The Stockholm Syndrome You Didnt Sign Up For

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Clinical Psychologist -

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Counselling Psychologist - MA Psychology Pennsylvania State University, USA

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Unmasking Trauma Bonding

"Bonding" usually connotes a good thing when it comes to forming relationships with other individuals. It is, in fact, a fundamental aspect of human conduct.

On the other hand, trauma bonding refers to an unhealthy form of attachment to a person who causes trauma. More precisely, abusive cycles are followed by acts of generosity and love in trauma bonding partnerships.

This article will examine trauma bonding in more detail, including what it is, why it happens, how to recognize the symptoms, and how to seek assistance.

What is Trauma Bonding?

Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., founder of the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals (IITAP) and author of The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitative Relationships, coined the phrase "trauma bonding." Psychologists frequently adopt a broader definition of trauma bonding, even though the Foundation for Post-Traumatic Healing and Complex Trauma Research emphasizes that Dr. Carnes first defined the idea as “the misuse of fear, excitement, sexual impulses, and sexual physiology to bind another person." A trauma bond is usually cyclical and based on power disparities. Breaking the bond may be easier if you accept it for what it is and seek assistance.

Typically, ending an abusive relationship involves more than just closing the door. You could feel stuck with your spouse, unable to leave them, in addition to worries about housing, finances, and missing out on time with family or friends.

The recurring cycle of abuse, devaluation, and positive reinforcement gives rise to this emotional attachment, sometimes referred to as a trauma bond.

Forming a relationship with someone who shows you kindness is simply natural. A lot of abusive relationships start off with lots of love and affection.

Because you recall the beginning of the relationship and think they can be that person again, these manipulation attempts frequently succeed.

Additionally, trauma bonding may occur between:

  • A child and an abusive caregiver or another adult
  • A hostage and kidnapper
  • The leader and members of a cult

“The use of the term trauma bonding has expanded in cultural vernacular, referencing any time one person bonds with another in abusive situations,” says Vanessa Vaughter, a licensed clinical social worker and staff therapist with The Center for Integrative Counseling and Psychology in Dallas.

Signs of a traumatic bond

Trauma bonds can look a little different depending on the type of relationship, but they tend to have two main characteristics.

A cyclical nature

First, they depend on intermittent reinforcement. In other words, a cycle of abuse.

It’s generally easier to leave an entirely bad situation, one where the abusive person never offers any kindness or concern for your well-being.

But in abusive relationships, your partner occasionally does treat you well. They might bring you gifts, call you their soul mate, take you out, or urge you to relax. Some refer to this stage as love bombing.

Eventually, love begins to overshadow the fear of further abuse. As you slowly regain a sense of trust, you might ignore or suppress memories of their past behavior until the cycle begins again.

An unequal distribution of power

These ties are also based on an underlying power disparity. You may feel that they have complete influence over you in this dynamic and that you are unable to resist or escape.

Without expert assistance, you can find it difficult to sever the relationship even if you are able to leave it. Because the abusive cycle is comfortable to you and you don t know how to live without it yet, you can feel incomplete or lost without them and eventually return.

Here are a few additional traits of traumatic bonds:

  • Even if you may no longer like your partner and are unhappy, you still feel stuck in a relationship that you can t stop.
  • You experience both bodily and emotional agony when you attempt to depart.
  • They swear they ll change when you tell them you want to go, but they never really try.
  • You obsess over the "good" days and use them as evidence that you genuinely care.
  • When others voice concerns, you respond with justifications and justify their actions.
  • You aspire to change them, and you still have faith in them.
  • By keeping abusive behavior under wraps, you shield them.

All people experience trauma differently. However, typical signs of trauma bonding include:

  • Denial of the other person’s fault
  • Justification of their actions
  • Increasing isolation from support structures
  • Increasing dependence on the partner

Trauma bonds can linger, even when the abuse happened long ago. You might find it difficult to stop thinking about someone who hurt you and feel the urge to reach out or try again.

What are the 7 stages of trauma bonding?

Some people define trauma bonding in seven stages. There are:

  • Love bombing
  • Gaining trust and increasing dependency
  • Criticism and devaluation
  • Gaslighting
  • Submission and resignation
  • Loss of self and value
  • Emotional dependence

Why it occurs?

It can be challenging for those who have never experienced abuse to comprehend why people continue to live in violent relationships. They could think you re more than capable of walking away.

