It has been hypothesized that there are 7 stages of trauma bonding, with each stage contributing to the perpetuation of the cycle of stress and sadness that is typically observed in abusive relationships.
Even while it may become increasingly challenging for the victim to break free from this cycle of trauma, it is still possible to break a trauma bond. This is especially true once you have gained an understanding of the stages of trauma bonding and how they affect both you and your relationship.
Table of Contents
What is Trauma Bonding?
Trauma bonding develops when an abuser makes the victim feel dependent on them for validation and care through manipulation techniques and gaslighting. This results in the victim developing a deep attachment to the abuser. This happens in friendships, families, and professional relationships, in addition to romantic narcissistic relationships, where it frequently happens.
In a relationship, trauma bonding can happen along with any potential physical or sexual abuse. But even when you are stuck in the cycle of abuse, it can not feel easy to “walk away,” regardless of whether the abuse is solely psychological or a combination of the two.
It can take a long time for survivors to learn how to break free from their toxic relationship, and frequently, they stay longer than they should because they are afraid for their safety or their means of support. This can result in even worse abuse before they can break free.
What Are the Signs of Trauma Bonding?
Breaking free from a trauma bond starts with recognizing it. Here, we compare Stockholm Syndrome—a condition in which captives develop sympathy for their captors—to the repeated cycle of abuse in such bonds:
Unhealthy Attachment: Despite chronic mistreatment, there remains a powerful emotional bond to the abuser frightening separation even when the perpetrator is away.
Abuse Dismissal: We may minimize or excuse abuse.
The abuser may isolate us from friends and family, increasing our bond as our primary support system.
Like Stockholm Syndrome victims, we may have confused emotions for the abuser, including love, terror, and devotion.
Cyclical abuse and compassion: A cycle of abusive behavior and kindness that keeps us hoping for a difference that never comes.
Wanting approval from the abuser despite devaluation.
We may blame ourselves for the abuse or think we earned it when our self-esteem declines.
Stages of trauma bonding: who is more at risk?
Experiencing trauma bonds usually seek those who have experienced relational and emotional trauma, whether on purpose or not. To make them feel better when they finally break them, abusers often find self-sufficient, determined, intelligent, and influential individuals.
Among the additional risk factors for trauma response are:
- Individuals with dependent personalities
- Anyone who is easily forgiven and highly values “the good times.”
- Individuals who have experienced abuse during their childhood or in previous relationships, as well as those with disordered, nervous, or avoidant attachment styles
- Individuals who tend to doubt themselves despite overwhelming evidence that points the finger at them
- Current mental health issues include anxiety, BPD, and depression.
- Individuals who have separation anxiety Individuals who are easily offended
7 Stages of Trauma Bonding
The 7 stages of trauma bonding are:
1. Love bombing
Love bombing is a deceptive strategy that is frequently used by narcissistic people who are attempting to acquire your trust in a short amount of time.
In the beginning, they show you a lot of love and affection, praises, and what appears to be genuine love and affection, which causes an explosion of beautiful feelings. You may experience feelings of being adored and valued as a result of this sudden flood of warmth and attention, which can be both overpowering and uplifting.
A narcissistic individual has the goal of establishing a close connection with another person in a short amount of time, creating a cycle of dependency. However, this period of deep devotion is nothing more than a coating; it is a stage that comes before you can develop control over your feelings.
However, the positive memories from the love bombing phase frequently keep the individual eager for a return to those early days, bringing them deeper into the trauma connection. This is because the cycle of love and affection changes into phases of rejection and manipulation.
2. Trust & Dependency
During the shift from the love bombing stage to the attachment stage, a sense of trust and attachment develops. The abuser establishes a connection that appears to be of essential importance by skillfully connecting their own life with that of the victim.
The victim can develop a sense of dependence on the abuser to receive emotional support, affirmation, or even fundamental decision-making.
