Trauma Bonding with Intimate Partner Violence
Trauma bonding occurs in abusive relationships that can harm someone’s well-being. With the right treatment and support, you can break the trauma bond.
What is Trauma Bonding?
Trauma bonding occurs in abusive relationships where the person experiencing abuse begins to feel sympathy for the abusive partner. Trauma bonds tend to result in attachment and dependence that makes it difficult for the person experiencing abuse to leave the relationship. It results in a reoccurring cycle of abuse.1
Training to Believe
When someone is experiencing relationship abuse, the abusive partner will often alternate abuse with positive experiences, which is a form of psychological abuse that will ultimately form a trauma bond. In these situations, the person receiving abuse is trained to believe that the situation will improve or may even feel like they deserve the abuse.2
How to Recognize Signs of Trauma Bonding
It isn’t always easy to tell if someone is experiencing relationship abuse. Those who are receiving intimate partner violence will often try to cover it up and like there is not a problem. However, there are common signs you can look for to determine if you or someone you know is experiencing trauma bonding.
When someone is experiencing physical or emotional abuse in a toxic relationship, they will often try to cover it up. If you find yourself being afraid to express your emotions, especially around your partner, this is a sign you may be experiencing trauma bonding. Abusive partners will often display narcissistic behavior and will make you feel bad or like you’re to blame if you express negative emotions towards the relationship.
If you think someone is experiencing relationship abuse, look for signs of them being withdrawn or not fully expressing themselves. This behavior is often a sign they are holding back negative feelings associated with physical or emotional abuse.
Someone who is experiencing trauma bonding may also show physical signs of abuse that are common with domestic violence. Physical signs of domestic violence may include:3
- Black eyes
- Broken bones
- Broken glasses
- Rope marks
- Tense or slouching posture (especially around abusive partner)
All of these physical signs can show that someone is experiencing domestic violence and trauma bonding in a toxic relationship. Intimate partner violence can be damaging to someone’s life in many ways. If someone is experiencing these signs their well-being and even their life may be in danger, which is why it is essential for those experiencing relationship abuse to get proper help and support.
Those who are experiencing relationship abuse may try to protect the abuser or defend their behavior, which is often due to the abuser’s narcissistic behavior, emotional abuse, and manipulation. When the person receiving abuse pushes people away who disagree with the relationship, the abuser’s narcissistic behavior will often cause them to show love and affection following these acts of protectiveness.
Why it Happens
Trauma bonding is often the result of a freezing response to a traumatic event. The person receiving abuse often will not know what to do about their situation, so they freeze up and begin to rationalize what’s happening. This often leads to feelings of sympathy for the abuser.
Common Risk Factors
Common risk factors can make someone more likely to experience trauma bonding in a toxic relationship.
Poor Mental Health
Poor mental health can often lead to someone staying or even feeling drawn to an abusive relationship. Mental health issues can make you begin to make false rationalizations and begin to feel like you deserve the mistreatment.
Physical or emotional abuse can also lead to poor mental health over time. Experiencing mental health issues as a result of abuse can make it difficult for someone to find the strength to leave. They may even begin to feel reliant on the abuser.
Low self-esteem is often a big reason why someone forms a trauma bond and will stay in an abusive relationship. Those with low self-esteem will often feel like they deserve to be treated poorly. Relationship abuse can also create low self-esteem that makes someone feel like they deserve mistreatment.
Being financially dependent in an abusive relationship can cause the victim of abuse to form a trauma bond. They may not feel like they have any options or anywhere to go, so they become reliant on their partner for financial support.
History of Being Bullied
Those with a history of being bullied may often begin to normalize abusive relationships. They may feel like this type of treatment is normal or what they deserve. This false rationalizing will begin to form a trauma bond over time.
Lack of Personal Identity
Someone who lacks personal identity will often see the relationship as a significant part of their life that defines them. This lack of identity can often lead to trauma bonds occurring in abusive relationships.
How to Break the Bond
It can often be difficult for someone with a trauma bond to leave the relationship. However, with support and the right course of action, you can break free from trauma bonding.
When breaking the bond, it is vital to understand that the other person’s abusive behavior is not your fault. Nobody should feel like they are being mistreated or hurt in a relationship. It may take some time to work through this trauma and get an understanding of the situation.
When leaving an abusive relationship, aim to avoid self-blame for the other person’s behavior or for not leaving earlier. These situations are never easy. It’s important to start to create positive actions and thoughts. If you’re feeling doubtful, remind yourself that you deserve to be treated better and you are taking the right steps by leaving.
To break the bond, you must cut contact with the other person. If you keep in contact with them, they will likely try to convince you to come back. Even though you may still care for them, it is important for you to begin focusing on treating yourself right.
Seeking Support from Loved Ones
When leaving an abusive relationship, seeking support from others who support and care about you can help keep you on track. Seeking support through positive relationships in your life will help you feel like you’re not dependent on the abuser and you can begin to break the trauma bond.
Get Professional Help
If you are in an abusive relationship and need help, you can call the domestic violence hotline to get immediate resources for support. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or go to thehotline.org for more information.4
Adult Protective Services
Adult protective services are available for adults at risk who have been abused, neglected, or exploited. If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, you can contact the adult protective services organization in your area to get help and resources for your situation.5
Get Professional Treatment
Professional treatment for trauma bonding and abuse is available. If you are leaving an abusive relationship, you do not have to go through it alone. Talking to a therapist or going to an abuse treatment center can be a good idea to get the proper help and support that is needed.