Have you ever felt an intense attachment to someone who repeatedly hurt or mistreated you? That confusing pull that kept you going back for more despite the pain? What you experienced was likely trauma bonding, a counterintuitive psychological response to ongoing cycles of abuse. Imagine feeling inexplicably drawn to someone who brings you both immense joy and intense pain. This person seems to understand you deeply, creating a connection that feels unbreakable despite the turmoil they bring into your life.

You find yourself constantly walking on eggshells, yet you can’t seem to pull away. This intense emotional rollercoaster is not love, but something far more complex and damaging—trauma bonding. It’s a cycle of abuse and affection that traps you in a web of confusion and emotional dependency, making it difficult to see the relationship for what it truly is.

By understanding the trauma bonding cycle, you’ll gain power over painful relationship patterns and build connections based on true love and respect.

What Is Trauma Bonding? Definition and Examples

Trauma bonding occurs when you form a psychological bond with an abusive or toxic person. It happens over time through a cycle of abuse and kindness. Even though the relationship is unhealthy, you become addicted to the rush of emotions.

The Cycle of Trauma Bonding

The cycle typically follows a pattern of rising tension, abuse, reconciliation, and calm. During the tension building phase, you feel like you’re walking on eggshells. Then comes an abusive episode filled with emotional or physical violence. Afterward, the abuser apologizes, gives gifts, and acts charming – this is the reconciliation phase. For a while, things are calm and loving. But soon, the tension starts building again.

Signs of a Trauma Bond

Some common signs of trauma bonding include:

  • Feeling obsessed with the abusive person even when they hurt you
  • Making excuses for their harmful behavior
  • Feeling addicted to the intensity of the relationship
  • Believing you can “fix” the abusive person or that they need you
  • Constantly seeking their approval and affection
  • Feeling isolated from friends and family due to the relationship
  • Physical symptoms like anxiety, insomnia, and stomach issues

Breaking the Cycle

The good news is you can break a trauma bond. It starts with recognizing the signs and acknowledging the abuse. Connecting with a support system of people who love and care about you can help give you strength. Set clear boundaries and limits with the abusive person or end contact if possible. Be prepared for manipulation and even threats. Stay focused on self-care – the trauma bond will fade over time as you heal.

The 7 Stages of Trauma Bonding and What They Look Like

1. Idealization

When you first meet, everything seems perfect. You put them on a pedestal and are swept off your feet. But this stage never lasts.

2. Devaluation

Slowly, the criticisms and subtle put-downs start. They start withdrawing affection and make you feel like you have to work for their approval and love.

3. Manipulation

They use fear, guilt, and shame to get what they want. They may threaten to leave or hurt themselves if you don’t do what they want. You feel trapped and obligated to please them.

4. Isolation

They systematically cut you off from friends and family and try to control where you go and who you see. You become dependent on them as your only source of companionship.

5. Threats

As the manipulation escalates, their threats become more menacing. They may threaten violence, blackmail, or attempting suicide if you don’t comply with their demands. You walk on eggshells constantly afraid of provoking their anger.

6. Intimidation

Physical violence starts or increases in frequency and intensity. It’s used to frighten and control you. You live in a constant state of fear and danger.

7. Acceptance

You finally realize this is no way to live but feel powerless to change your situation. Your self-esteem is shattered, and you come to accept the abuse as inevitable.

The trauma bond is now complete.

Breaking free from a trauma bond is difficult but not impossible. Recognizing the signs, building your confidence and self-worth, setting boundaries, and seeking counseling and support can help break the cycle of abuse.

Signs You Are in a Trauma Bond Relationship

If you’re in a relationship that just doesn’t feel right, it could be a trauma bond. Some key signs to watch out for:

Your partner isolates you from friends and family.

Trauma bonding often involves psychological manipulation and control. Your partner may try to cut you off from your support network so you rely only on them. They may make subtle comments to turn you against people who care about you or directly forbid you from seeing them.

