What is Trauma Bonding and Why Do People Fall Victim to it?

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Toxic relationships are unhealthy. Yet, people stay with toxic partners far longer than they should. That’s because it’s hard to leave relationships, whether healthy or unhealthy. When people are inside a relationship they often want to stay there. Relationships are comfy and familiar. From the outside looking in it’s easy for us to see that things are toxic, but for the people inside the toxic relationship, things are ok, maybe even idyllic. That’s where trauma bonding comes in. Trauma bonding is a common component of abusive relationships. Narcissistic partners are especially famous for trauma bonding. Due to the constant manipulation that narcissists put their significant other under, it makes sense. But what is trauma bonding exactly and why does it matter in relationships? 

What is Trauma Bonding? 

Trauma bonding is bonding with someone you’re in a relationship with, but in a traumatic, unhealthy way. Trauma bonding is planned and calculated – it doesn’t simply happen naturally. It is common in romantic relationships with a narcissist, but it can also occur in friend, family, and coworker relationships where a narcissist wants to assert themselves. It is a cycle of abuse that includes fueling a need for validation and love in a toxic and unhealthy way. A need for validation is at the heart of trauma bonding – a need for validation on the part of the abuser and the abused. Narcissists believe this pattern of behavior is normal and they will go to great lengths to try and prove that it is normal. As the relationship progresses and the bonds of “love” deepen, the abused partner desires validation from the narcissist. The narcissist in turn gains more power, feeling as though they’ve “won.” As a result, the narcissist leads the abused partner further into manipulation. The abused partner may not realize what’s going on for months or years. All of the bonding that occurs in the relationship is a result of trauma. 

Why Do People Trauma Bond? 

Trauma bonding happens because the abuser wants to reinforce their power. Manipulative people alternate abuse and control with positivity and love. The abused partner begins to bond with the abuser in a negative and toxic way because they get used to it. All of a sudden the abused partner desires toxicity because that’s what they’re used to. They’ve become addicted to the cycle of positive love and toxicity that the narcissist has presented. The bond that develops between these two people is a trauma bond.  Over a period of time, the toxic bond strengthens and it gets more and more difficult for the abused person to recognize that they’re being emotionally or even physically abused. The narcissistic abuser reinforces certain positive behaviors that basically train their partner to want to stay and continue the relationship. In some cases the abused partner knows that the narcissistic partner is toxic, but leaving them is too much to handle. They become so conditioned to forgiving the narcissistic partner that it’s impossible to leave. As a result the abused person feels stuck and hopeless. 

Risk Factors for Trauma Bonding 

Trauma bonding can happen to anyone in a relationship, whether romantic, platonic, or familial. For some people, recognizing the signs of narcissism and toxicity is nearly impossible. Some people become desensitized to the signs of toxicity, thinking they’re normal signs of love. That’s why there are risk factors that make trauma bonding more likely for specific types of people, they include people with:

  • Mental health issues 
  • Poor self-esteem 
  • Financial trouble 
  • No family support
  • Lack of friends 
  • A history of trauma 
  • A history of depression 
  • A history of being bullied 
  • No personal identity 
  • A tendency to have unhealthy relationships 

To guard against becoming a victim of trauma bonding, it’s important to know the most common signs of it. Here are some of the telltale signs of trauma bonding: 

  • Protecting the abuser
  • Feeling indebted to the abuser 
  • Feeling ashamed for calling out the abuser 
  • Covering up signs of abuse 
  • Covering up negative emotions
  • Overlooking “red flags” of the abuser 
  • Family and friends aren’t supportive of the relationship 
  • Staying in the relationship even when you know you shouldn’t 

Don’t Let Trauma Bonding Control Your Life 

If you think you may be the victim of an abusive partner who is using trauma bonding to keep you under their wing, know that you are not alone. Trauma bonding is incredibly traumatic. It has a lasting effect on your present and future relationships. When you understand what trauma bonding is and the toxic effect it has, you can protect yourself from it. Recognize the common signs of trauma bonding, understand who is most likely to commit trauma bonding, and get to know the “red flags” of trauma bonding in order to truly protect yourself or your loved one from it. Research: Trauma Bonding: What Is It and Why Do We Do It? – AMFM (amfmtreatment.com)