harmful situation. A person may still feel loyal or loving toward the person who abused them or feel tempted to return.

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Trauma bonds can become strong and hard to break, but doing so is necessary if the victim wants to start moving forward with their life. These tips on breaking a trauma bond could help you or a loved one finally escape.

Examine the Relationship

The first step to breaking a trauma bond is to acknowledge that it exists. Take the time to honestly examine your relationship with the other person and do your best to look at it from an outsider’s perspective. Analyze the red flags, look at how the relationship makes you feel, and think back to other similar relationships.

Get Some Separation

Some people are in trauma bond relationships and do not even realize it. The best way for them to see the light is for them to get some separation. Removing themselves from the toxic person can help them finally see the relationship for what it is.

Join a Support Group

If you feel at all stuck in your relationship and like you cannot escape, a support group could be the answer. Hearing from other people who are going through similar situations or have escaped a toxic relationship can help you realize that you are not alone and there is hope.

Therapy or Treatment

While a support group may be beneficial for some, if your situation is more severe, you may need more help to remove yourself from the harmful relationship for good. Finding a therapist or starting a formal trauma treatment program can help you break the cycle of thinking that is keeping you in this relationship and help initiate the healing process.

If your personal relationships are negatively impacting your mental health, it is time to get help.

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