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How to Get Over a Trauma Bond: Healing and Moving Forward

* I generally write using the pronouns he/him when referring to narcissists, but females are just as likely to be narcissists or exhibit narcissistic traits. So please don't think just because article uses the word him or he that it could not be a woman in that same role.

Trauma bonding refers to a complex psychological phenomenon where an intense emotional bond develops between an abuser and their victim. This connection arises from intermittent positive reinforcement amidst cycles of abuse, leading to a strong attachment.

Victims often struggle to break free due to the emotional dependency and conflicting feelings they experience. Understanding trauma bonding is crucial to support survivors and facilitate their healing process.

These bonds form in various types of relationships, such as abusive romantic partnerships, family relationships, and even hostage situations.

Breaking free from a trauma bond is a complex and difficult process, but with the right information, support, and professional help, healing and moving forward is entirely possible.

Understanding Trauma Bonds and Abusive Relationships

In an abusive relationship, a cycle of abuse often occurs, characterized by alternating phases of affection and mistreatment.

This cycle can lead to cognitive dissonance, where the victim experiences conflicting emotions about their abusive partner. During the “good times,” positive reinforcement and love bombing may make the victim feel a deep emotional attachment to their abuser.

This unhealthy attachment is a hallmark of a trauma-bonded relationship.

Recognizing the Stages and Signs of a Trauma Bond

Understanding the stages of trauma bonding can aid in recognizing the signs and ultimately breaking free.

These stages include:

  1. Idealization: The abuser showers the victim with affection, attention, and gifts, creating a sense of euphoria and emotional connection.
  2. Devaluation: The abuser’s behavior shifts, becoming critical, manipulative, and hurtful. This phase erodes the victim’s self-esteem and confidence.
  3. Crisis: The relationship reaches a breaking point, often due to the victim’s attempt to assert independence or challenge the abuser’s control.
  4. Reconciliation: The abuser offers apologies, affection, and sometimes gifts to win the victim back. This cycle reinforces the emotional attachment.

Victims of abuse might feel an emotional imbalance during these stages, leading to a toxic cycle of attachment.

Dr. Patrick Carnes calls these types of destructive attachments “betrayal bonds” based on a forged relationship and can occur in romantic relationships, friendships, within the family, and the workplace.

In his book Betrayal Bonds, he mentions a number of signs that a person is involved in an unhealthy bond with a partner or other significant person.

Some warning signs of a trauma bond include:

  • Intense Emotional Attachment: Feeling emotionally dependent on the abusive partner despite their hurtful actions.
  • Nervous System Responses: Experiencing an automatic “fawn response” when the abuser shows affection as a survival mechanism.
  • Cognitive Dissonance: Holding conflicting beliefs about the abuser’s behavior, leading to feelings of confusion and guilt.
  • Isolation: Cutting off contact with family members, friends, or support systems due to the abuser’s control.
  • Negative Self-Talk: Believing negative messages about oneself that the abuser has instilled.

The Role of Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm syndrome, initially observed in hostage situations, is a psychological defense mechanism where the victim develops feelings of trust and even affection for the abuser. This syndrome can occur in various forms of abuse, including emotional abuse, physical abuse, and even child abuse.

It’s important to note that the victim’s attachment to the abuser is a survival strategy, as the victim believes that aligning with the abuser is in their best interest.

how to get over a trauma bond

Seeking Professional Support and Building a Support System

Getting over a trauma bond often requires professional assistance from a trauma-informed therapist or counselor. Professional help is a critical step in understanding the nature of the relationship, the reasons for the attachment, and developing healthy ways to cope.

Moreover, establishing a strong support system consisting of friends, family, and support groups can provide a safe space for the victim to share their experiences without judgment.

Learn more about possible Trauma Bond Withdrawal Symptoms.

Steps Toward Healing and Moving Forward

1. Acknowledgment and Acceptance

The first step in healing is recognizing and acknowledging that you are in a trauma-bonded relationship. It’s common to feel a mix of emotions, including denial, confusion, and guilt. Accept that you are not at fault for the bond’s formation and that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

2. Reach Out for Professional Help

Consulting a trauma-informed therapist or counselor is vital. They can help you understand the psychological dynamics of trauma bonds and provide guidance tailored to your situation. These professionals specialize in helping individuals break free from abusive relationships and navigate the healing process.

3. Educate Yourself About Trauma Bonds

Knowledge is a powerful tool. Educate yourself about trauma bonds, abusive behavior, and the psychology behind manipulation tactics. Understanding the patterns that keep you emotionally tied to your abuser can empower you to make informed decisions about your healing journey.

4. Create a Support System

Building a strong support system is crucial. Reconnect with friends and family members who have been kept away due to the abusive relationship. Seek support groups or online communities where you can share your experiences, gain validation, and learn from others who have overcome similar challenges.

5. Set Boundaries

Establishing clear boundaries is an essential step in regaining control over your life. Communicate your boundaries to your abuser if you feel safe doing so, and enforce them consistently.

This step may lead to resistance from the abuser, but remember that boundaries are essential for your well-being.

