Identifying and Breaking Trauma Bonds

What is a trauma bond?

Have you ever felt addicted to a partner, friend, or significant other? Trauma bonds are unhealthy attachments that take place in abusive or toxic relationships. They are intense emotional connections that develop through repeated patterns of punishment in the form of physical, emotional, and/or verbal abuse; and reward, in the form of love, affection, and reconciliation. The emotional load of repeated cycles of mistreatment and reconciliation build hormonal and chemical bonds between partners in abusive and toxic relationships. The longer you are in the relationship the stronger the bond. 

Signs of Trauma Bonds

You Feel Stuck

You may want to leave the relationship and know that it is what is best for you but when you try to leave you feel an intense emotional and physical connection to the person who mistreated you. People often return to abusive and/or toxic relationships multiple times when the trauma bond has not been completely broken. 

You Are At Odds With Your Family and Friends

When you talk with your family and friends, they may express concern about how you are being treated. When these concerns are presented, you may feel defensive or that they just “don’t understand him/her/them”. When you discuss these concerns with your significant other or partner, they may encourage you to break ties with those that expressed concerns.

You Compromise Your Feelings and Your Needs

Hiding your feelings and being incredibly careful about what you say or do is not normal in a healthy relationship. An individual may also self-sabotage or compromise their beliefs in order to please their partner.  This can look like engaging in behaviors that are risky or not typical to please their significant other. 

How Do I Break Free?

Clean Break

Although difficult, the most effective way to break a trauma bond is to starve it of your time and attention. This means eliminating all contact. Delete and/or block their number from your phone and unfollow or block them on all social media platforms. 

Ensure Your Safety

This is often an emotionally draining and sometimes dangerous time in the process. Create a safety plan and make sure you communicate with your loved ones. Take extra safety precautions during this time to ensure you remain safe and healthy. This may include limiting independent travel, changing your routine, staying with friends or family, connecting with local victims advocacy centers, and if necessary, contacting the police. Domestic Violence Resources in Illinois can be found here

Live In The Present

Living in the present means that you are not ruminating on what should have or could have been. Focus on your present reality and how you feel in this moment.

Allow Yourself Time to Grieve 

Loss is loss, even if it is unhealthy and toxic. Give yourself permission to grieve the loss of this relationship and all that came with it. Be patient with the grieving process and know that grief has no time limit. 

Build Healthy Bonds

Prioritize people, relationships, and activities that bring you peace and are centered around mutual respect, healthy boundaries, and love. Spend time cultivating and building these bonds to build a life that reflects your goals, desires, and long term health.

See A Therapist 

If you have been in an abusive or toxic relationship, seeing a therapist who understands the cycle of abuse and trauma can be very helpful. A therapist who specializes in trauma, PTSD, self-growth, and relationship issues can help you heal from traumatic experiences, develop coping skills, and create personal boundaries. Schedule an appointment with a Counseling Works therapist here.

Written By: Stacey Jones, LCPC, CDVP

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