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39+ Subtle Signs of Trauma Bonding, Can you relate?

* 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.

The brain changes through narcissistic abuse and you can quite literally become addicted to your abusive partner and this can create trauma bonding. The signs of trauma bonding are so subtle that is is hard to see that it is happening to you in real time.

Trauma bonding occurs because the trauma of the abuse changes your brain physiologically as you start to release neuropeptides which bond you to your partner which you behold addicted to.

When oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, cortisol, and adrenaline are involved, the abusive nature of the relationship can actually strengthen, rather than dampen, the bond of the relationship in the brain.

One of the most difficult challenges I had to realize is I was not responsible for my Narcissistic ex husband’s behaviors, cruelty, or consequences that resulted from the bad choices he made.

A person who has a healthy relationship with boundaries would not stay in such a toxic relationship very long.

On the other hand, a person like me who is codependent would not only stay in the relationship, but do everything in their power to avoid displeasing the Narcissist.

Oftentimes I would defend my ex husbands cruelty with statements such as, “He had a difficult childhood”, “He really seems to want to change”, “Only losers give up”, “If God brings you to it, He’ll get you through it”.

These beliefs (in context of the abusive relationship) all enabled my ex husband to continue his abuse which only lead to negative consequences for me.

They’re also signs of trauma-bonding and self-defeating beliefs of people with enabling personality traits.

These labels should not be interpreted in a negative way. They are both defense mechanisms that result from being emotionally abused.

Since my ex husband always maintained the upper hand, as a codependent I learned early on that I can only receive “love” and “acceptance” through what I could provide for my him.

I spent most of my energy trying to avoid my ex husbands rage and displeasure.

I went through most of my life without ever realizing that I was codependent.

This usually comes out as “being too nice”, being overly forgiving, always turning the other cheek, or doing more for other people than for oneself.

It’s only after pairing a codependent with an emotional abuser, such as a Narcissist, that codependent traits are brought to the surface in full force.

Warning signs of Trauma Bonding: What Is trauma bonding and How to Cope

41 Manipulation Tactics Used By Narcissists, Psychopaths, and Sociopaths

50+ Crazy Gaslighting Phrases Narcissists Say – Direct from Survivors

17+ Signs of narcissistic abuse Find out now!

What is Narcissistic Abuse & How to spot it

Am I a trauma-bonded codependent?

I found the following examples.

They all applied to me.

Go through each one to see if they apply to you.

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Can you relate to any of these 39+ signs of trauma bonding?

1. You constantly worry about doing something that would upset them.

You may find yourself walking on eggshells around your abuser.

One major signs of a trauma bond is worrying that you may do or say something to set them off.

Even if you know this person is doing hurtful things to you, leaving is difficult because you’re afraid they may not only hurt you but themselves. 

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2. You go out of your way to protect them.

Most of us would run away from someone who is abusing us. We don’t want to experience pain and we don’t want to feel the shame of being abused.

But sometimes, we believe that the abuser is mentally or emotionally disturbed and is the product of a dysfunctional environment.

We can develop such a bond that they feel the need to protect the abuser. Sometimes we stand up for the abuser and go against people who truly care.

3. You ignore their bad behaviors when they are pointed out by others.

Your friends and family may be disturbed by some things that your partner has said or done to you, but you don’t think it’s that big of a deal

If people around you have mentioned that you need to get out of the relationship, but you ignore them or pretend not to know what they’re talking about, you’re likely in an intense trauma bond.

4. You know they’re deceptive and abusive, but you still can’t let go.

You are a rational, smart person, and you can clearly see through all of this person’s bullshit. You know that they are treating you badly and you secretly resent them for it.

Yet, whenever you get the courage to leave, they throw you a few compliments and crumbs of attention.

You end up mistaking these crumbs for the entire bakery, and you doubt yourself.

Signs of Trauma Bonding

5. You do everything to please them and are always loyal, even when they give you nothing but pain.

They hurt you, time and time again, yet you’re always ready and willing to take them back at the first sign of their remorse or a hint of their attention. 

Have you ever heard about the boiling frog?

If you put a frog in cold water on the stove, and slowly bring the water to a boil, the frog will never try to jump out of the pot.

In these trauma bonds, we are the frog. We have grown accustomed to the heat to the point where it ends up killing us.

Signs of Trauma Bonding

6. You hide your emotions from them.

If you are sad and the abuser is happy, you cover your sadness. If you are happy and the abuser is depressed, you cover your elation.

If you are feeling hopeless and suicidal but the abuser is walking around the house singing and playing music, you will most likely cover your emotions and go along to get along. 

7. You feel addicted to them.

You develop an addiction to this person that is not only psychological but biochemical and physiological. 

