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 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.

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 husbands, 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.

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. 

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 to not 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 though all of this persons bullshit. You know that they are treating you badly and you secretly resent them for it.

Yet, whenever to get the courage to leave they throw you a few complements 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 a 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.

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”.

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, 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.

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

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. 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 cases of shared custody).

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.

18 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. 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. 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 ,

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