Understanding trauma bonding

When we think of the bonds that tie us to others, we usually envision positive connections built on mutual respect, love, and shared experiences.


However, not all bonds are healthy or beneficial. One such unhealthy connection is known as a 'trauma bond'; a concept that is essential to understand for anyone striving to maintain emotional health and strong, positive relationships.

Patrick Carnes first coined the term, referring to the strong emotional bond that develops between an abused person and their abuser. This bond often develops in relationships characterised by a cyclic pattern of abuse, intermittent positive reinforcement, power imbalance, and high arousal and attachment. Though it may seem counterintuitive for a bond to form in such negative circumstances, the psychological underpinnings of trauma bonding make it a surprisingly common occurrence.

We tend to replicate unhealthy relational patterns from our childhood in our adult life, however, that is not always the case. It is critically important to identify and understand your own attachment style, so you obtain valuable insights into your relational patterns and can make a conscious choice to select partners or friends with whom you can create positive relationships.

In the first stages of a trauma-bonded relationship, the potential abuser often showers their target with love and affection - a process known as 'love bombing'. This affectionate behaviour helps to build trust and emotional dependence, establishing a strong bond. As the relationship progresses, the abuser can start to incorporate elements of control and manipulation. This can gradually escalate to more overt forms of emotional, physical or sexual abuse.

The cycle doesn't stop there. The abuser often follows abusive episodes with periods of reconciliation, expressing regret, offering apologies, or exhibiting an excessive display of affection. This is the stage where the 'trauma bond' truly solidifies. The abused person, who may experience a mix of relief and reaffirmation of affection, often decides to stay in the relationship, further strengthening the toxic bond.

It's important to note that trauma bonding isn't a sign of weakness or a lack of judgement. In fact, it's a survival mechanism deeply rooted in our biology. The cycle of abuse and reconciliation causes a hormonal roller coaster - stress hormones are released during abuse and 'bonding' hormones during reconciliation. This hormonal swing can make the trauma bond feel incredibly powerful, almost like an addiction.

Trauma bonds are often confusing and difficult to break because they're based on intense emotional experiences and biological processes. However, recognising a trauma bond is the first and perhaps the most crucial step towards breaking it.

I believe that everyone deserves to be in relationships that are nurturing, respectful, and healthy. If you find that this information resonates with your experiences, remember that you're not alone. It's not your fault, and help is available. It's never too late to seek support and start the journey towards healing, and I'm here to support you every step of the way.

While trauma bonds represent a painful and complex aspect of human relationships, understanding them is key to overcoming them. By seeking to understand, we empower ourselves to foster healthier connections and step into a brighter, healthier future!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 2PF
Written by D. Podjaska, MSc, HPD, Hypnotherapist and Counsellor
Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 2PF

My name is Dorota, I am a heart-centred therapist supporting individuals to grow to their full potential. I will help you heal and transform into the truest version of yourself.

Together, we will find the root cause of your problem, so that you can experience a permanent change!

I work with clients online and face-to-face in Leeds city centre.

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