Have you ever seen a friend in a relationship that was clearly toxic and unhealthy, and wonder why they chose to stay with that partner? It’s often easier for people outside of a relationship to recognize the signs of an abusive relationship.

Trauma bonding, which is a major part of abusive relationships, is an example of something that is difficult to detect from inside a relationship. This is due to the constant manipulation at the hands of a narcissistic partner. 

 But what exactly is trauma bonding? Why do people trauma bond and continue to stay with a manipulative partner?

 We’ll answer those questions as well as the common signs of trauma bonding so you can recognize it and stop it in its tracks.

What Is Trauma Bonding?

Trauma bonding occurs when a narcissist repeats a cycle of abuse with another person which fuels a need for validation and love from the person being abused. Trauma bonding often happens in romantic relationships, however, it can also occur between colleagues, non-romantic family members, and friends.

The narcissist will condition someone into believing that these toxic behaviors are normal. As the bonding deepens, the person being abused will feel more and more like they need validation from the abuser, giving the abuser more power and leading to further manipulation.

Oftentimes, it can take months or even years to realize you are in this type of toxic relationship. That’s why it’s important to understand why trauma bonding occurs and what the common signs are.

Why Do We Do It?

Trauma bonding occurs as a result of reinforcement at the hands of the abuser.

The manipulative person will alternate abuse with really positive experiences which leads to the development of a trauma bond. Over time, the trauma bonding will strengthen, making it more and more difficult for a person to recognize clear signs of emotional or physical abuse.  The abuser will positively reinforce certain behaviors, basically training someone to stay and continue to give their love to them.

Sometimes, a person may be fully aware that they are with a toxic person, but they are so conditioned to continue forgiving them that it can be nearly impossible to finally leave, causing them to feel stuck.

Traumatic Bonding Risk Factors

Common Risk Factors

While trauma bonding can happen to anyone, there are some common risk factors that can make it more likely for a person. These include:

  • Poor mental health
  • Low self-esteem
  • Financial difficulties
  • No support system
  • Past trauma
  • History of being bullied
  • Lack of personal identity

These risk factors make it more difficult to recognize signs of toxicity and can also make a person more susceptible to manipulation in a relationship.

Recognize the Signs of Trauma Bonding

It’s important to be able to recognize some of the most common signs of trauma bonding so you can have a better understanding of what might be happening to you or a loved one. Here are some signs that a person is experiencing trauma bonding.

Feeling Indebted to the Abuser

An abuser always wants to be in control, and one way to do that is to make someone feel as though they are always indebted to the abuser. This can come in many forms such as domestic violence but they all have the same effect which is the person being abused will feel bad for not making up for the indebtedness they feel.

 For example, if you made a mistake early in the relationship that hurt your partner, they might hold that over your head for months to make you feel bad and like you need to make it up to them. They can make you feel terrible about even the smallest of things, and condition you to feel ashamed for past behaviors.

