Signs of a Trauma Bond

By: Michael Toohey, Psy.D. | December 8, 2023

Do you wonder why you stay with someone who doesn’t treat you well? Have you asked yourself why you stay in painful relationships? Understanding the nature of the trauma bond might help you understand yourself and answer these questions.

What is the Trauma Bond?

Trauma bonding is an entanglement that keeps a person in a dysfunctional relationship. It frequently shows up in romantic relationships, although it can also occur with family members and friends. A bond is forged through alternating cycles of affection and mistreatment. Consequently, the contrast between the two makes the affection seem more valuable and leaves the person waiting for the affection that follows maltreatment. Trauma bonding often happens because the relationship feels intense—and that intensity can be confused for love. It is important to note that the trauma bond is not when two people empathically connect with each other to heal from trauma.

When a person becomes accustomed to the up and down rhythms of an unhealthy relationship, it is increasingly more difficult for them to leave. A trauma bonded person may not feel safe to leave, or even advocate for themselves. Therefore, they focus on the good parts of the relationship and try to ignore the rest. In a trauma bonded relationship, you want to believe that things will get better and cling to the memory of the good times.

How Do I Know if I’m Trauma Bonded?

If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the questions below, you could be trauma bonded.

Do you:

  • Justify your partner’s bad behaviors? (“They’re only yelling at me because they are tired.”)
  • Make excuses to others about your partner’s bad behaviors? (“He’s really quite sweet if you get to know him better.”)
  • Tolerate abuse to please your partner?
  • Feel like you owe your abuser?
  • Not feel like yourself and hide your true feelings around your partner?
  • Feel unable to leave the relationship even if you want to, or know you should?
  • Offer your trust and goodwill even when the other person betrays you?
  • Blame yourself for your partner’s unwanted behaviors?
  • Change your thinking to match your partner’s opinions?
  • Distance yourself from people who question the health of your relationship?

Another sign that you could be trauma bonded is if you try to help the person despite how they’ve treated you.

For example, do you:

  • Offer to run errands for them?
  • Help with paying their bills?
  • Offer to pay for groceries?
  • Pay for their cell phone or internet service?

Breaking the Trauma Bond

While it’s not easy, the trauma bond can be broken. You can start by following these steps:

  • Focus on the Truth

Compare your partner’s behaviors with what they say. Ask yourself: Has your partner taken any actual steps to improve themselves? Or are they just saying they will? Abusers often offer apologies without true change. These aren’t real apologies; they’re manipulation tactics.

  • Focus on the Now

Ask yourself: How do things feel right now? Challenge yourself to discern how good things used to be and stay in the present. Remember, an emotionally intense relationship is not the same as a loving, healthy relationship. To protect yourself from being gaslighted or DARVO’d by your partner, keep a diary to record the truth of what happens in your relationship. This may also help you identify patterns.

  • Focus on Self-Care

Rather than (futility) spending your energy on trying to please the other person, take the necessary steps to heal yourself. Nurture yourself with rest and relaxation and learn How to Cultivate Self-Compassion. The alternating pattern between affection and maltreatment means that no person is ever 100% abusive all the time. When you can soothe yourself, you will no longer need to depend on your partner for comfort.

If you resonate with any of the signs listed above, please consider the support of a professional San Diego Psychologist. Your therapist will help you better understand how the trauma bond manifests in your relationship.

Working to find the right therapist is easier than you think. At Therapy Changes, our Client Care Coordinator will connect you with a member of our talented team who is the best match for helping you cope with the issues involved in your relationship. You don’t have to go through this alone – help is available. Contact Us now to learn more about How Therapy Works and What to Expect and to schedule your initial appointment.



Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

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