What is a trauma bond and how to break free from it


Trauma bonds are psychological and emotional bonds formed between a victim of abuse and his abuser. These bonds are not healthy, and need to be broken.

All Money Heist fans would admit that Monicaโ€™s romantic relationship with Denver was a clear example of the Stockholm syndrome. In fact, she was even named Stockholm later in the show. Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological response of a victim sharing a positive association with his or her abuser. This is an example of a trauma bond.

Other examples may include going through an abusive relationship, or following a leader or a certain cult. Trauma bonds are bonds that are formed between a person who is being abused and the person who is abusing. For sound mental health and well-being, it is imperative that we break out of these trauma bonds. Psychiatrist Dr Pavana S talks to Health Shots, highlighting the kinds of trauma bonds and how to break out of them.

What is a trauma bond?

A trauma bond refers to a strong emotional connection that forms between individuals who have experienced intense, often traumatic, situations, and the person who is causing these situations for them. โ€œThese bonds can occur in various relationships, including romantic partnerships, familial connections, friendships, or even with abusers. They are characterised by a complex connection of emotions such as fear, dependency, loyalty, and a distorted sense of attachment,โ€ explains Dr Pavana.

Different aspects of trauma bonds

All trauma bonds surely have these two characteristics.

1. Cyclical Nature

Trauma bonds often follow a cyclical pattern, where periods of intense emotional closeness and bonding are interspersed with episodes of conflict, abuse, or betrayal. This cycle can create a sense of unpredictability and keep individuals trapped in the relationship.

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2. Power Imbalance

Trauma bonds frequently involve a power imbalance, where one person holds significant control or influence over the other. This power dynamic can perpetuate feelings of helplessness and dependency, making it difficult for the victim to break free from the bond.

A man and woman fighting.
A bad relationship, and an inability to break up, is an example of a trauma bond. Image courtesy: Pexels

Key signs of trauma bonds

1. Intense emotional attachment

Individuals in trauma bonds often feel deeply connected to their abuser or the person they are bonded to, despite experiencing harm or mistreatment.

2. Difficulty leaving the relationship

Victims may find it challenging to leave the relationship, even when they recognize its harmful dynamics.

Also Read: The right way to break up with a toxic partner: A psychiatrist offers advice

3. Rationalising abuse

They may rationalise or minimise the abusive behaviour of the other person, blaming themselves or believing that the abuserโ€™s actions are justified.

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4. Isolation from support systems

Abusers may manipulate victims into isolating themselves from friends, family, or other sources of support, further reinforcing the bond. Often they end up being in toxic relationship and cannot get out of it.

Why do trauma bonds develop?

Trauma bonds develop due to the following factors:

1. Repeated exposure to trauma

Individuals who experience ongoing trauma or abuse may develop bonds with their perpetrators as a coping mechanism.

2. Attachment needs

People with unmet emotional needs or insecure attachment styles may be more susceptible to forming trauma bonds in search of validation and connection.

3. Manipulation and control

Abusers often use tactics such as gaslighting, love bombing and intermittent reinforcement to manipulate and control their victims, fostering a sense of dependency and loyalty.

The freeze response is a common reaction to trauma. โ€œThis is where individuals feel immobilized or paralyzed in the face of perceived danger,โ€ explains Dr Pavana. It is one of the bodyโ€™s instinctual survival mechanisms, designed to protect against further harm by minimizing movement and drawing less attention.

How to break a trauma bond?

Breaking a trauma bond requires careful and deliberate steps to reclaim autonomy and establish healthier relationship dynamics. Here are some key steps:

1. Acknowledge the reality

Recognise and accept that the relationship is unhealthy and harmful, and acknowledge the impact it has had on your well-being.

2. Seek support

Reach out to trusted friends, family members, or mental health professionals who can offer validation, empathy, and practical assistance.

A girl crying with a friend or her partner.
Support for family members is important to break out of a trauma bond. Image courtesy: Pexels

3. Set boundaries

Establish clear boundaries with thethe person you are bonded to, and communicate your needs and expectations assertively.

4. Focus on self-care

Prioritise self-care activities that nurture your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being, such as exercise, mindfulness, hobbies, and relaxation techniques.

5. Create a safety plan

Develop a safety plan that outlines steps to protect yourself in case of emergency or escalation of abuse, including access to resources such as shelters or hotlines.

6. Build a support network

Cultivate connections with supportive individuals and communities who can provide encouragement, validation, and companionship as you navigate the healing process.

7. Seek therapy and healing

Engage in therapy or counselling to explore underlying trauma, address negative beliefs and patterns, and develop healthier coping strategies and relationship skills.



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