September 27, 2022

What is Trauma Bonding?

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Dr. Priya Chaudhri
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When we think of forming a bond with someone, it is usually something positive. In reality, though, not all bonds are healthy. Trauma bonding is an emotional connection that occurs between a victim and his or her abuser.

What is Trauma Bonding?

When someone experiences ongoing abuse, they may develop something called trauma bonding. A trauma bond is a type of attachment that forms between an abuser and the victim over time. This type of bonding is not common in all abusive relationships but tends to happen in people who lack confidence or have low self-esteem.

Trauma bonding occurs when the victim becomes attached emotionally to the perpetrator, whether through a sense of duty, sympathy, or a romantic bond. Stockholm Syndrome is an extreme type of trauma bonding, where the victim actually defends the abuser.

The abuse is not only about physical abuse or violence. Abuse can be psychological or financial as well. What all types of abuse share in common are the perpetrator’s desire to control the victim.

Causes of Trauma Bonding

One of the key causes of trauma bonding is a pattern of forming unhealthy attachments. This begins in childhood and continues throughout life unless treatment is obtained. Sometimes the victim comes to believe they owe their loyalty to the perpetrator because of financial dependence. The victim may feel they cannot escape, and may even have been isolated from their friends and family.

The trauma bond develops over time as part of a cycle of abuse. This is a predictable pattern of inflicting abuse and followed by remorse. This keeps the abused person off balance. The victim so wants to be loved by the abuser and eagerly believes them when they vow to change. After a calm period, the abuse repeats, followed by remorse, and so on.

Signs of Trauma Bonding

There are certain traits that distinguish the victim’s response to the trauma as unique to trauma bonding. Some of the telltale signs of trauma bonding include:

  • The victim covers for the abuser, making excuses for him or her.
  • The victim feels they are lost without the abuser.
  • The victim displays anger or hostility when someone tries to stop the abuse.
  • The victim accepts the abuser’s explanation for why they mistreat them.
  • The victim resists leaving the abuser, even when offered help.
  • The victim avoids loved ones who want to provide help and support.

6 Ways to Break Unhealthy Bonds

Trauma bonding is difficult to break. This is because the victim may have a lifelong pattern of dysfunctional attachments. They may gravitate toward these types of abusive relationships due to a deep-seated lack of self-worth. They come to believe that this is how they deserve to be treated.

However, some victims will reach a tipping point and decide to extract themselves from the abuser. This can be hard to do, especially if the abuser is violent or cruel. Here are six tips to break free from abuse:

  1. Admit there is abuse. Once the unhealthy bond is acknowledged, it becomes a catalyst for change. Noting that you are in an abuse cycle helps you decide to detach from the abuser.
  2. Get support. Domestic violence assistance centers offer victim advocate support. Get in touch with a local center and ask them for guidance and specific steps to take to safely leave the abuser.
  3. Cut off contact. Remove yourself from the abuser. Even if you are financially dependent, you can find a friend who will offer temporary housing or support. Avoid all types of contact, including texting and phone calls.
  4. See the bond as a type of addiction. Breaking the grip of a trauma bond is a lot like freeing yourself from a substance. Once you see it in that light you will be able to recognize the cycle you have been in. Just as addiction causes cravings, the abuse cycle also results in cravings (for love, attention, and acceptance).
  5. Practice self-care. Realize that you have been through an ordeal, and be kind to yourself. Not only for healing but for managing the stress that is still to come. Examples of self-care are yoga classes, taking up a new hobby, keeping a journal, or getting daily exercise. Taking these self-care actions will reduce the risk of going back to the abuser.
  6. Get professional mental health support. After you have been enmeshed in a trauma bond for any length of time, you are likely to need therapy. Therapy helps you learn how to identify the factors that caused you to become bonded to the abuser. It also teaches you how to create boundaries within a healthy relationship.

How Residential Treatment Can Help Overcome Trauma Bonding

Sometimes a higher level of care is needed following a long-term abuse cycle. A residential program provides a private home setting for a more intensive approach to the healing process. These therapies are helpful for treating abuse and trauma:

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  This therapy is designed for helping you overcome trauma by reshaping the thoughts associated with the trauma. With TFCBT, the trauma victim shares their feelings about the abuse. The therapist then explains how and why withdrawal, guilt, loneliness, and anxiety have resulted. This helps you examine the negative thoughts about the abuse and reframe them in a more productive manner.

Exposure Therapy. This is a short-term behavioral therapy that helps you become less sensitive to the memories or triggers related to the trauma. It helps you discuss the event in a safe space, which gradually reduces the impact of the trauma. This helps you overcome any avoidance behaviors since the trauma.

Psychodynamic Therapy. This is a longer-term therapy that delves into childhood experiences and how they may relate to issues in your adult life. The insights gained can help you create healthier adult relationships.

Elevation Behavioral Health Offers Residential Mental Health Treatment

Elevation Behavioral Health is a private residential setting where someone struggling with trauma bonding will receive compassionate, evidence-based treatment. Our serene setting and dedicated therapists make Elevation the perfect place to begin the healing process. Call us today at (888) 561-0868.

Our team of experts is here to help you.