Breaking The Cycle: How To Recognize And Overcome Trauma Bonding

Updated May 26, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Content/Trigger Warning: The below article might mention trauma-related topics that include sexual assault & violence which could potentially be triggering.

Healthy bonds are based on mutual respect, trust, and vulnerability when forming connections with other people. Bonds like that are usually indicative of healthy relationships and personal growth. Trauma bonding is a complex attachment often based on manipulation, controlling behavior, and abuse. Trauma bonding can adversely affect an individual’s mental and emotional health through an unhealthy attachment to someone causing them harm. Learning more about what trauma bonding is, its characteristics, how trauma bonds compare to healthy bonds, and strategies for breaking free of trauma bonds can help individuals cultivate positive relationships and rid themselves of unhealthy patterns.

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The Effects Of Trauma Bonding

There are many potential effects of a trauma bond. Because each person is unique and different experiences shape bonds, the effects of a trauma bond won’t be the same for everyone. However, many individuals with trauma bonds have noted an impact on their mental health and relationships. Others may experience related mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Trauma bonds can majorly affect how an individual views and forms attachments with those around them. Forming healthy attachments can be challenging after cycles of fear, isolation, shame, or mistrust. Those who have experienced a trauma bond may also have trouble setting boundaries, leading to potential responsibility for those around them. Trauma bonds can also affect how individuals operate in their daily lives if they become isolated from healthy connections. Feeling ashamed or afraid can make it more difficult to focus on tasks, maintain relationships, and “keep up appearances,” which can lead to further isolation.

One important trait of a trauma bond is the potential development of associated mental disorders like anxiety, depression, or PTSD. Anxiety and depression may be situational based on the emotional turmoil of the trauma bond. Individuals can develop PTSD after repeated exposure to abusive or traumatizing situations. Trauma-bonded individuals may have low self-esteem or negative self-worth that makes it challenging to leave a difficult situation. 

Additionally, being in a relationship that is constantly in turmoil can lead to emotional exhaustion or increased anxiety. Time explains how these repeated traumas can impact individuals physiologically, “When the brain is under severe threat, it immediately changes the way it processes information and starts to prioritize rapid responses. ‘The normal long pathways through the orbitofrontal cortex, where people evaluate situations in a logical and conscious fashion and [consider] the risks and benefits of different behaviors— that gets short-circuited,’ says Dr. Eric Hollander, professor of psychiatry at Montefiore/Albert Einstein School of Medicine in New York.  Instead, he says, ‘You have sensory input right through the sensory [regions] and into the amygdala or limbic system.’” Understanding how the brain responds to trauma can be an important healing step for trauma bonds.

Healing from a trauma bond takes time, but recognizing the effects can be important in developing strategies to overcome it. Trauma bonds' negative impacts on mental health and relationships are significant but can be mitigated with the right support.

The Root Causes Of Trauma Bonding

Trauma bonding is highly personal and complex, so each person's root cause is likely different. However, some potential root causes can include childhood experiences, past trauma, or societal factors. There are also common abuse cycles that typically result in trauma bonding. Forbes cites  Katie Moore, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist based in Irvine, California, who specializes in trauma treatment, as saying, “Trauma bonding often occurs due to a specific type of abuse cycle that can look like the following:

The reason why trauma bonding can occur, adds Dr. Tholen, may also have to do with the theory of cognitive dissonance—which is when a person has one or more conflicting beliefs or behaviors that lead them to strive to alter one of the beliefs or behaviors in order to reduce the discomfort they’re feeling.

Trauma bonding deeply impacts mental well-being and relationships. Understanding its root causes, such as childhood experiences, past traumas, and social and cultural influences, is crucial for overcoming this attachment pattern.

Childhood experiences, including neglect or abuse, often lead to trauma bonding. Similarly, individuals with a history of trauma may use trauma bonding as a coping mechanism. Societal and cultural factors contribute to this phenomenon, including unhealthy power dynamics and social norms.