6. Practice Self-Care Regularly

Engage in self-care activities daily.

This can include exercise, meditation, journaling, creative expression, and spending time in nature. Self-care nurtures your physical, emotional, and mental well-being, helping you build resilience and regain a sense of agency.

7. Therapeutic Techniques

Work with your therapist to employ therapeutic techniques that address the trauma bond’s emotional impact. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help challenge distorted beliefs, while dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) can teach emotional regulation skills.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) may aid in processing traumatic memories.

8. Focus on Healthy Relationships

As you progress, contemplate the qualities of a healthy relationship. Prioritize partners who treat you with respect, empathy, and support.

Surrounding yourself with positive influences can reinforce your journey toward healing.

9. Embrace Progress, Patience, and Persistence

Healing from a trauma bond is not linear. Celebrate small victories and progress, no matter how insignificant they may seem.

Be patient with yourself during setbacks; they are a natural part of the healing process. Persistence and determination are key.

10. Embrace the Present Moment

Mindfulness practices can help you stay grounded in the present moment.

Trauma bonds often keep you tied to the past or worried about the future. Practicing mindfulness can alleviate anxiety and help you focus on the here and now.

11. Seek Professional Support for Trauma-Related Issues

Trauma bonds often result in other trauma-related issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or complex trauma.

Seeking specialized help for these conditions, such as trauma-focused therapy, can further aid your healing journey.

12. Reflect and Reevaluate

As you distance yourself from the trauma bond, take time to reflect on the toxic relationship. Journaling can be particularly therapeutic, allowing you to process your emotions, track your progress, and identify patterns that you want to avoid in the future.

13. Celebrate Your Growth

Recognize and celebrate the progress you’ve made. Each step you take towards healing is a testament to your strength and resilience. Acknowledge your journey and the transformation you’ve undergone.

14. Forgive Yourself

Healing from a trauma bond is a challenging process, and it’s normal to experience moments of self-doubt.

Forgive yourself for any perceived mistakes or shortcomings. Remember that you are on a path of growth and self-discovery.

15. Embrace a New Chapter

As you heal and move forward, embrace the opportunity to create a new chapter in your life.

Set goals, explore new interests, and surround yourself with positivity. You have the power to shape your future free from the constraints of a trauma-bonded past.

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Breaking free from a trauma bond is a journey that requires determination, support, and self-compassion.

It’s important to remember that healing is possible, and you are not alone in this process. By seeking professional help, building a support system, and practicing self-care, you can overcome the emotional attachment to an abusive partner and move toward a life of healing and positive growth.

The road may be difficult, but with each step, you regain control over your own narrative and pave the way for a brighter future.

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Emergency Numbers

Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) is the nation’s largest organization fighting sexual violence: (800) 656-HOPE / (800) 810-7440 (TTY)

988 Mental Health Emergency Hotline: Calling 988 will connect you to a crisis counselor regardless of where you are in the United States.

911 Emergency

The National Runaway Safeline: 800-RUNAWAY (800-786-2929)

Self Abuse Finally Ends (S.A.F.E)

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Trauma & Child Abuse Resource Center

Domestic Violence Shelters & Resources

Futures Without Violence

National Center for Victims of Crime

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

National Network to End Domestic Violence

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

Prevent Child Abuse America

Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC)

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI, or text “HELPLINE” to 62640. Both services are available between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. ET, Monday–Friday

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255); www.suicidepreventionlifeline.orgOr, just dial 988

Suicide Prevention, Awareness, and Support: www.suicide.org

Crisis Text Line: Text REASON to 741741 (free, confidential and 24/7). In English and Spanish

Self-Harm Hotline: 1-800-DONT CUT (1-800-366-8288)

Family Violence Helpline: 1-800-996-6228

American Association of Poison Control Centers: 1-800-222-1222

National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependency: 1-800-622-2255

LGBTQ Hotline: 1-888-843-4564

National Maternal Mental Health Hotline: 1-833-TLC-MAMA (1-833-852-6262)

The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 678678. Standard text messaging rates apply. Available 24/7/365. (Provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning—LGBTQ—young people under 25.)

The SAGE LGBT Elder Hotline connects LGBT older people and caretakers with friendly responders. 1-877-360-LGBT (5428)

The Trans Lifeline is staffed by transgender people for transgender people:
1-877-565-8860 (United States)
1-877-330-6366 (Canada)

Veterans Crisis Line: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net

International Suicide Prevention Directory: findahelpline.com

The StrongHearts Native Helpline is a confidential and anonymous culturally appropriate domestic violence and dating violence helpline for Native Americans, available every day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CT. Call 1-844-762-8483.

‘Find a Therapist’ Online Directories


UK & Republic of Ireland

  • Emergency: 112 or 999
  • Hotline: +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90 (UK – local rate)
  • Hotline: +44 (0) 8457 90 91 92 (UK minicom)
  • Hotline: 1850 60 90 90 (ROI – local rate)
  • Hotline: 1850 60 90 91 (ROI minicom)
  • YourLifeCounts.org: https://yourlifecounts.org/find-help/

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