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Understanding Trauma Bonding and How to Break It

When we hear the phrase “trauma bonding,” we might think of the way two or more individuals form a connection through a shared traumatic event. This may include bonds formed after a school shooting, childhood abuse, or a natural disaster. Forming connections with others who have similar experiences can help us close wounds, discuss our emotions, and move forward together.

But what if the bond we share is with an individual who hurts us or continues to abuse us? Forming a psychological bond to an individual who does not want the best for us is both powerful and incredibly dangerous. Unfortunately, it is far too common with victims of domestic and emotional abuse. Here is what to know about trauma bonding, as well as some top tips on breaking it.

What is Trauma Bonding?

Trauma bonding is an intense, subconscious psychological reaction to emotional abuse or violence. It is like Stockholm syndrome in that the abused develops sympathy or makes excuses for the person who is abusing them. Children with abusive parents may experience trauma bonds as well as domestic abuse survivors. These bonds keep people in unhealthy codependent relationships and often put their lives on the line.

We create trauma bonds to avoid seeing a person that we love and trust for who they really are. In a sense, it is a very effective defense mechanism. When we are in a relationship, we want to believe that we are with someone who truly cares about us. We may use several excuses to justify bad behavior, even thinking that we as victims deserve it because of our own shortcomings. Trauma bonding is extremely destructive. It prevents people from leaving toxic relationships, seeing matters rationally, or reporting abuse to authorities.

3 Steps to Break Trauma Bonding

We know how dangerous trauma bonding can be, but how can someone stuck in it put an end to this false way of thinking? While there is no one easy answer, there are some best practices:

  • Know the 7 Signs – There are seven signs of trauma bonding: Being love bombed (perpetrator showing grand displays of affection), boundaries are broken and tested, partner criticizes you constantly, feeling manipulated, resigning to people pleasing (victim tries to please perpetrator to “calm waters”), a sense of identity loss, and a continuation of the abuse cycle. Understanding what to look for will help you identify the abuse and see it for what it is.

  • Practice Self- Compassion – Talking to yourself in a loving way is critical to overcoming a trauma bond. Notice when and where you feel emotional pain, validate your distress, and ask for help. Find a therapist who can help you work through the feelings you have, and contact loved ones who will tell you their honest and loving perspective on the relationship.

  • Make a Plan and Find Support – Leaving an emotionally or physically abusive relationship can be frightening. Make a plan to get out safely and lean on loved ones for support. Contact the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 800-799-7233 if you need resources or someone to talk to. After you have left, visit a therapist to help break the “brainwashing” you experienced and move forward. Remember that you are worth it.

Resources for Abuse

Here are some top resources if you are experiencing emotional or physical abuse in the Orange County or Los Angeles area:

  • National Domestic Abuse Hotline – #800-799-7233

  • Straight Talk Counseling - #714-828-2000

  • Family Crisis Center - #213-745-6434

  • A Safe Place - #510-536-7233

  • CalHOPE - #833-317-4673

Are you in an unhealthy relationship? Do you need someone to talk to? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our quick exit website at One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.

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