Recognizing these causes is vital for healing. Seeking professional help, examining personal beliefs, and challenging unhealthy attachment patterns can aid recovery. Developing healthy coping mechanisms, like exercise and self-care, helps build self-confidence and foster positive relationships outside of trauma bonds.


How To Recognize Trauma Bonding

Understanding how to identify trauma bonding is crucial for breaking unhealthy patterns and cultivating positive attachments. Key signs include relationship patterns, power dynamics, abuse-reconciliation cycles, and emotional responses.

Individuals with trauma bonding may be drawn to emotionally unavailable or abusive partners and struggle to form healthy connections. Unhealthy power dynamics can create feelings of fear, isolation, and helplessness. Cycles of abuse and reconciliation add confusion and instability, contributing to shame or self-blame. Emotional responses might include fear of abandonment or feeling responsible for a partner's actions.

Recognizing these signs is essential for breaking free from unhealthy patterns. Seeking professional help, developing healthy coping mechanisms, and finding supportive relationships can aid in the healing process. Patience and self-compassion are vital, as healing takes time and effort. A holistic approach to healing helps individuals build resilience and move forward positively.

Overcoming Trauma Bonding Strategies

Breaking free from trauma bonding is challenging, but effective strategies can help individuals create positive, supportive connections. These strategies involve cultivating self-compassion and self-care, prioritizing personal needs, establishing healthy coping mechanisms, setting boundaries, learning to say no, and seeking supportive individuals.

Developing self-compassion and self-care is vital for overcoming trauma bonding. Individuals can build self-worth and self-love by being kind to themselves and engaging in self-care activities, such as exercising and relaxing.

Prioritizing personal needs is essential too. Setting aside time for hobbies or self-care helps individuals develop a stronger sense of self and form healthy, positive connections with others. Healthy coping mechanisms, like exercise, journaling, or meditation, can manage stress, build resilience, and support overall well-being.

Setting healthy boundaries and effectively communicating them enables individuals to prioritize their needs and desires. Learning to say no and standing up for oneself contributes to a stronger sense of self-worth and fosters healthy relationships.

Lastly, surrounding oneself with supportive people, like friends, family, or support groups, helps build a robust support system and promotes healthy, positive attachments.

Professional Support For Trauma Bonding

Individuals struggling with trauma bonding may find support and guidance from a trained online professional beneficial to set up strategies for moving forward. Online therapy is highly convenient and accessible, so individuals can access the support they need according to their schedule. Those who want to speak privately about trauma bonding can schedule appointments when they know they will be alone. Online therapy also often offers a wide range of resources, so individuals can develop personal coping strategies to overcome their trauma bond effectively. By seeking professional help, individuals can take steps to address the effects of trauma bonding on their own and form healthier attachments. 

One study evaluated the perception regarding online therapy from a therapist’s perspective and found, “Specifically, online therapy allows individuals and groups to access psychotherapeutic services on demand. This is especially significant, as research indicates that nearly two-thirds of all people with diagnosable psychological disorders do not seek treatment. Likewise, the low rate of help-seeking is salient among working populations, caused by various factors, including shame regarding mental health problems, as identified in various working groups. Online therapy is recommended, as a working client can access therapy more privately, bypassing their mental health shame.” It is important to recognize the shame that trauma bonds can cause in order to overcome it. Seeking professional help can be an effective part of this process.

A bearded man in a green shirt and glasses sits with his arms crossed next to his partner, who has a tan shirt and gestures with her hand, as they listen to their therapist.
Are You Ready To Overcome Toxic Trauma Bonds?


Healthy bonds are characterized by trust, mutual respect, and emotional safety, while trauma bonds are rooted in cycles of abuse and manipulation. Trauma bonding can lead to significant adverse emotional effects and may include the development of associated disorders like depression, anxiety, and PTSD. By understanding trauma bonding, its characteristics, and how it compares to healthy bonds, individuals can work toward recognizing and breaking free of unhealthy patterns. With a good support system and healthy coping strategies, individuals can cultivate healthy bonds and move forward.

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