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Trauma Bonding Signs (And How to Break a Trauma Bond)

by | Dec 20, 2022 | 0 comments

The term “narcissism” on this blog is used to describe a specific set of personality traits. It is not intended to be used as a professional diagnosis.

As I have been writing more and more about narcissists and emotional abuse, I started to come across the term “trauma bonding.”

I was fascinated to learn that narcissists and toxic abusers can take manipulation and control to a whole new level!

Not that I was surprised – toxic abusers, especially narcissists, are capable of doing whatever it takes to gain control over someone else.

As I learned more about trauma bonding, I realized that this clearly defined the situation I was in with my ex years ago.

Thankfully, I’m out of it now, but I want to share this phenomenon with you to help you understand your situation.

Knowing what you are going through is the first step in dealing with your partner, especially when it comes to leaving them.

Are you ready to learn more about trauma bonding with a narcissist?

What is Trauma Bonding?

Trauma bonding is the attachment an abused person feels for their abuser and typically happens in a relationship where there is a toxic cycle of abuse.

This cycle involves abusive treatment and positive reinforcement – after the abuser mistreats the victim, they shower them with love, apologies, regret, and promises in an effort to make the victim feel safe and needed.

It’s because of trauma bonding that leaving a toxic relationship is extremely difficult!

This confusing cycle of abuse and “love” leaves the victim feeling dependent and attached to the abuser. They begin to believe that their abusive partner is the only one who can take care of them and validate them.

According to Patrick Carnes, Ph.D. (the person who coined the term in 1997), trauma bonding is a way that the brain handles trauma by adapting behaviors in order to survive.

In fact, trauma bonding can have a negative impact on the brain, causing panic disorders, fatigue, brain fog, sleep issues, flashbacks, and avoidant behavior.

In the past, this phenomenon was often referred to as Stockholm syndrome, but nowadays, it doesn’t really describe the different situations and ways that trauma bonding can occur.

Trauma bonding often happens in toxic relationships with narcissists but can also occur within friendships, work relationships, and families.

The Stages of Trauma Bonding & Trauma Bonding Signs

Love Bombing

Love bombing is a manipulation tactic involving sudden and intense behaviors like excessive flattery and attempting to create a relationship quickly.

This behavior encourages the victim to open up and become emotionally vulnerable, allowing the abuser to swoop in with promises of “loving them like no one else has.”

When the victim lets their guard down, they begin to trust the abuser’s intentions, which they believe to be good.

Love bombing also creates positive feelings toward the abuser and a sense of security and stability.

Dependency and Trust

After the love bombing, the abuser will test the victim’s dependency and trust by behaving in certain ways that the victim may call into question.

When the victim does, the abuser then makes them feel guilty for questioning them, often bringing up their “ungratefulness” for everything the abuser did for them during the love bombing stage.

It is these behaviors that formulate the idea that the victim can trust the abuser, even though this trust is completely false.

Criticism

Once the abuser knows they have the victim’s trust, they will start to criticize the victim by picking apart their qualities and making them feel insignificant or problematic.

This criticism is a trauma bonding sign and can be sudden and noticeable during arguments or disagreements. The abuser will blame their partner, which makes the victim feel obligated to apologize.

Then, the victim starts to believe that their partner truly loves them because they are forgiven by the abuser. They also believe that the abusive partner cares about them because they seemingly want what is best for the victim.

It’s this back-and-forth of criticism and apologizing that begins the formation of the trauma bond.

Manipulation and Gaslighting

Gaslighting is a specific form of manipulation that makes the victim question their reality.

For instance, the victim may bring up something insulting the abuser said, but the abuser will deny ever saying it – and they won’t back down from this claim.

The victim then begins to question their memory and whether or not the abuser said it at all.

Gaslighters also shift blame to their victims and never take responsibility for anything.

Gaslighting can also involve something called “reactive abuse,” in which the victim lashes out against the abuser in a way that is uncharacteristic.

They then begin to question their own identity, which can lead to confusion and isolation.

Giving Up

At some point, the victim of the manipulative trauma bond may start to give up to avoid conflict with the abuser.

They sometimes engage in people-pleasing behavior to try and stabilize the relationship.

Oftentimes, this means apologizing and being compliant, but it can also involve things like moving in together, getting married, and having kids.

This is when it becomes extremely difficult for the abused to leave – they have become dependent upon the abuser, along with questioning whether or not they are to blame for the abuser’s behavior.

At this point, it is also likely that the abuser will become extremely angry and even violent if the victim tries to leave the relationship.

