A trauma bond is an emotional attachment that is formed to another person, often an abuser, that makes it difficult for this person to separate themselves from their source of trauma. These bonds can overtake your emotions and lead to poor decision making. Sometimes, the effects of trauma bonding can last long after you have separated yourself from the relationship, so it’s important to know the signs of these unhealthy attachments and how to begin to separate yourself from the emotional connection.
What Causes a Trauma Bond?
Trauma bonds occur when an abused person develops affection for their abuser, creating an emotional connection that is difficult to break. Despite the poor treatment of the abused person, they exhibit sympathy for the person causing them harm and can try to empathize or rationalize their behavior. Trauma bonding can occur in situations involving:
- Abuse (child, domestic, or elder)
- Sexual abuse or exploitation
- Religious trauma
- Cult involvement
Not everyone who experiences one of these situations will develop an unhealthy attachment to the perpetrator, or perpetrators, of the trauma, but there are environmental factors that can make you more susceptible to developing emotional attachments to your abuser. Some of the most common influential factors are survival instincts, dependence, and cycles of abuse.
If you find yourself in a life-threatening situation, such as a kidnapping or abusive relationship, you may develop an emotional bond as a way to protect yourself. By showing the abuser some form of affection, the abused may feel they are protecting themselves from more severe abusive situations and potentially save their life. This emotional attachment can remain even after you have removed yourself from the situation, creating a continuing trauma bond.
Similarly, in harmful relationships or communities, you could develop a dependence on the person or leaders, causing uncertainty when you leave the situation. Dependence on another person or community to meet your needs, especially if they did not allow you to practice any type of independence, can leave you with an unhealthy attachment to them and an inability to act on your own. Finally, if you have experienced abuse previously, you are more likely to accept the behaviors and can develop a trauma bond because the abuse is “normal” based on your past experiences. This can lead to a continuing cycle of abuse where these unhealthy behaviors and attachments are accepted.
Trauma Bonding: Warning Signs and Symptoms
Recognizing a trauma bond is an important first step in helping yourself or someone you love who may have developed an unhealthy attachment to an abusive person or community. Some signs of these attachments include:
- Defensiveness when someone tries to intervene
- Lack of recognition of the abuse
- Justification of abusive behaviors
- Distancing from support systems
- Being reluctant or unwilling to leave an abusive environment
- A desire to return to the abusive environment after leaving
Breaking the Bond
Once the person has left an abusive situation, the trauma bond can remain. To help someone who has developed an emotional bond begin to separate themselves emotionally from their abuser, you can begin by providing them with facts about their past situation. Often, it’s helpful to note the differences you see between what a healthy relationship is and what this person has experienced. Bringing their own desires in and how those were not being met can also be effective. Encourage them to spend time focusing on positive interactions and self-care and seek out healthy relationships as they move forward.
There will often be fear related to the situation and a number of complex emotions this person needs to work through, and it’s not uncommon for someone to turn to substance use to cope. Support from friends and family can help reassure this person’s safety, but full recovery and separation from their abuser will likely require professional help through therapy.
Healing from Unhealthy Bonds at Celebrate Hope
If you are worried that you or someone you know has developed a trauma bond alongside an addiction, Celebrate Hope can help. Trauma bonds are reflective of our God-given desire to be loved and cared for. Through our treatment model based in Christian principles, we can help you find comfort in the unconditional love our Creator provides while healing from addiction. If you’re ready to begin your life of freedom built on a foundation of Christ, contact us today.