What is Trauma Bonding and how to break free from toxic relationships

Many of my clients ask me about “Trauma Bonding”. Before I define it, let me make something clear first: trauma is something that happens to us, it is not something that is wrong with us. Labeling someone with trauma bonding can make her/him feel as though there is something wrong with them, and this can hinder recovery and healing.

So, trauma bonding defined: trauma bonding occurs as a result of ongoing cycles of abuse in which the intermittent reinforcement of reward and punishment creates a powerful emotional bond that is resistant to change because of the time spent together.

Through the eyes of a “survivor” of emotional abuse, and someone who witnessed children growing up in a controlling, emotionally dangerous environment, I see trauma bonding as something that is ingrained and learned through repetition and reprimanding by an abuser on those whom they are using for their own sense of security, power, and authority.

When trauma, control, or manipulation are used as weapons for someone to gain a feeling of control, power, attention, or admiration, there are consequences. Consequences that result in punishment, criticism, or even being discarded. Those who are in the lives of the abusers are in a process of learning how to survive within an abusive environment.

They are learning to please the abuser in order to avoid conflict, and also to keep their attention on the abuser in an attempt to stay one step ahead of the unpredictability and inconsistencies of the abuser. In so doing, they become very accustomed to keeping their full attention on the abuser in order to survive.

Trauma bonding becomes almost a security blanket for those affected.

The closer they stay to the abuser, the safer they feel. If they stay close, they are better equipped to handle the trauma and abuse that occurs. The abuser knows that keeping them close will ensure that the control over them will remain constant as the cycle continues.

Further, and perhaps more dangerous, consequences occur when those affected by trauma bonding attempt to leave the unhealthy and abusive situation. They hope to feel free, to feel relieved. They hope to be able to move forward, but because of the intense survival training they learned, they no longer know where to find their security. Victims continue to feel like they are more secure when they are around their abusers because they have gotten so good at reading the behavior of the abuser. They have also become so dependent on the abuser for their security that they will feel completely insecure once the abuser is no longer there.

Bonding with the abuser is normal. It is a result of having to remain close in order to survive. Distancing oneself from the abuser will initially only heighten the fear of the unknown and the feeling of uncertainty.

Knowing how and why trauma bonding occurs is the only way to break free. When you can understand why a feeling of insecurity initially sets in after leaving an abusive environment rather than a feeling of freedom that one anticipated, it is the beginning of the journey towards healing.

By finding security in yourself and the abilities that you have developed to survive, by placing your attention on yourself that once was solely on the abuser, by focusing on taking care of and pleasing yourself instead of the one who demanded to be pleased, is how one breaks free from trauma bonding.

Trauma bonding is not something that is wrong with you.

It is something that happened to you because of someone who intended to control you fully. You have the ability to bond with yourself in the same way you did with the abuser. Giving yourself the same attention, the same respect, and the same time and energy will override the feeling that you are losing something. The bond with yourself will soon replace the bond you had with the abuser and you will feel that you are absolutely enough and fully capable of living for yourself.

I have broken the bonds and I am free. You can also.

If you need help breaking free you can get free resources at my breaking free from toxic relationships website.