Addiction to the Cycle

These stages of trauma bonding can become cyclical, meaning that they repeat during the relationship.

After a conflict, there may be a cool-down period that often involves love bombing, which makes the victim feel relieved and wanted.

However, this only reinforces their dependency on the abuser and the cycle.

Instead of love bombing, the abuser may become avoidant of the victim and withhold love and affection to pressure the victim into apologizing.

When the victim feels responsible for the conflict, they may do things to “win back” the abuser and develop a false sense of control – and believe that the abuser must truly love them if they are willing to forgive them.

5 Trauma Bonding Signs

 

Even if you know how manipulative trauma bonds work, it can sometimes be difficult to recognize whether or not you are trapped in one.

If you think that maybe you’re stuck in a toxic trauma bond, here are some trauma bonding signs to look out for:

1. Things Move Too Fast Too Soon

Toxic abusers, such as narcissists, will try to rope you into a relationship quickly so that you commit to them before you realize who they truly are.

They push to begin a relationship early on in the dating phase.

They do this through love bombing and making you feel like a rockstar. They portray themselves as someone who gets you, supports you, and will love you forever.

Who could resist that?

2. You Ignore Red Flags

Abusers will shower you with promises of love, safety, and trust, and you become enamored by their confidence and charisma.

This actually affects you on a biochemical level, causing your brain to release happy hormones like dopamine and oxytocin, which pushes you to create an attachment with the abuser.

You become addicted to them, craving the positive attention and suffering the negative because you know they will treat you with love and affection again.

Even when their mask slips off, you ignore red flags because the addiction to the happy feelings overrides your sense of intuition.

3. You Defend Your Partner’s Behavior

 

I you find that you are defending your partner’s bad behaviors, this is one of the signs that you’re in a toxic trauma bond relationship.

You may find yourself saying things like, “They acted that way because I pushed them,” or, “They treat me like this because they love me.”

You may be saying these things to other people who are noticing these behaviors, or you may be saying them to yourself.

Either way, if you know their behaviors are bad and you still make excuses for them, that’s a sure sign of a toxic trauma bond.

4. Your Relationship Drains You

Even if your relationship has some “happy” moments, you may feel like being with your partner is an energy drain and leaves you feeling emotionally exhausted and stressed.

The conflicts are draining. The people pleasing is draining. Being blamed all of the time is draining.

Healthy relationships have their ups and downs, but you should never feel like you’re in a constant state of stress when it comes to your partner.

5. You Don’t Feel Like Yourself

Coercive control is a huge part of manipulative trauma bonds, which is a pattern of behaviors used to control someone and take away their sense of self.

These behaviors can lead to you feeling isolated from your friends and family – because they can’t stand your partner or because your partner has convinced you that they don’t want you around.

Controlling treatment can also include limiting your access to finances, monitoring what you do, and depriving you of affection.

These behaviors can leave you feeling confused about who you are and where you belong in the world, leading to a loss of self and isolation.

How to Break a Toxic Trauma Bond

Stop Blaming Yourself

Whether you are blaming yourself for the problems in your relationship or blaming yourself for being too weak to leave, it’s time to stop!

During a manipulative trauma bond, your brain is actually rewired to be loyal to your abuser and try to see the best in the situation.

Processing the situation can help you reprogram your brain so that can break the trauma bond and stop putting up with the situation as a survival tactic.

The following steps can help you view your situation objectively.

Start Journaling

One defense mechanism when experiencing a trauma bond is denial – you block out, forget, or rewrite what is really happening and focus on the promises and love-bombing.

To help you face the reality of your situation, start keeping a journal and write down what is happening to you and what your partner has said or done.

(Please keep this journal safe so your partner won’t find it!)

Stick to the facts, writing down both the good and the bad to see what patterns emerge.

Seek Support

Unbiased and objective support is key to breaking free from a trauma bond!

This means finding someone who is not involved in the situation and invested in your choices that you can talk to, such as an online support group or therapist.

Oftentimes, people get trapped in trauma bonds because they experienced trauma in the past. Speaking to a therapist can help you deal with your past trauma and develop the strength and confidence you need to break the cycle.

Manipulative Trauma Bonds

Trauma bonds are super toxic and can be difficult to deal with or leave.

However, learning about them is an important step in breaking a trauma bond!

Remember, if you are stuck in a trauma bond, it’s because your brain is telling you that you have no other choice but you really do.

Speak to a professional or someone who can help you come to terms with your situation so you can find the strength to leave this toxic relationship.

Are you dealing with a trauma bond? What is making it difficult to leave? Share your story in the comments below!

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