Video Transcript

Video Transcript
Hey everybody! Today we’re going to talk about trauma boding.What is it and how can we heal from it? The term trauma bonding was coined by a councilor by the name of Patrick Carnes, and is defined as the misuse of fear, excitement, sexual feelings, and sexual physiology to entangle another person. But what that really means is that traumatic bonding is a strong emotional attachment between an abused person and his or her abuser, formed as a result of the cycle of violence. When I first started reading and researching this topic, I found myself thinking that trauma bonding sounded an awful lot like gaslighting or even Stockholm syndrome, ya know? Because, gaslighting is when we are manipulated by someone, by them telling us that what we thought happened, or how something happened, like our perception, isn't right. And that can make us question our own experience or even our own sanity. And, if you know what the cycle of abuse is, there's this tension-building phase, where you feel like you're walking on eggshells, then there's the incident phase where the abuse actually happens, and then it's followed by this reconciliation period where they're apologetic and I love you and didn't mean to do it. And then there's finally this little calm period, which we know as people are in abusive relationships, and it goes on and on the cycle continues, that calm period can go away. But, the most important thing is that that reconciliation phase in that cycle may just make us think that we didn't remember the abuse correctly, or that it may not have been as bad as we actually thought. Or that they really do love us and that's just the way that they show it. You know, you can see how this could relate, in some ways, to gaslighting. And therefore to trauma bonding. Now Stockholm syndrome, on the other hand, is when we have feelings of trust and connection with our kidnapper or abuser. And they say that we do this because it's our best chance of staying alive and its sort of like a survival instinct. And again, you can see that if we're bonding with our abusers, it could look and feel very similar to Stockholm syndrome. Okay, now that we know what trauma bonding is, and how it's defined, let us get into why they think it happens. Now, research shows that bonding actually occurs because we can become addicted to the hormonal and emotional rollercoaster that the abuser has put us on. Isn't that crazy to think of? That we can become actually addicted to it. What this really means is that even though the abuse is terrible, we hate it, the love and attention that we get afterward is so good that we slowly forget how bad the abuse was. Our brain can get so used to this up and down emotional ride that it craves it. And the rush of the stress hormone cortisol, if you didn't know that's what happens when we're super stressed, our body releases cortisol. And then, when that stress of the abusive situation fades, and they like to shower us with love, and they apologize for everything that's happened. Then, we get a flood of that feel-good chemical, dopamine. And that can even trigger the reward center in our brain. So in a way, we feel like by engaging in this relationship and allowing ourselves to be abused, we're actually, like getting something out of it. And I know that just sounds really crazy but it’s really important to understand. And also, we know that dopamine makes us feel really good, right? We can really become addicted to that feeling. And that can cause us to even think that we're in love with our abuser. Especially if we're really, really young and less mature. And so, many of my patients who were in abusive relationships for years, have told me that they've tried leaving and dating someone else. But it was just too boring, or they didn't get excited to see the new person like they did their abuser. Or they miss their abuser just too much to really move on and even attempt to date someone else. And the draw that we can feel towards the abusive person in our life can be really hard for others to understand or accept. And that can cause us to be even more isolated, which we know--I've talked about this before-- but in abusive relationships, when we're isolated, it's easier for them to manipulate us and so it kinda leaves us in a more vulnerable position. And I say all of this just because if you are a friend of someone who may be going through this, do your best to be there and be as understanding as possible. The last thing you want to do is make someone, who's already in a horrible position or situation, feel even worse. So just try to listen and support as much as you can. And I actually talk a lot about this, toxic relationships, abusive relationships, within my new book Are u ok? That is coming out on December 11th. And it's within the chapter all about toxic relationships, and it’s available for pre-order now so click the link in the description to order yours today! Now, the sort of trauma bonding that I'm talking about can really take its toll on our physical health as well. Many of my patients have developed stress-induced Eczema, I'm being serious you guys, all through our scalp, onto our face, on our arms, or acne. And research even shows that some people develop high blood pressure as a result, and others even autoimmune diseases. So, let us get into how we can know it's happening to us so we can move through it, heal from it, and escape as quickly as possible. And so the signs that we may have fallen victim to trauma bonding are: Number one, you feel stuck in the relationship and you don't really see any way out of it. Number two, you find yourself walking on eggshells around them, worrying that you may do something that'll set them off. Number three, you know that this person is doing things that hurt you, but you're afraid that they may hurt themselves if you leave. Number four, people around you have mentioned that you need to get out of the relationship. Number five, When you try and leave, you immediately feel an intense longing to see that person again, and the pain of that longing always brings you back. Number six, you're punished or given the silent treatment by your partner when you say or do something that they considered to be wrong. And seven, friends and family are disturbed by some things they've said or done to you in your relationship, but you don't really feel like it's that big of a deal. Now those are just a few of the red flags or things we should notice if they're going on in our relationships. But if you think I've missed some, please add those in the comments down below. The more warning signs we have, the better. If after hearing those warning signs, or reading through the comments you suddenly realize that you've been suffering from trauma bonding don't worry! We can get you out and you can heal. So let us get into those very important, and hopefully really helpful, techniques and tools. Oh and before I get into this-- know that it is very, very normal for us to miss our abuser when we leave. People around us may expect us to feel anger, pity, or disdain for them. But, we may just really miss them terribly. And so we’re gonna need to give ourselves the time