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Healing From Trauma Bonding: Recognizing The Stages

Clinically Reviewed by: Charee Marquez, LMFT

Healing from Trauma Bonding: Recognizing the Stages

Have you ever found yourself in a relationship that felt like a rollercoaster ride of intense highs and lows? You might be experiencing the effects of trauma bonding. This complex phenomenon occurs when a deep emotional attachment forms between an abuser and their victim. It’s a common feature in abusive relationships, leaving those caught in its grip feeling confused, isolated, and unsure of how to escape.

The good news is, healing from trauma bonding is absolutely possible. The first step is understanding the stages that often define this type of bond. By recognizing where you are in the cycle, you can begin to break free and rebuild your life.

Defining Trauma Bonding

Trauma bonding refers to a strong emotional attachment that forms between an abuser and a victim in an abusive relationship. This attachment is paradoxical because it develops despite the presence of violence, threats, or emotional manipulation. Trauma bonding can occur in various types of abusive relationships, including romantic partnerships, friendships, family dynamics, and even cults or abusive workplaces.

The key characteristic of trauma bonding lies in the cyclical nature of the abuse. This cycle involves periods of intense affection and “love bombing,” followed by episodes of abuse, threats, or manipulation. The victim experiences a rollercoaster of emotions, clinging to the positive moments during the good times and hoping the abuse will not return. This creates a state of confusion and a strong sense of obligation to “fix” the relationship or the abuser themselves.

Here are some key aspects of trauma bonding:

  • Intermittent reinforcement: The abuser uses a pattern of rewards and punishments, creating a confusing and unpredictable dynamic.
  • Fear: The victim lives in constant fear of the abuser’s unpredictable behavior.
  • Isolation: The abuser often isolates the victim from their support system, making them dependent on the abuser for emotional needs.
  • Minimization and gaslighting: The abuser denies or downplays the abuse, making the victim question their own perceptions.
  • Guilt and obligation: The victim may be manipulated into feeling responsible for the abuse or the abuser’s happiness.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: This related concept describes a similar process of attachment that can occur when hostages develop a bond with their captors.

The good news is, healing from trauma bonding is absolutely possible. The first step is understanding the stages that often define this type of bond. By recognizing where you are in the cycle, you can begin to break free and rebuild your life.

The Deceptive Cycle: Stages of Trauma Bonding

Trauma bonding follows a cyclical pattern, characterized by alternating periods of affection and abuse. Here’s a closer look at the stages commonly experienced:

1. Love Bombing:

The relationship starts with a whirlwind of affection. The abuser showers their love interest with compliments, gifts, and intense attention. This creates an illusion of a perfect match, fostering a sense of security and belonging.

2. Trust and Dependency:

As the love bombing intensifies, the victim feels incredibly drawn to the abuser. They develop a deep sense of trust and become increasingly dependent on the abuser’s affection and approval.

3. The Shift: Criticism and Devaluation:

The honeymoon phase inevitably comes to an end. The abuser starts to criticize, blame, and belittle their victim. This creates confusion and insecurity in the victim, further strengthening their need for the abuser’s approval.

4. Manipulation and Gaslighting:

The abuser employs tactics like gaslighting, denying or twisting reality, to make the victim question their own perceptions. This manipulation can leave the victim feeling isolated and doubting their own sanity.

5. Emotional Addiction:

The unpredictable cycle of abuse and affection creates a confusing and intense emotional rollercoaster. This can lead to a kind of emotional addiction, where the victim craves the abuser’s approval, even amidst the negativity.

6. Loss of Self:

Chronic abuse can erode self-esteem and self-worth. The victim may become consumed by the relationship, neglecting their own needs and desires. Their sense of identity can become blurred, with the abuser’s perspective taking precedence.

7. Resignation and Submission:

Feeling worn down and hopeless, the victim may resign themselves to the situation. They may believe they deserve the abuse or that escape is impossible.

It’s important to remember that these stages aren’t always linear. The cycle can repeat itself multiple times, making it difficult to break free. However, recognizing these patterns is your first step towards healing.

Healthy Relationship vs. Trauma Bonding: Spotting the Red Flags

It’s crucial to understand how a healthy relationship differs from a relationship plagued by trauma bonding. Here’s a breakdown of the key points:

Healthy Relationship

  • Mutual respect and trust
  • Open communication
  • Emotional support and encouragement
  • Healthy boundaries
  • Equal partnership
  • Sense of security and well-being
  • Growth and learning together

Trauma Bonding Relationship

  • Power imbalance and control by the abuser
  • Fear and intimidation
  • Emotional manipulation and gaslighting
  • Isolation from support systems
  • Walking on eggshells
  • Constant feeling of confusion and doubt
  • Self-esteem and confidence are eroded

If you find yourself resonating more with the characteristics of a trauma bonding relationship, it’s vital to recognize the red flags and take steps towards healing.

Finding Your Path to Healing

Here are some resources and strategies to support your healing journey:

  • Seek professional help: A therapist can provide a safe space to process past trauma, develop healthy coping mechanisms, and work through unresolved emotions.
  • Join a support group: Connecting with others who understand your experience can be incredibly validating and empowering.
  • Practice self-care: Prioritize activities that nourish your mind, body, and spirit. This could include exercise, mindfulness practices, journaling, or spending time in nature.
  • Focus on rebuilding your sense of self: Reconnect with hobbies and interests you neglected during the relationship. Explore new experiences that help you discover who you are outside of the dynamic with the abuser.
  • Educate yourself: Learn more about trauma bonding and healthy relationships. This knowledge will be crucial in preventing similar situations in the future.

Remember, You Are Not Alone

Healing from trauma bonding takes time and courage. There will be setbacks and moments of doubt, but it is absolutely possible to reclaim your life and build healthy, fulfilling relationships. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help and surround yourself with supportive people who believe in you. You are strong, resilient, and deserve a life free from abuse.

Seeking Treatment? We Can Help!

At California Prime Recovery, as an in-network provider, we work with most insurance plans, such as:

If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health challenges or substance abuse, reach out to California Prime Recovery today. Our team of compassionate professionals is here to support your journey towards lasting well-being. Give us a call at 866-208-2390. Also, check out our blogs posted weekly on Medium.


Do you find yourself making excuses for an abusive partner’s behavior? Do you experience intense emotions like fear and longing when apart from them? These could be signs of trauma bonding.

Leaving can be incredibly difficult, especially with trauma bonding. However, prioritizing your safety and well-being is crucial. Remember, a healthy relationship shouldn’t leave you feeling fearful or controlled.

Focus on self-compassion. You aren’t to blame for the abuse. Consider seeking support from a therapist specializing in trauma. Building a strong support system of friends and family can also be helpful.

Healing is a personal journey with no set timeline. Be patient with yourself. Celebrate small victories and remember, lasting change takes time and consistent effort.

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