You feel anxious and afraid around your partner.

Instead of feeling loved and supported, you feel fearful, worried, and on edge. Your partner’s moods are unpredictable and their reactions are disproportionate to the situation. You walk on eggshells to avoid setting them off.

Your self-esteem has been eroded.

Over time, your partner has chipped away at your confidence and sense of worth through criticism, insults, gaslighting and demeaning behavior. They make you feel like no one else would want you and that you’re lucky to have them.

In the article The toxic power dynamics of medical gaslighting, Sarah Fraser writes;

Gaslighting can be differentiated from other forms of bullying in medicine because it does not involve public humiliation, specific threats, or blatant insults. Gaslighting is more subtle than that. More private. This makes it all the more dangerous because it can remain invisible.

The relationship moves very quickly.

Trauma bonds are often characterized by a whirlwind romance that moves at breakneck speed. Before you know it, you’re in deep, even though you barely know the person. This quick progression prevents you from seeing the warning signs and traps you in the relationship.

There is a power imbalance in the relationship.

One partner dominates and controls the other through fear, intimidation, and manipulation. If you feel like you have to ask for permission, you’re constantly apologizing, or you have no say in decision-making, this is a sign the power dynamics are off.

There is a cycle of abuse and “honeymoon” periods.

The relationship alternates between periods of abuse and idealization. After abusive episodes, your partner showers you with love, gifts, and affection to win you back. But the good times never last, and the abuse starts again. This cycle repeats over and over.

If these signs sound familiar, you may be trauma-bonded to your partner.

But first, you must recognize the relationship for what it is – toxic and unhealthy. Only then can you start to rebuild your self-esteem and open yourself to finding a nurturing relationship where you feel safe, secure and truly loved.

How to Break the Traumatic Bond and Heal

Acknowledge the bond exists.

The first step is admitting there is a trauma bond in the first place. Look at the signs and be honest with yourself about the unhealthy attachment you have to your abuser. Recognize that the intensity of the relationship is due to the cycle of abuse, not because of love or care. This clarity will help give you the strength to break free.

Build your support network.

Surround yourself with people who love and support you unconditionally. Talk to them about the abuse and trauma bond and lean on them when you’re struggling. Consider seeing a counselor or joining a support group. The more you open up, the less power the abuser will have over you.

Practice self-care.

Make sure to engage in regular self-care practices like exercising, meditating, and pursuing hobbies you enjoy. Staying active and distracted boosts your confidence and self-worth, making the abuse and abuser feel less significant. Do small things each day to nurture yourself like taking a bath, reading a book, or cooking a healthy meal.

Set boundaries.

Start setting clear boundaries to protect yourself physically and emotionally from your abuser. Let them know their behavior is unacceptable and that you will not engage if they continue to cross the line. Be prepared to follow through with consequences if they do not respect your boundaries. Setting limits will help you regain control over your life.

Break all contact.

The only way to truly break a trauma bond is to cut off all contact with your abuser. Block them on all social media platforms and lock down your accounts. Change routines and habits so you avoid running into them in person. Tell close ones that you do not want updates about your abuser. Out of sight, out of mind – with time and distance, the hold they have over you will fade.

Healing from trauma bonding is a challenging process, but by building your strength and independence, the abusive relationship will loosen its grip. Stay committed to self-care, surround yourself with your support network, and keep focused on the freedom ahead – you deserve to break free from this toxic bond and live a happy, healthy life without abuse. With each day, the trauma will fade into the past, and you will feel whole again.

Conclusion

You now have a solid understanding of trauma bonding – what it is, the stages involved, the signs to look out for, examples, how to break the bond, and how to heal.

Remember, you have the inner strength to move forward and break free from this. Focus on self-care, set boundaries, lean on your support system, and don’t lose hope.

Are you struggling with a complex emotional connection in a relationship that often leaves you feeling confused and hurt? Take our trauma bonding test to gain insight into your situation and identify patterns that may be affecting your mental health and well-being