to grieve. And be patient with yourself while you're doing this. I encourage you to share the struggle, this missing them, and the upset that you feel, with your therapist so that they can help you process through all you've been through. But again, feeling like this is very normal. I just want you all to know that because many people express to me, from our Kinion community, as well as my own patients, that they haven't told anybody about that forever. And it's always prevented them from healing and moving on. And so, just know it's normal to feel sad and upset, but that doesn't mean that we can't get out of the unhealthy relationship and heal from it. Now my first tip obviously starts therapy. Even if you aren't sure of what you want to talk about, or if you're even strong enough to talk about at all, please reach out, preferably to a trauma specialist, but if that's not available to you, any therapist that you like and connect with will do. Because just having someone we can talk to where there's no judgment and there's compassionate understanding it's just so helpful during this time. And it can be the difference between us going back into that unhealthy relationship and being stuck in that abuse cycle again, and getting out and feeling a little bit better about ourselves and more confident that we made the right decision. And number two, grieve. Just like I said, we may not want to leave, or we may miss them terribly when we finally do leave. Give yourself the time to grieve the loss of that relationship and what it meant to you. I know logically we can know that it wasn't good and that we were hurt, and it was just bad altogether. But, just make sure that you allow yourself to feel how you feel and be sad about it. It's okay to feel that way. I find the more that we ignore it and push it down, the longer it will bother us. And also, just because something doesn't make sense, doesn't mean you don't have the right to feel it. Number three, Write about the abuse. When you feel safe enough to do so, obviously, write about what happened. When it started, maybe how you felt during it, and this just gives your brain another chance to process it. And this could be something that you could do if you don't have access to therapy right now, this is something we can start today. And it will allow us the chance to vent honestly about the situation. We can talk about how hard it was and when we fell in love with them. Or, just all of it, right? It gives us a place to vent, and to kinda process through all the situations we've been in with this person. And remember, there's no judgment when it comes to journaling. Just write it out, use bullet points, scribble down portions of thoughts as needed. It doesn't have to make sense at all, it doesn't have to be a cohesive sentence. You can misspell, you can have horrible penmanship. It doesn't matter, there's no judgment when it comes to journaling. And number four, join a group. Being in a group can get us out of that feeling crazy experience that being gaslit can cause. When we hear other peoples' stories, and they have similar experiences as us, it can be so healing, and remind us that we're not alone in this. Which we all know is something that we may have thought for a really long time. And also, Facebook groups will work too. I hope you found this video helpful, I know many of us in this community have been abused, or are in abusive relationships, and are maybe struggling with trauma bonding. And overall, I just hope that this reminded you that you are not alone. And it offered some helpful tips to start the healing process.
Video Transcript
Hey everybody! Today we’re going to talk about trauma boding.What is it and how can we heal from it? The term trauma bonding was coined by a councilor by the name of Patrick Carnes, and is defined as the misuse of fear, excitement, sexual feelings, and sexual physiology to entangle another person. But what that really means is that traumatic bonding is a strong emotional attachment between an abused person and his or her abuser, formed as a result of the cycle of violence. When I first started reading and researching this topic, I found myself thinking that trauma bonding sounded an awful lot like gaslighting or even Stockholm syndrome, ya know? Because, gaslighting is when we are manipulated by someone, by them telling us that what we thought happened, or how something happened, like our perception, isn't right. And that can make us question our own experience or even our own sanity. And, if you know what the cycle of abuse is, there's this tension-building phase, where you feel like you're walking on eggshells, then there's the incident phase where the abuse actually happens, and then it's followed by this reconciliation period where they're apologetic and I love you and didn't mean to do it. And then there's finally this little calm period, which we know as people are in abusive relationships, and it goes on and on the cycle continues, that calm period can go away. But, the most important thing is that that reconciliation phase in that cycle may just make us think that we didn't remember the abuse correctly, or that it may not have been as bad as we actually thought. Or that they really do love us and that's just the way that they show it. You know, you can see how this could relate, in some ways, to gaslighting. And therefore to trauma bonding. Now Stockholm syndrome, on the other hand, is when we have feelings of trust and connection with our kidnapper or abuser. And they say that we do this because it's our best chance of staying alive and its sort of like a survival instinct. And again, you can see that if we're bonding with our abusers, it could look and feel very similar to Stockholm syndrome. Okay, now that we know what trauma bonding is, and how it's defined, let us get into why they think it happens. Now, research shows that bonding actually occurs because we can become addicted to the hormonal and emotional rollercoaster that the abuser has put us on. Isn't that crazy to think of? That we can become actually addicted to it. What this really means is that even though the abuse is terrible, we hate it, the love and attention that we get afterward is so good that we slowly forget how bad the abuse was. Our brain can get so used to this up and down emotional ride that it craves it. And the rush of the stress hormone cortisol, if you didn't know that's what happens when we're super stressed, our body releases cortisol. And then, when that stress of the abusive situation fades, and they like to shower us with love, and they apologize for everything that's happened. Then, we get a flood of that feel-good chemical, dopamine. And that can even trigger the reward center in our brain. So in a way, we feel like by engaging in this relationship and allowing ourselves to be abused, we're actually, like getting something out of it. And I know that just sounds really crazy but it’s really important to understand. And also, we know that dopamine makes us feel really good, right? We can really become addicted to that feeling. And that can cause us to even think that we're in love with our abuser. Especially if we're really, really young and