It is via this dependency that the abuser can establish significant control over the victim’s life in a manner that is becoming increasingly difficult to figure out. This dependency is an essential component of the trauma bond. The dependency might be emotional, financial, or social, which increases the complexity of the bond and makes it difficult to break.
3. Manipulation & Gaslighting
Psychological abuse can take many forms, including gaslighting and manipulation, which are frequently observed in trauma bonds. These forms of abuse ultimately cause victims to question their perceptions and realities. People who engage in gaslighting will never take full or honest responsibility for their actions and tend to blame the party they are manipulating.
It is very usual for those who engage in gaslighting to suddenly appear calm, cool, and collected after they have succeeded in pushing their target to the point where they are about to crack. One of the most common sorts of abusers, such as narcissists, sociopaths, and psychopaths, is known to engage in the behavior of gaslighting frequently.
Fighting back or questioning the abuser can frequently give the impression that it will never end in anything positive, which can occasionally lead to the target engaging in abusive behavior in response to the abuser.
Out of blinding wrath, survival, or psychological preservation, the target may engage in acts that appear to be abusive toward the oppressor. This word refers to these activities, yet they are harmful.
It is usual for victims who engage in reactive abuse to feel incredibly guilty and concerned when their behavior turns physical, leading the target of abuse to question their identity further, primarily because the gaslighting type of abuser seeks to isolate the target from anything and anyone that gives them a sense of reassurance, normalcy or independence.
Once the abuser has gained the victim’s trust, their behavior changes from one of affection to one of abusive behavior. As a result of the transformation of compliments into criticisms, an environment of perpetual devaluation is created.
Having been showered with praise in the past, the victim feels a sense of self, wanting validation and approval, which comes to them infrequently or not at all. This change is both unsettling and hurtful, forcing the victim to make more effort to recapture the affection they have lost.
However, the victim is unaware that the abuser is constantly shifting the goalposts. This stage contributes to the sufferer becoming even more entangled in the trauma connection, making it even more challenging for them to break free.
5. Resignation & Giving Up
An overwhelming sense of hopelessness frequently envelops the victim as the trauma bond becomes more profound. Their emotional reserves are depleted within them as a result of the recurring cycle of manipulation and gaslighting, which ultimately leads them to a condition of acceptance regarding the poisonous relationship.
Despite the apparent damage and the decline in their self-esteem, they could believe that they were unable to leave. As the victim sees no way out of the abusive relationship, this stage is characterized by a tired acceptance of the abuser’s dominance over them.
Further consolidation of the victim’s position within the abusive dynamics has occurred as a result of the entanglement in the trauma bond, which has transformed into a reality that appears to be unavoidable.
6. Loss of Self
As we proceed through the stages of a trauma bond, we experience a gradual loss of self, which results in a great deal of suffering and a separation from the environment that we are accustomed to. People who leave abusive partners may not appear to be the same person they usually are because they may have lost their own identity and the boundaries that they have set for themselves.
Because of the changes in your self-identity that no longer correspond to what people who are close to you are accustomed to, trauma bonding can be quite isolating. This is because you may lose many of your social ties due to these changes.
There is a possibility that this amount of psychological ruin could result in an entire lack of confidence and even thoughts towards suicide. Many people have been subjected to emotional torment, humiliation, and guilt for a considerable amount of time, which can make it highly challenging to confront and move on from the situation.
7. Emotional Abuse
The most significant aspect of the trauma connection is the dependence on the abuser on an emotional level. The victim can acquire an emotional attachment that is comparable to an addiction as a result of the intermittent reinforcement of affection and validation.
They want the occasional kindness and validation to stay in the relationship, much like a gambler waiting for a successive win. They have been conditioned to tolerate negativity for the sake of romantic relationships as a result of the cycle of abuse that they have sustained.
Through the use of this emotional addiction, the trauma bond is strengthened, making it extremely difficult to exit the relationship and begin the process of rebuilding one’s life.
