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How to Heal From Trauma Bonding?

Learn more about what trauma bonding is, why it happens, and how to heal from this unhealthy attachment here.

What Is Trauma Bonding?

Many people are involved in abusive relationships with others, such as a significant other, a parent or sibling, or even people they consider “friends.” Despite these unhealthy relationships, people still find it difficult to leave these types of situations, and one reason why this could happen is because of trauma bonding.

Trauma bonding is when an abused person becomes mentally and emotionally connected to and reliant upon their abuser, despite their abuser’s dangerous and unhealthy behavior. It often makes people compelled to stay in their relationship because they feel like they “need” this other person. They may even have many fond and positive memories of their abuser, even when they know it’s not safe or healthy to stay in this type of relationship.1

trauma bonding

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When Does Trauma Bonding Occur?

Trauma bonding is most often found in romantic relationships, but it can also result from abusive behavior from parents as a child or teenager. This type of dynamic often creates feelings of dependency.

Signs of Trauma Bonding

The signs of this type of attachment will often differ depending on the type and length of the relationship with the abuser. For example, signs of abusive relationships with a romantic partner are often different from those with a friend or family member. Some common signs that you or a loved one may be in a traumatically bonded relationship include: 2

  • Showing symptoms of PTSD
  • Experiencing a strong emotional bond with your abuser
  • Exhibiting gratitude for small acts of kindness from your abuser
  • Denying or rationalizing abuse
  • Hyper-focusing on the abuser’s wants or needs
  • Accepting or agreeing with abuser’s point of view
  • Acting in ways that are contrary to your own values
  • Perceiving anyone who encourages you to leave the abusive relationship as an enemy or “wrong”
  • Having difficulty leaving the abusive relationship
  • Power imbalances

Recognizing the Signs

If you or a loved one start to notice any of these signs, it’s important to reach out for help from domestic abuse centers, therapy offices, or even the police if necessary.

When Can Trauma Bonding Happen?

The root causes of trauma bonding are varied and will look different for everyone depending on their specific situation and relationship with their abuser. Trauma bonds can occur over days, weeks, or months, and it often occurs due to narcissistic behavior from the abuser. Narcissists are people who generally only care about themselves and will exhibit signs of manipulation against other people. 3

Risk Factors for Trauma Bonding

Some common ways that trauma bonding might happen include:

  • Domestic abuse, including physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse
  • Any form of child abuse
  • Physical or emotional incest
  • Elder abuse
  • Kidnapping or hostage-taking (commonly coined as “Stockholm syndrome”)
  • Human trafficking
  • Religious extremism or cults

In many instances, it is not obvious or noticeable to the victim that they are involved in a traumatic and abusive relationship. Abusers are adept at keeping their victims reliant upon them in many ways, which is why it’s important to learn the signs and causes.

Causes of Trauma Bonding

Some of the most common causes of this type of abusive behavior are power imbalances, intermittent abuse, and polyvictimization. These may also be exacerbated by hormones as well.

Power Imbalance

Often, the victim in an abusive relationship is conditioned to see themselves as “weaker” than their abuser. This is intentional by the abuser, as they need the victim to see them as their “savior.” Over time, the victim will see themselves as entirely reliant upon their abuser for their health and well-being.

Intermittent Abuse

This type of abuse is what often makes people question if they are in an abusive relationship because the abuse doesn’t “always” happen. Intermittent abuse is often followed by apologies, gifts, or improved behavior, which can confuse the victim and make them think that “it’s not all bad.”


Polyvictimization is when someone has been subjected to many types of abuse, such as emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, family violence, bullying, narcissistic behavior, and many others. This often causes a person to become vulnerable to abuse later on in life as well, especially if they haven’t received therapy or other help to help them realize this kind of behavior is not healthy. 4

Stages of Trauma Bonding

In an abusive relationship, there are often many stages. These include: 5

  • Love Bombing: This is when your abuser overwhelms you with affection, such as sending extravagant gifts or creating overly strong emotional bonds early on.
  • Trust and Dependency: Often, an abuser will try to show themselves to be worthy of trust so you may become dependent upon them.
  • Criticism: Abusers will criticize the victim in a way that makes the victim question themselves or make them think they “deserve” the criticism, even if they did nothing wrong.
  • Gaslighting: Abusers will often make victims question their reality by saying things “never happened.” They may even start to make the victim think that abuse is “normal.”
  • Resigning to Control: Over time, victims will resign themselves to the behavior as a safety or coping mechanism.
  • Loss of Self: During this type of abusive behavior, victims often lose their sense of self in an attempt to appease their abuser.
  • Repetition: This cycle often continues over and over so that abusers can continue to control their victim.

How to Heal From Trauma Bonding

It’s important for a victim to remember that it’s not their fault for being in an abusive relationship. Trauma bonding can happen to anyone, and it’s difficult to break the cycle of abuse, especially when it may be behavior you or a loved one are used to.

Working to heal from trauma is an important step, and recognizing the signs and symptoms can greatly help you as you look to leave an abusive relationship. Healing from abuse, whether it be from a romantic partner, family member, or friend, will look different for everyone.

Initiating Healing and Wellness

A few key ways you can start the healing process include:

  • Knowing what you’re dealing with
  • Talking to loved ones
  • Making a safe exit plan
  • Avoiding blaming yourself
  • Cutting off contact with your abuser completely
  • Getting professional help

Your safety is of utmost importance, so please make sure you take these steps as slowly or with as much support as possible.

signs of trauma bonding

Find Treatment at Ripple Ranch

If you or a loved one notice the signs of trauma bonding in any type of relationship, it is important to reach out for professional help. Ripple Ranch Recovery Center can help you figure out if you’re in an abusive relationship and provide ways to start getting the help you need to heal, especially if you have experienced polyvictimization.

We offer many types of psychotherapy at our treatment center, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, trauma-focused therapy, and family systems therapy. Ripple Ranch Recovery Center focuses on holistic and patient-centered approaches for all our clients. Our compassionate and supportive staff will help create an individualized plan for you or your loved one based on your needs and any co-occurring disorders.

Reach Out to Ripple Ranch for Optimal Wellness

Reach out to Ripple Ranch Recovery today. We will be with you every step of the way during your recovery and can help you overcome any hardships or potential issues you may face.