less mature. And so, many of my patients who were in abusive relationships for years, have told me that they've tried leaving and dating someone else. But it was just too boring, or they didn't get excited to see the new person like they did their abuser. Or they miss their abuser just too much to really move on and even attempt to date someone else. And the draw that we can feel towards the abusive person in our life can be really hard for others to understand or accept. And that can cause us to be even more isolated, which we know--I've talked about this before-- but in abusive relationships, when we're isolated, it's easier for them to manipulate us and so it kinda leaves us in a more vulnerable position. And I say all of this just because if you are a friend of someone who may be going through this, do your best to be there and be as understanding as possible. The last thing you want to do is make someone, who's already in a horrible position or situation, feel even worse. So just try to listen and support as much as you can. And I actually talk a lot about this, toxic relationships, abusive relationships, within my new book Are u ok? That is coming out on December 11th. And it's within the chapter all about toxic relationships, and it’s available for pre-order now so click the link in the description to order yours today! Now, the sort of trauma bonding that I'm talking about can really take its toll on our physical health as well. Many of my patients have developed stress-induced Eczema, I'm being serious you guys, all through our scalp, onto our face, on our arms, or acne. And research even shows that some people develop high blood pressure as a result, and others even autoimmune diseases. So, let us get into how we can know it's happening to us so we can move through it, heal from it, and escape as quickly as possible. And so the signs that we may have fallen victim to trauma bonding are: Number one, you feel stuck in the relationship and you don't really see any way out of it. Number two, you find yourself walking on eggshells around them, worrying that you may do something that'll set them off. Number three, you know that this person is doing things that hurt you, but you're afraid that they may hurt themselves if you leave. Number four, people around you have mentioned that you need to get out of the relationship. Number five, When you try and leave, you immediately feel an intense longing to see that person again, and the pain of that longing always brings you back. Number six, you're punished or given the silent treatment by your partner when you say or do something that they considered to be wrong. And seven, friends and family are disturbed by some things they've said or done to you in your relationship, but you don't really feel like it's that big of a deal. Now those are just a few of the red flags or things we should notice if they're going on in our relationships. But if you think I've missed some, please add those in the comments down below. The more warning signs we have, the better. If after hearing those warning signs, or reading through the comments you suddenly realize that you've been suffering from trauma bonding don't worry! We can get you out and you can heal. So let us get into those very important, and hopefully really helpful, techniques and tools. Oh and before I get into this-- know that it is very, very normal for us to miss our abuser when we leave. People around us may expect us to feel anger, pity, or disdain for them. But, we may just really miss them terribly. And so we’re gonna need to give ourselves the time to grieve. And be patient with yourself while you're doing this. I encourage you to share the struggle, this missing them, and the upset that you feel, with your therapist so that they can help you process through all you've been through. But again, feeling like this is very normal. I just want you all to know that because many people express to me, from our Kinion community, as well as my own patients, that they haven't told anybody about that forever. And it's always prevented them from healing and moving on. And so, just know it's normal to feel sad and upset, but that doesn't mean that we can't get out of the unhealthy relationship and heal from it. Now my first tip obviously starts therapy. Even if you aren't sure of what you want to talk about, or if you're even strong enough to talk about at all, please reach out, preferably to a trauma specialist, but if that's not available to you, any therapist that you like and connect with will do. Because just having someone we can talk to where there's no judgment and there's compassionate understanding it's just so helpful during this time. And it can be the difference between us going back into that unhealthy relationship and being stuck in that abuse cycle again, and getting out and feeling a little bit better about ourselves and more confident that we made the right decision. And number two, grieve. Just like I said, we may not want to leave, or we may miss them terribly when we finally do leave. Give yourself the time to grieve the loss of that relationship and what it meant to you. I know logically we can know that it wasn't good and that we were hurt, and it was just bad altogether. But, just make sure that you allow yourself to feel how you feel and be sad about it. It's okay to feel that way. I find the more that we ignore it and push it down, the longer it will bother us. And also, just because something doesn't make sense, doesn't mean you don't have the right to feel it. Number three, Write about the abuse. When you feel safe enough to do so, obviously, write about what happened. When it started, maybe how you felt during it, and this just gives your brain another chance to process it. And this could be something that you could do if you don't have access to therapy right now, this is something we can start today. And it will allow us the chance to vent honestly about the situation. We can talk about how hard it was and when we fell in love with them. Or, just all of it, right? It gives us a place to vent, and to kinda process through all the situations we've been in with this person. And remember, there's no judgment when it comes to journaling. Just write it out, use bullet points, scribble down portions of thoughts as needed. It doesn't have to make sense at all, it doesn't have to be a cohesive sentence. You can misspell, you can have horrible penmanship. It doesn't matter, there's no judgment when it comes to journaling. And number four, join a group. Being in a group can get us out of that feeling crazy experience that being gaslit can cause. When we hear other peoples' stories, and they have similar experiences as us, it can be so healing, and remind us that we're not alone in this. Which we all know is something that we may have thought for a really long time. And also, Facebook groups will work too. I hope you found this video helpful, I know many of us in this community have been abused, or are in abusive relationships, and are maybe struggling with trauma bonding. And overall, I just hope that this reminded you that you are not alone. And it offered some helpful tips to start the healing process.