Trauma Bond Types
Trauma bonding is often connected with abusive, emotional, or physical love relationships, but it can also occur in other situations with various challenges and dynamics.
Co-dependency: Couples who depend on each other for emotional support can affect their health. Trauma bonds can arise when one or both people are mistreated but stay together owing to emotional dependency.
Survivors of natural or manmade disasters might form trauma relationships. The intense shared experience and emotional aftermath can form enduring bonds even if the connection is unpleasant or toxic.
Sibling relationships: Strong bonds are often forged by shared experiences, upbringing, or domestic violence. However, one sibling may dominate, control, or abuse, causing a traumatic bond. The victimized sibling may stay close due to familial devotion, shared memories, or the violent brother’s occasional generosity.
Stages of Trauma Bonding and Drug Abuse
Substance use disorder can be linked to trauma from abusive relationships. As we seek temporary escape from mental distress, we may turn to drugs or alcohol. Such relationships can create a loop where substance use is an escape from trauma, and the abusive relationship makes it worse.
Codependent relationships are when both parties use drugs as a psychological response to abuse. Substance abuse treatment entails treating both the substance dependency and the trauma bond that may have led to drug use.
Stages of Trauma Bonding Cycle and Codependency
Co-dependency occurs when people depend on their spouses for emotional and self-esteem support. Family of origin abuse or ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics or Dysfunctional Families) can increase the risk of codependency.
Early dysfunction and trauma sometimes lead people to seek relationships that mimic their childhood instability and mental upheaval. They may become trapped in co-dependent relationships that strengthen trauma links.
What are the effects of stages of trauma bonding on the brain?
According to research, exposure to traumatic events can cause the brain to become confused or shocked, resulting in several biological changes and stress responses.
These responses can include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), other mental illnesses, substance use disorders, changes in the limbic system, changes in hormones, altered brain chemistry, and decreases in brain functioning. Some of these changes may be occurring on the inside, making them more challenging to detect.
The following are some additional effects that trauma can have on the brain:
- The development of chronic diseases
- Expressions of emotional distress that are obvious, such as frantic behavior
- Responses from within, such as dissociation
- Exhaustion and brain fog
- Problems sleeping, such as having nightmares or being unable to sleep, etc.
- Fear regarding a future event
Treatment can be an excellent complement to your support system, and there are trauma-focused treatment practices, such as trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), that are specifically designed to deal with those who have recently survived abuse. Utilizing a therapist directory can allow you to locate a local therapist.
A significant number of survivors have reported that they either considered or attempted to leave their relationship on multiple occasions before it finally came to an end. It is necessary to have reasonable expectations on the degree of difficulty involved in leaving the relationship and the degree of intensity that the want to return can be.
It is essential to remember that not much evidence suggests how much time or therapy will affect the relationship dynamics. Yet, it is possible for post-traumatic development, recovery, and healing to occur.
Surviving The Stages of Trauma Bonding
Leaving a trauma connection requires self-discovery and education. Recognizing the dynamics and leaving the relationship can lead to a healthier, happier existence. These tips can help you negotiate this problematic yet transformative journey and break the stages of trauma bonding:
Self-education: Learning about stages of trauma bonding, abusive relationships, and manipulation is the first step. New awareness can inspire change.
Prepare to Leave the Relationship: Planning to leave the relationship safely, possibly when the abuser is away, will help. Using support services or hotlines during difficult times can help.
Stay Grounded in the Now: We must notice feelings and identify harmful activities that harm us.
Create Space: By distancing yourself from the unhealthy relationship, you may start to see things clearly and release their emotional grip.
Join support groups: Sharing experiences with others can provide helpful insights and community.
Self-Care: Prioritizing personal well-being, self-respect, self-love, and self-care is essential.
Imagine your future: Considering our goals and how to live a better, happier life might provide a path.
Positive Dialogue: Talking to trusted friends and family about our feelings can be helpful.
Allowing oneself to heal and seeking expert support for emotions and issues is vital.
