The Power of Trauma Bonding: Exploring the Psychological Effects and the Path to Healing

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Author Name: Mia Barnes
Date: Thursday January 25, 2024

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People form strong interpersonal connections for various reasons. The relationship often involves something they both experienced either separately or together. These relationships may start with trauma bonding, which can feel both good and bad. Read this guide to learn everything you need to know about how the resulting unhealthy codependency affects people.

What Is Trauma Bonding?

A trauma bond is an attachment between two people who have experienced an emotional or physical trauma together. One person is the victim while the other is the perpetrator. The victim may learn to excuse abusive behavior because the bond contorts what love looks like and the perpetrator follows the abuse with positive reinforcement. The victim can sometimes accept the toxic cycle of abuse because the bond is so strong that they feel like they can’t leave.

A child could form a traumatic bond with their abusive parent because their physical and emotional needs complicate viewing that caregiver as a solely negative influence. Abusive romantic relations or platonic connections in the workplace can also become trauma bonds.

Friendships may develop into this toxic bond too. It occurs any time someone starts accepting abusive behaviors because they love the perpetrator. They might think the perpetrator will change with time or in a different circumstance.

Stages of a Trauma Bond

Every relationship is different, but people held together by a toxic relationship dynamic often experience these stages as a trauma bond forms. Recognizing any of these as factors in your own life is the first step in fixing them.

Two white women sit on swings at a layground. One has a blonde ponytail, a white tank top, blue jans and gray tennis shoes. The other has long brown hair, a longsleeve green shirt, black jeans and black tennis shoes. They're smiling at each other mid-conversation.

1. Love Bombing

Abusers create codependency in a relationship by lovebombing. You’ll be the center of their attention for a long time while they discuss topics or plan activities that make it seem like it’s you two against the world. In this stage, victims feel appreciated while the abuser learns their deepest emotional wounds and insecurities.


  • Saying how you’re their soulmate
  • Complimenting you excessively
  • Grand gestures like gifts or actions

2. Trust Tests

Once an abuser feels like their platonic or romantic partner holds them in high esteem, they test the victim’s trust. They might make passive-aggressive comments or overstep the victim’s boundaries, then get hurt when the victim voices doubt in their intentions. It paves the way for the victim to excuse small bad behaviors so larger ones can follow.


  • Testing the victim’s loyalty with other friends or co-workers
  • Drawing more emotional energy from the victim when they have none
  • Pointing out flaws or bad behaviors the victim doesn’t have

3. Intensified Criticism

If a victim can’t trust in their ability to spot their abuser’s bad behavior, it makes it easier to believe they’re overlooking their own mistakes. The abuser intensifies their trauma bonding by picking their victim apart verbally. The point is to make the victim think there’s only one person in the world who could put up with them or forgive them.


  • Blaming the victim for things they didn’t do
  • Making small mistakes seem massive and unfixable
  • Telling the victim to listen to them because the abuser knows what’s best for them
A white man sits on a gray couch and covers his face with both of his hands. He wears a blue hoodie and the hood is over his head. Empty boxes are all over the couch.

4. Gaslighting and Manipulation

Gaslighting is a classic sign of codependency in a relationship. The abuser twists the victim’s view of reality by misleading them about something that actually happened. It makes the victim question their judgment, emotions and their ability to spot toxic behaviors so they don’t challenge the abuser anymore.


  • The victim mentions something that hurt them and the abuser says it didn’t happen.
  • The perpetrator apologizes by saying something dismissive like, “I’m sorry you feel like I hurt you.”
  • The abuser dismisses the victim’s concern by saying something like, “You aren’t making any sense.”

5. Fawning

Victims of trauma bonding often start to believe it’s easier to give in to their abuser to avoid verbal, physical or emotional conflict. They start to fawn, which is a term describing the people-pleasing behaviors that keep the abuser satisfied. Pleasing the abuser with emotional or physical labor may also make the victim feel safer.


  • The victim ignores their physical or emotional needs to care for the abuser’s needs, sometimes at great costs to their own well-being.
  • The victim is always pleasant and friendly, even when they’re hurt or upset.
  • The victim avoids telling the abuser no by becoming good at finding reasons why saying no is a bad idea.