But in actuality, this is quite challenging because of the trauma bond.
It is not human choice to abuse. Additionally, they are powerless to stop the formation of trauma attachments, which are fueled by some very potent biological mechanisms.

The freeze reaction

You may be aware of the fight-or-flight reaction, which is your body s natural reaction to any perceived threat. It s possible that you even know that humans react to dangers in four different ways: freeze, fawn, fight, and flight.

Your brain alerts the rest of your body to the potential for distress when you experience abuse or worry it may occur in the future. Stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline surge in, igniting your survival instinct and producing tension in your body and mind.

You decide to concentrate on the good aspects of your relationship and block or ignore the negative aspects when thinking about the abuse becomes too painful or challenging. You could rationalize your need to stay by offering them explanations and justifications for their actions.

Hormones also have an impact.

Strong reinforcers can be found in hormones. The abusive person s gifts, affection, or apology act as incentives that heighten the dopamine release and perpetuate the alleviation.

Another feel-good hormone that helps fortify ties is oxytocin, which is released in response to physical contact or affection.

Breaking the Bond

Those who were abused as children often find that they are lured to similar situations as adults because their brains are already trained to identify the highs and lows of the cycle.

It may be more difficult to dissolve trauma attachments if you have experienced trauma in the past, but you may learn to break this cycle.

Recognize what you re facing.

Acknowledging the bond s presence is a crucial initial step. Of course, it s often easier said than done when it comes to abuse.

Here are some things to look for in order to discover proof of abuse and identify indicators of trauma bonding:

Maintain a journal: You can start recognizing trends and noticing issues with conduct that may not have seemed abusive at the time by keeping a daily journal of events.

Look for perspective: Act as though you are reading a book about your relationship. Examining unpleasant experiences is frequently made simpler when one is somewhat detached.

Speak with your loved ones: Family members can provide important viewpoints. Make a sincere attempt to listen and give careful thought to the

Steer clear of self-blame

It may be more difficult to exercise your autonomy if you think you brought the abuse upon yourself or provoked it, which would essentially keep you in the relationship.

Remember that abuse is never your responsibility, under any circumstances:

What you might have done or not done

How much you ve already returned, how much you fear being alone, or a life without them

Indeed, you merit better. This fact can start to sink in by substituting affirmations and constructive self-talk for self-criticism and blame.

Cut stop all communication.

As soon as you make the decision to go, break the cycle entirely by ceasing any communication.

This may not be feasible if you co-parent, but a therapist can assist you in creating a strategy to keep in touch only when required.

Get some physical distance by locating a secure location to stay, like with a friend or relative. If at all possible, think about altering your phone number as well.

Seek expert assistance.

Though these relationships usually keep strong, you can take steps to start reducing the trauma link on your own. Without expert assistance, breaking free might not be simple for you, and that s completely normal.

You can learn more from a therapist about the abusive patterns that lead to trauma bonding; this knowledge can often bring a great deal of clarity.

Moreover, in therapy, you can:

  • Examine the elements that strengthen the relationship
  • Practice establishing boundaries
  • Discover how to create connections that are healthy.
  • Face your self-blame and self-criticism

It is usually advised to work with a therapist who is knowledgeable in trauma. When it comes to helping victims of abuse recover from a particular experience, experts in the identification and management of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), especially complex PTSD and its aftereffects, can frequently make the most difference.


  1. Dutton, D. G. (2018). The wisdom of trauma: Healing the shattered mind. HarperOne.
  2. Engel, L. (2019). The myth of normal: Trauma, illness, and healing in a toxic culture. HarperCollins.
  3. Harris, N. (2018). Hold me tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime of love. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  4. Herman, J. L. (1992). Trauma and recovery: The aftermath of violence - From domestic abuse to political terror. Basic Books.
  5. LaBianca, L., & Lawson, D. M. (2016). Healing the trauma of sexual violence: A guide for survivors. W. W. Norton & Company.
  6. Levine, P. A. (2010). In an unsafe world: PTSD, trauma, and the continuity of life. Yale University Press.
  7. Lundy Bancroft (2014). Why does he do that?: Inside the minds of angry and controlling men. Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness.
  8. Shah, M., & Shah, K. (2016). Complex trauma: A roadmap to healing. Routledge.
  9. van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Viking.
  10. Walker, L. (2013). The battered woman syndrome. Simon and Schuster.

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