Please seek Professional Advice: Trauma-focused CBT can help us address underlying difficulties and recover.
Understanding that healing is a process and practicing self-compassion are crucial.
Do Have Fun: Practicing yoga, working on a new project, or journaling can assist channel energy and encourage healing.
Use Clinical Methods: No-contact contracts and separation can help dissolve the trauma bond.
Following these steps and obtaining professional help can help us break the trauma connection, recover, and build better relationships and self-empowerment.
Why do People Stay in a Trauma Bond?
Even in unhealthy relationships, stages of trauma bonding can often be hard to break. Some reasons people can’t escape and may even make excuses for their abuser include:
Vengeance: Victims may fear vengeance from the abuser if they leave, keeping them in poisonous settings.
Financial Dependence: If the victim is financially dependent on the abuser, economic concerns can be significant. Economic entanglements might make leaving seem insurmountable.
Shared Responsibilities: When the abuser uses children or combined assets as leverage, leaving might be difficult.
Decreased self-confidence: The victim may mistrust their ability to manage life independently.
A sense of Change: Victims may be trapped by the notion that the abuser will change or become kind again.
Lack of Awareness: Victims may struggle to identify abuse and trauma connections, making it difficult to get help.
Support: Lack of external support or understanding from friends and family can often hinder people from leaving abusive situations.
The seven stages of trauma bonding illustrate a repetitive pattern of tremendous highs and lows that occurs in abusive relationships. These cycles often result in the victim experiencing feelings of isolation and a lack of identity, as well as being in the relationship dynamics for an excessive amount of time.
There is, however, the possibility of dissolving a trauma link, and there is a lot of help available. Additionally, it is essential to collaborate with a mental health expert who is highly trained and experienced in the field of narcissistic abuse rehabilitation.
This is in addition to forming a social support system and developing a safety plan. If this does not occur, you can encounter a provider who is not conversant with the nature of abuse, which can lead to additional uncertainty and cause retraumatization and triggers, as is understandable.
Suppose you or a family member is prepared to receive professional support. In that case, you may speak with a clinician to ascertain whether or not they possess the necessary expertise to meet your requirements.
What are trauma bond withdrawal symptoms?
Anxiety, despair, and severe emotional discomfort can arise when breaking free from the stages of trauma bonding. Along with feeling empty and losing their sense of self, people may have an intense yearning for the toxic connection even in the abuse recovery.
During this difficult healing process, physical symptoms, including weariness, sleeplessness, and changes in appetite, may also appear.
What is trauma dumping?
The act of inappropriately burdening someone else with one’s emotional suffering and distress—also known as “trauma dumping”—refers to this practice. Trauma-bonded relationships may suffer, the listener may feel overstimulated, and an uncomfortable dynamic may result.
Addressing and preventing trauma dumping requires exercising self-awareness, setting healthy boundaries, and obtaining mental health professional assistance for the healing journey.
How long does it take to break the stages of the trauma bonding pattern?
Each person experiences the stages of trauma bonding differently for varying lengths of time, depending on the trauma’s intensity, resilience, and outside support. Therapy, introspection, and creating more positive relationships are standard healing components. It may take months or years to see progress, which emphasizes the value of perseverance and persistent work.
Do Narcissists Feel Trauma Bonds?
Although they can develop trauma attachments, narcissists have different emotional experiences. They lack genuine empathy, even though they could feel attached to a source of sustenance.
Rather than an emotional connection that is reciprocated, the tie is frequently motivated by the need for affirmation. Because of their intricate nature, breaking such relationships requires self-awareness and professional assistance.
Can a trauma bond become healthy?
It is difficult but possible to turn a traumatizing bond into a healthy one with dedication and professional help. It entails setting boundaries, ending destructive routines, and promoting sincere emotional intimacy.
Expert advice facilitates the process and provides the chance for recovery and the growth of a stronger, more sustaining bond.