“More recent research shows that the bonding actually occurs because we can become addicted to the hormonal and emotional roller coaster our abuser has put us on,” said Kati Morton, LMFT, licensed therapist and author of Are u ok?: A Guide to Caring for Your Mental Health.

So even if the abuse is bad, the love and attention you get afterward feels good to the point that it makes you forget.

According to Morton, your brain can get so used to this “up and down emotional ride” that it starts craving it.

“The rush of the stress hormone cortisol and a flood of the feel-good chemical dopamine can trigger the reward center in our brain, which can cause you to think you’re in love with your abuser,” she says.

Signs of Trauma Bonding

8. You always have an excuse for them.

This is a very typical behavior of some abused individuals.

The abuser doesn’t hurt them because they are bad but because maybe:

  • I deserved it.
  • He didn’t mean to get angry, it was my fault.
  • He puts up with me and still loves me.
  • He was jealous, I would be too.
  • He had a terrible childhood, I feel sorry for him.
  • I can help him to change with love and support.
  • He deserves a fair go, he doesn’t mean to hurt me.

This is often a telltale sign that the abused individual is bonding or bonded to the abuser.

9. You compromise yourself to please them.

When you’re in a toxic trauma bond, your self-worth plummets, and your sense of agency dries up.

Self-sabotage becomes your automatic reflex; they have subconsciously programmed you to harm yourself because you’ve been conditioned to believe that you’re not worthy of safety or peace.

You feel stuck and develop a sense of learned helplessness.

Toxic people drive you to destroy yourself – it is like psychological murder with clean hands.

10. You forget your worth and value.

Where there was once a feeling of power, confidence, self assurance, and self worth, there is now an empty space.

They have slowly convinced you that you’re unworthy of respect, affection, and time. It is a minute by minute fight for their approval and you always feel that you are not enough for them.

Constantly fighting for approval drives you to lower your standards for this toxic individual, time and time again.

Signs of Trauma Bonding

11. You crave the crumbs of love and attention.

Most individuals who are the victims of abuse desire love and affection, sometimes only the love and affection of the abuser.

It’s almost as if the person desires the love and affection of the abuser so much that they will do anything to achieve it. 

When we find ourselves in relationships where we feel starved for love and support, small and rare instances of affection, what some call ‘crumbs of love,’ can feel deceptively satisfying.

These little crumbs of affection basically keep them hooked.

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Can you relate to these subtle signs of trauma bonding?

12. You feel you can’t leave your partner, even though the relationship or marriage is extremely toxic for you

13. Feel a relentless need to give your abusive partner the benefit of the doubt – always to your detriment

14. You’ve developed OCD tendencies since you’ve been with your partner, or you might exhibit behaviors that mimic bipolar disorder (which are really symptoms that developed due to emotional trauma)

15. You have sleeping difficulties (too much or too little) and eating problems (not having an appetite, which leads to weight loss, or emotional eating, leading to weight gain.

16. You doubt yourself and/or your sanity. Believe you might be “the crazy one”.

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17. Thoughts of dying and suicide.

18. Easily startled or over-reactive to everyday situations

19. You check your cell phone every two or three minutes (for messages from your partner)

20. You tend to accept accountability for the bad things that happen in your partner’s life and feel the need to fix their problems…always

21.. You don’t want to say “No” or stand up for yourself because you don’t want anyone to think you’re mean or unwilling to make compromises (although they are repeatedly mean to you and unwilling to be flexible).

22. You rarely go outside the home because there’s usually a price to pay, or if you do go out, there’s always a deep sense of urgency to get back home as quickly as possible.

23. No matter the contributions and sacrifices you’ve made for the relationship, you feel you haven’t done enough

24. You experience panic attacks, fear leaving your home, have nightmares, experience extremely high emotions, and frequently relive past abuse (all symptoms of PTSD and/or C-PTSD, which are psychological injuries).

25. You feel invisible.

26. You hide your partner’s cruelty and abuse and/or lie to friends and family about your reality

27. You tend to accept accountability for the bad things that happen in your partner’s life and feel the need to fix their problems…always

28. You know they are deceptive and abusive but you cannot let go of the relationship.

29. You defend the abuser making excuses for his behavior.

30. You do everything you can to please the abuser jumping through hoops to please them.

31. You are loyal to the abuser even though this is a one-sided toxic relationship, and they have no loyalty to you.

32. You find yourself waking on eggshells and constantly apologizing even though you have done nothing wrong.

33. You feel addicted to the abuser.

34. You have lost your sense of self-worth.

35. You feel confused and have lost your sense of reality.

36. You feel trapped and helpless.

37. You begin to act out in self destructive ways.

38. You sympathize with the abuser for their bad childhood experience.

39. You put the abusers needs first to the point of neglecting your own needs.

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If you think you are trauma bonded to someone and need help breaking that bond, please get in touch to see how I can help you

If they do, more likely than not, you have been the target of emotional/Narcissistic abuse, trauma-bonding (think Stockholm syndrome) and acting from cognitive dissonance, which means your partner has a Love-Avoidant or Narcissistic personality type.