6. Depression

Codependency in a relationship often results in depression. The victim experiences an intense erasure of their identity and self-worth. Even though the depression stems from the trauma bond, they may believe every relationship will result in the same feelings so they stay with their abuser. It might seem easier to deal with the painful reality they know rather than create a new life with little to no hope of it improving.


  • Feeling physically exhausted all the time, even when the victim isn’t exerting themselves.
  • Experiencing less joy in the rare positive moments with the abuser because the victim has a loss of interest in what they love.
  • Struggling to sleep due to insomnia.

7. Lovebombing Addiction

People don’t start trauma bonding because they want a toxic relationship. It begins with intense lovebombing, which often keeps victims in the dynamic long after the negative effects of a trauma bond begin. The perpetrator may see the victim getting tired of their behaviors and introduce lovebombing again to remind the victim how good it feels to be together.


  • Doing something that made the victim happy at the beginning of the relationship.
  • Replacing excessive criticism with flattery to relieve the pressure on the victim for a short time.
  • Encouraging the victim to explore new hobbies or interests, but only the ones the abuser can control or limit.

How Long Does a Trauma Bond Last?

Trauma bonds last for varying lengths of time. Each relationship includes behaviors from both the abuser and the victim. Researchers rely on behaviors from both individuals involved in a toxic relationship to determine if it’s a trauma bond, much less how long it will last. The length of the trauma bond depends on the intensity of the connection and if the victim has the resources to leave it.

Harmful Effects of Trauma Bonds

It’s challenging to understand if you’re in an unhealthy codependent or a healthy interdependent relationship while you’re involved with someone. Take a mental step back and see if you exhibit any of these trauma bond symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Loss of self
  • No self-confidence
  • Questioning reality
  • Loss of other relationships
  • Exhaustion
  • Self-criticism

If these symptoms sound or feel familiar, you don’t have to stay in the toxic dynamic forever. There are multiple ways to get help and find healthier relationships.

Two white people reach their hands toward each other, seemingly out of two windows in different buildings. One wears a green jacket with the sleeve slightly rolled up. The buildings stretching behind them are gray and the sky is white.

How to Detach from a Trauma Bond

Disentangle yourself from codependency with a platonic or romantic relationship with these steps. They may take more time than you thought, but they’re how most people get into healthier places in their lives.

1. Talk to Someone

Figuring out if you’re in a trauma bond is complicated. You may already be in the fawning stage where you can’t feel your own needs, so everything feels normal. The gaslighting might also be so intense that you don’t trust your perception of things.

Talk with a therapist or someone outside of the relationship to get an external perspective on the potential trauma bonding. They’ll have a much easier time spotting abusive behaviors, especially if they have a license in behavioral therapy.

2. Create a Support System

You’ll need at least one healthy social connection if you’re getting away from a toxic individual. A history of codependency can make people think they won’t survive on their own.

When you have a healthy support system in one or more people, you’ll know because they exhibit these signs of a functioning relationship:

  • They respect your boundaries.
  • They prioritize your needs.
  • They give you space.
  • They listen and respect your thoughts and emotions.
  • They work to support your needs.

You might look for a supportive family member or a friend when leaving an individual. If the trauma bond is with your boss or a co-worker, apply for jobs and have an acceptance letter ready before quitting. Victims are less likely to return to their abusers when they have some kind of support system ready to catch them.

3. Leave However You Feel Safest

Leaving also requires the right timing. If a victim knows that telling their abuser that they’re done with the relationship will escalate into verbal or physical violence, that’s not likely the best way to handle it. You shouldn’t put yourself in danger to leave a trauma bond if possible.

It’s okay to leave quietly while the abuser is away at work, running errands or attending their own social plans. As long as you can leave them without risking your safety, you’ll end the trauma bond.

Free Yourself of Unhealthy Codependency

Trauma bonding is complicated. It’s hard to spot while it’s happening and sometimes even harder to leave. Learning to spot the stages and building a support system will help you make a better life for yourself. Take each day one step at a time. Your healing won’t happen overnight, even if you leave immediately.

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