Trauma Bonding – why do we stay?

What is Trauma Bonding?

In short – Trauma Bonding is loyalty to someone who is destructive to your life. When we keep toxic people in our life even though we know better.

A trauma bond is a reaction created in your brain, that makes you act against your better judgement or gut feeling. If you grew up in a dysfunctional family – somewhat or severe, you are prone to  experience trauma bonding. The brain has a function that makes it possible to go into a kind of denial to not feel the pain. This is how the child survives. And this is how you survive the toxic relationship – be it a wife, a partner, a mother or a father – or even a co-worker or friend.

You are not alone! Many people go through this.

How does it happen?

The environment necessary to create a trauma bond involves intensity, complexity, inconsistency, and promises.  Victims stay because they are holding on to the hope that the promises will at some point be kept.  There is always manipulation involved in trauma bonding. Making promises to change and not following up with action, is manipulation. You become prey to the manipulation because you have seen good, even great behaviour and hope to see it again. They become willing to accept the smallest breadcrumb of kindness.  The reward is often something that you really need in your life – like being seen, heard, understood, accepted, loved and/or feel important. In a toxic relationship, the victim will only experience the reward in glimpses – for short periods of time. Over time, there will even often be a price to pay for the reward – like accepting abuse or betrayal.

Signs of Trauma Bonding

  • Other people are worried by something that has happened to you or was said to you, and you try to explain why, instead of accepting this.
  • You feel stuck because you believe there is nothing you can do about the destructive behaviour.
  • You can feel that you have bonded with the person through the conflicts that you have had in the relationship.
  • You try to persuade the person to change or be less destructive instead of changing your own behaviour or removing yourself from the relationship.
  • You have repetitive, damaging conflicts with this person where there is no winner, only more pain and confusion.
  • You feel unable to detach yourself from someone even though they clearly hurt you.
  • The “on/off” that goes on makes you exhausted.
  • Wanting to make the other person happy becomes almost an obsession and you give up your own needs to make it so.
  • You become so used to the abuse that you don’t react healthy anymore. You almost accept it as a price for the reward.
  • When you try to leave this person you will find yourself missing them to the point of longing that is so horrible that you think it is going to destroy you.

Your brain and Trauma Bonding

You get a high level of dopamine when you get the reward mentioned above. Your brain is easily persuaded to crave this dopamine fix. You become addicted to this “high” and you are willing to accept pain to experience the high again. Your brain helps you tolerate abuse, but really, what is happening is that you are turning into an addict wanting to get high.

This is also why people experience that they cannot fix Trauma Bonding on their own. We need support to get rid of addiction.

What do I do to heal Trauma Bonding?

Since this is like an addiction you can use the same methods as other addictions. For example the 12 steps. Go to ACA, ACON and see a therapist who can help you with trauma. Emotional trauma often cannot be completely worked through with talking alone – body work is necessary – like dancing, hiking or yoga.

But before anything else, you need to cut the connection to the unhealthy person – by either going No Contact or learn how to not be swallowed by the drama and the manipulation. Since the manipulation is so sneaky, you often can’t even see it yourself and you will need a coach or therapist to help you learn to counter it.

Click on a book cover to get more tools to handle the narcissist in your life:

Narcissistic Men
10 Strategies to deal with toxic men

The narcissistic husband or father forces you to give up yourself, to make room for only him in your life. He will belittle you, ridicule you and scare you.


Narcissistic Women
10 Strategies to deal with toxic women

The narcissistic wife or mother manipulates you. Nothing is ever good enough for her. She will blame you for everything bad in her life.

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