Protecting the Abuser

Oftentimes, the abuser will have their own serious mental health issues that they are struggling with, and this can lead the person being abused to feel the need to care for them or protect them. The abused individual will go up against other people who speak out against the partner and often push people away who aren’t supportive of the relationship.

Narcissists love this behavior and will often reinforce this in the person being abused by showing them love and affection following an act of protectiveness.

Covering Negative Emotions

Negative emotions are prevalent in people who are being abused, but they don’t want anyone else to notice them. They especially don’t want their abuser to notice their emotions because that often leads to the abuser playing victim and making the partner feel guilty for how they feel.

If you find yourself hiding your negative emotions and only letting them out when you’re completely alone, that can often be a big red flag that you are experiencing trauma bonding.

Friend and Family Aren’t Supportive of Your Relationship

It’s one thing if you have parents who feel like no one deserves to be with you and will speak out against anyone you date. But it’s an entirely different thing to have all of your friends and family tell you that they don’t like your partner and don’t think the relationship is good for you.

At first, you’ll likely feel protective and as if they just don’t understand. But the reality is that these people know you more than anyone and can see a change in your behavior that even you haven’t noticed. That’s why listening to your friends’ and family’s concerns is vital to recognize that you’re in a toxic relationship that has led to trauma bonding.

Trauma Bonding: What is it and why do we do it

Playing Multiple Roles for the Abuser

If you find that you are “wearing several hats” for your abuser, meaning you play a number of roles for them, that can be a red flag. For example, they might look to you to be their lover, best friend, parent, therapist, teacher, babysitter, etc. 

By taking on all of these roles, you are being taken advantage of and developing an even stronger trauma bond because you feel like you need to be all of these things to the abuser. It also leads to a weakened identity, making it more difficult to recognize negative changes in yourself.

Don’t Let Trauma Bonding Control Your Life

Traumatic bonding can have a terrible effect on not only yourself but also on other relationships you have with family and friends. By understanding what trauma bonding is, who is most at risk of doing it, and what the common signs are, you can recognize red flags and protect yourself from abusive partners and abusive people moving forward. 

If you think you are experiencing trauma bonding, it’s important to seek help so you can safely move forward with your life. Take a look at our program information page to learn more about what services we offer and how our programs can help you overcome trauma bonding.

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