These signs are by no means a comprehensive list.

They are the most common concerns I found. If the above list sounds like your life, your partner is a manipulative, emotional abuser and has very little chance of changing.

The good news is you can change:

You can overcome your feelings of low self-esteem, hopelessness, powerlessness, and all those icky, self-defeating beliefs that were implanted in your psyche by the people who exploited you over the years, even as far back as childhood.

No Contact:

It all starts with going No Contact (or Modified Contact, only in shared custody cases).

Going No Contact is hard, and things will get worse before they get better.

But the payoff is worth it…a life without abuse, a life that you can enjoy, a life where you can find a truly loving partner.

Continue in our Trauma and Codependency Series

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/

30 thoughts on “39+ Subtle Signs of Trauma Bonding, Can you relate?”

    1. I am finally out of an emotionally abusive relationship that lasted 2 years. Everything described here is what I have experienced. This man used and abused me. I gave him everything financially and emotionally. He is and was a pathological liar. He was so good at lying that I believed him until the end. When I finally realized what he was I kicked him out of my life.
      Now I’m hard on myself wondering why I didn’t run 2 years ago. This article helps me understand why. He kept me hoping for the love and affection he said would come in time. In reality, he was buying time until he could find someone else to use.
      Painful lesson to learn but I have to take the blessings that have come with it. New supportive friends and my family who still love me as I regain my self respect, self esteem, and finances.

    1. Hey Kim… The same.. I need to break away.. I get all my courage together and when I see him, it all shatters…

  1. Hi , this is exactly what’s happening in my relationship. I didn’t if I should stay or leave. I got too attached to him.

    1. If you are asking this question, you already know the answer!! You are not alone in this even though it feels lonley!

  2. Nicole Labelle

    Omg, I’ve been trauma bonded for 5 years now. I just want to get out and forget him. This had destroyed my life.

  3. I have been dealing with this for several years. Keep finding myself at the cross roads of do i stay or do I go. It all very exhausting. When will I leave only God knows that answer. I have even written an exit letter to him. I know i will have to leave when he’s not around or I won’t do it. 21 years and nothing has changed except me educating myself and opening my eyes. I hate him at times oh yes I hate him then I love him. It’s an inner battle.

  4. I feel like this article is spot on what I’m living through. I’ve lost all friends and family members due to my rollercoaster relationship with him. I think maybe, just maybe I’d be strong enough to leave if my financial situation changes. Keeping my fingers crossed and my prayers high!

  5. My Narcissist discarded me 11 months ago after 5 years. It felt like a nightmare. After months, going no contact helped a lot, but I was still not at all ok. I recently started hypnosis therapy to go through my past and find out what (beliefs, fears) made me stay in this very stressful relationship. Can say it was the best decision ever! My grief vanished and I feel fully at peace and happy now :) I know now that getting out of this relationship was the best thing that happened to me in the past 5 years.
    Hope this may help :)
    Sending you my love ❤️

  6. With the help of some friends, I managed to escape. Still, I feel really drained and anxious, and have this craving to just go back to him again. I’m so confused because he never verbally abused me. Rather, he only gave me the silent treatment…I need some help.

  7. Wow! I have spent over 35 years thinking it was all my fault. I was married to my narcissist for 30 years before he left me. It’s been 3 years since he left, and I still find myself in this cycle of wanting attention from him and thinking we could have made it work. So many of your signs relate to me. The first step in getting help is acknowledging there is something you need help with, and this article helped me realize that I am trauma bonded to my ex-husband.

  8. 6 years , of stress , shouting , nearly losing my relationship with my children , the penny finally dropped , speaking to my doctor, telling him everything, things I was told not to say , not to speak of by my family , I’m
    Going to walk away with grace , if not broken and distraught , and losing my fight with myself, I will never let another person infiltrate my life and that of my children ,

  9. “Wow” can’t believe how accurate this is.
    I would have given anything in the world for my girl, all I needed was 2 things: be nice to me, support me with my daughter . I have always been able to fix or problem solve ANYTHING ! Spent 3 years giving everything ,,,,, She just got worse …… think she will now financially destroy me…… but I’ve come to terms that my happiness is worth any amount of money

  10. Wow I feel so blessed just reading thru all informations n testimonies. I can just identify myself of what had shared. I had gone through a lot but with God’s help I have delivered from some of all these causes. Though I still struggle but always pray for God’s peace n love over my life.

