Mental Health

What is Traumatic Bonding?

traumatic bonding Posted On
Posted By Alex Perez - Mental Health Writer, B.A.

Updated on August 20, 2022

Traumatic Bonding, or Trauma Bonding, is a type of unhealthy relationship often caused by emotional abuse. In traumatic bonding, the victim feels “bonded” to the abuser, such that the victim finds it difficult to leave the relationship. The victim in traumatic bonding often feels like it may be their fault that the abuser is acting a certain way.

Sometimes the process of traumatic bonding may take years to develop. This happens through slow manipulation of the victim through fear, hope, and excitement.

Traumatic Bonding and Abuse

traumatic bonding abuse

Traumatic bonding can be seen in domestic violence relationships where the victim constantly stays with their abuser, perhaps believing their partner will change or that they were truly sorry after the last incident.

Abusers in such relationships often confuse their partners emotionally. For example, after every violent outburst, the abuser may take their partner out on a date and promise that it would be their last time.

However, traumatic bonding can still occur without physical or verbal abuse. For example, abusers can use gaslighting for psychological control over the relationship. In this process, the victim slowly doubts their truth by distrusting their own memory or perception. They believe that truth is what the abuser considers to be true.

Why don’t victims experiencing traumatic bonding leave?

traumatic bonding leave

Abusers in a traumatic bonding relationship often shower their partners in praise and love throughout their abuse. This mix of loving and aggressive behaviors confuses the victim and stays in the relationship.

Sometimes the victim of a trauma bond mistaken the bond as true love. Traumatic bonding can feel very passionate and exciting because of the constant back and forth of hard and hopeful moments.

Victims of traumatic bonding relationships may have also experienced childhood abuse as well. Therefore, the abuse feels familiar and is often mistaken as love.

How do you know if you are experiencing Traumatic Bonding?

traumatic bonding how do you know

You may be experiencing a traumatic bond if you consistently:

  • Feel like the one to be blamed after every argument instead of both parties, acknowledging that each can improve.
  • Make excuses for your partner’s abusive or toxic behaviors. In a traumatic bond, you may blame their abusive behaviors on your partner’s upbringing or hardships and feel bad; they had to go through hard times.
  • Feel guilty for being upset with the abuse.
  • Believe things will change without definite steps to cause that change. I.e., couples therapy, etc.
  • Feel empty and always giving in the relationship

What to do if you are experiencing a traumatic bonding?

traumatic bonding what to do

If you feel you are in a traumatic bond, you must learn to validate your own opinions and truths and see your self-worth.

Victims of traumatic bonding often feel extremely low self-esteem. You must slowly build your self-worth and self-trust. This may take time, and you may need professional help from a therapist or life coach.

Victims of traumatic bonding can build a good support network through family and friends. A support network can help check on you and make sure you are safe physically and emotionally. They can be a haven for you during hard times.

If you are experiencing traumatic bonding, separation, whether physical or emotional, may help build aspects of your life independent of your partner.


Irwin, H.J. (1995). Codependence, narcissism, and childhood trauma. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 51(5), pp.658-665.

Saunders, E. A., Edelson, J. A. (1999). Attachment style, traumatic bonding, and developing relational capacities in a long-term trauma group for women. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 49(4), 465-485.

Beattie, M. (2009). The new codependency: Help and guidance for today’s generation. New York, US: Simon & Schuster.

Reid, J., Haskell, R., Dillahunt-Aspillaga, C., & Thor, J. (2013). Trauma bonding and interpersonal violence. Psychology of trauma.

Carrington, C. D. (2021). Evaluating Treatment for Trauma Bonding in a Sample of Female Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence: A Single-Case Design Study.

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