  11. I guess I have been trauma bonded for 20 years. I have three children I love them but I can’t continue to feel like my feelings don’t matter. Phantom cell but I say I know happened didn’t happen because he tells me it didn’t and then telling me about all the things that I have done wrong in the relationship and one acknowledge any of his wrongdoings and that’s all I want him to do. I have serious trust issues with him and I feel like the fact that he has never admitted to any of the infidelities that I know about other than one in the very beginning because he was caught and could not deny it. These other ones I know the girls I’ve gotten phone calls that he’s there He put lines he was going here when he was there but will tell me you’re crazy just because you did all of those things doesn’t mean that’s who I am and then we’ll start tearing me down about all of the things I did I want our relationship to work I want our family to work I can’t keep feeling like this I just want him to open up and be honest How can a relationship work if he can’t even tell me the person he’s spent 20 years of his life with the things that he did Yes it’s in the past but I can’t move forward until he is honest about those things and stops telling me that I’m crazy it never happened when it did it was a huge impact on my life for a few years Last week was unhealthy suicidal heartbroken and affected our children affected everything and for him to basically not validate my pain or my feelings is hurtful and to push it down and act like it didn’t happen it always comes back up and causes issues I want my relationship to work I want to get through it but I don’t know how to do it and everything says they’re not going to change That’s not a healthy relationship for you or your children You need to leave I just want to be seen and hurt and feel like I’m matter.

  12. Michael A Morales

    This is scary, I don’t know how to get away, I moved 1700 miles away and guess what she has shown up, trakes me down a month later, and now is homeless sleeping in her van and telling new people she’s meeting that I’m failing her as a man and father to her children. I had money saved for a place but it’s all gone now, and she puts the kids on the phone when I don’t answer saying daddy daddy we are hungry, we want this we want that and I can’t say no, I mean I do but I always give in! I’m empty inside, I’ve reported her to the police but when questioned she said she was moving her anyways and that I’m following her. I need help. She does everything in this article to me. Every time I run away, she shows up! States away! Denver, florida, even Texas!!! Help!!! This Article was sent to me by a friend!! Everybody sees it but me:/ I need help..

  13. I did, I was there. I got out. One technique that really helped me, was writing. When we’re in fight flight freeze or fawn, our brain isn’t parasympathetic; we can’t rationalise very well. Writing for me brought my feelings and thoughts to the surface. After I realised I had to go no contact, it became easier. And then I wrote to his mother. Now he’d like to have a conversation about a miscommunication he feels triggered me to leave him, but he’s a douch bag. I hate the PTSD I have from the relationship now; it’s been over 12 months since contact, and the bastard is still in my thoughts. Lucky for me, I landed on my feet and my children are doing well. My eldest has a therapist and so do I. Yoga, martial arts, and working again have helped me immensely to feel ‘me’ again, and less like the broken suicidal mess that I was. My love for my daughters was what pulled me through or I was definitely done with life. Leaving him felt like my soul had been ripped out, and that I was the deamon whore he said I was (even though it was him who was the lier and cheater). I was faithful. He threatened to hunt me down and kill me if I wasn’t, so I was.

  14. Thank you for this information. If you dont even realize the abuse you never seek help. Ive been discarded after 14 years. I am left with mountains of debt on the street. All my friends and family was turned against me so i would have no where to go. I have nothing, i have been publicly shamed on facebook about my wrong doing, being the selfish narcissistic person i am. This time i wont go back, i keep in contact with my children but try and avoid her at all cost. I can relate to these things, yes i have done things to hurt her, but it was one sided i deserved the treatment i got for the things ive done. She always said i was a lesser person than her. She was above me i am a lower class person. I cant think or do things for myself.

  15. I used to think I was strong for hanging in there, showing him I was patient, loving, and he could trust I would never leave him. He would tell me he appreciated that I was basically the only person who could handle him. Now here I am 11 years later, hundreds of beatings (including last night), bald spots, not sure how to feel or think realizing now why I stayed- knowledge is power!

  16. Funny, i had a relationship just like this, became an alcoholic and a drugadict, she even gave me the book “why does he do that” at certain point and desapear for a while. I thought she meant i was abusing her and tried to hang myself, i was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after that wich turns out its not accurate (i have treatment resistant depression) When she finnaly came back she told me that she gave me the book because she was abusive, not me. This pattern of being togethwr and being discarded like nothing lasted for 10 years. One day i had the courage to end it and thought everything would be good after that. It went worse after about 3 years, totally alcoholic and heavily medicated i almost died and ended up in a clinic for abou 70 days, got sober but i havent been able to get past that relationship.
    After 6 years, being sober and in active member of AA, taking medication and psicological therapy i still think i was the bad one and deserve all that happened because of what she went though in her life and also still thinking constantly how could i help her… Abuse is no joke. God help us all.


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