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Have You Ever Experienced Trauma Bonding?

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Rebeckah Atkinson

Written by Rebeckah Atkinson, BS

Rebeckah is currently an intern and under the supervision of Kayce Bragg, LPCS (# 8061), LAC #369

Rebeckah Atkinson, BS  is a resident of West Columbia, South Carolina. She received her B.S. in Psychology from Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina in December 2018, and she is currently completing her M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Webster University (Columbia, SC). She is on track to graduate in the Spring of 2024. 

Rebeckah believes that coming to therapy is a powerful step in the healing process. She aspires to create an open, empathetic, culturally sensitive environment in which clients can express their mental health or life concerns in a judgement free environment. She employs an integrative, trauma-informed approach to counseling that includes person-centered, cognitive-behavioral, and family systems therapy techniques. Rebeckah works with individuals, children, couples, and families.

Have You Ever Experienced Trauma Bonding?


Have you ever been in an abusive relationship? Whether with an intimate partner, a parent, a family member, or even a friend. If you have experienced a persistent draw to your abuser, chances are you are undergoing trauma bonding.

Identifying Trauma Bonding


Trauma bonding, the formation of an unhealthy bond between a person living with abuse and their abuser. This kind of bond is created in a relationship that alternates between love and abuse. When your relationship experiences abuse and then you are showered with love and positive attention, it creates the feeling of heightened enjoyment of the love and attention. This creates that bond because the positive actions feel as if they override the negative actions.

The Cycle of Abuse and Love


When you find the love and attention to be satisfying, it leaves you longing for more. Some relationships are built and maintained on the feeling of fear, where someone may be scared to leave or speak up for themselves, and so they turn all of their focus on the positives parts of that relationship and block out the negative parts. This is often viewed as rationalizing the abuser’s behavior and sticking up for them when others may try to confront the issue. When this cycle begins, the relationship becomes a repeated pattern of abuse followed by love and attention, therefore it becomes a habit or routine that is excused, regardless of how unhealthy the relationship may be. 

Signs of Trauma Bonding


In an abusive relationship, trauma bonding is something that is hurting you in defense of the abuser, and it perpetuates the abusive cycle within that relationship. Some examples of trauma bonding signs are the following:

  • making excuses for their abuse,
  • putting up with the abuse to make the abuser happy,
  • self-blaming for the abuse,
  • changing your thoughts and opinions to match that of the abuser and,
  • closing yourself off from others around you that challenge you about your unhealthy relationship.

Sometimes, you are not the one trying to take responsibility for the abuser’s actions, but they put the blame on you and use this as a control measure. If you have ever been in a relationship with a narcissist, you may have experienced trauma bonding. For example, someone who takes credit for things you have accomplished while also demeaning everything you do in private to you, this would be another form of abuse. There are many forms of abuse that are present in a trauma bonded relationship, and these are only a few examples.

Breaking the Bond – Taking the First Steps


In a trauma-bonded relationship, there’s hope for change. Don’t give up; you’re strong and worth the effort. The first step in breaking a trauma bond is to recognize the abuse in your relationship. Some abuse is not as apparent or obvious as others. One example of this would be emotional abuse. Emotional abuse can be in many different forms, but one that is very common is gaslighting. Gaslighting is when you are manipulated or tricked into doubting yourself and everything you do. This gives the abuser control over you, and is often times unnoticed by the person experiencing it. Recognizing the abuse is a powerful and often times, hard first step, but once you see it, this gives you the ability to put distance between yourself and the trauma bond.

In an abusive relationship, being the victim is very demeaning, and can often create negativity inside of the victim of the abuse. It is so important to recognize the positives in yourself. If you use positive self-talk, you will begin to see those things of value in yourself again and realize that all those negative thoughts you once had about yourself were not actually your thoughts at all, but those of your abuser.

Empowering Yourself Through Self-Care


Another powerful tool to help break a trauma bond is self-care. When you are in an abusive relationship with a trauma bond, you rarely are taking care of yourself and your needs and find yourself prioritizing the needs of your abuser. Start taking care of yourself and you will begin to feel empowered and healthier from the inside out. Show yourself the respect you deserve, and you will begin to understand your worth, something that you thought no longer existed due to the treatment from your abuser.

Unmasking Empty Apologies


A lot of people that have been in an abusive relationship have shared that they learned to accept the “I’m sorrys.” from their abuser and did not notice that they were meaningless. Pay attention for empty apologies. If you start to notice that they apologize and then turn around and do it again, understand that they did not mean it when they said they were sorry. Recognizing empty apologies will make it easier to break your trauma bond. 

All of these things shine light on the trauma bond in the relationship and begin to make it easier for someone who is being abused to put distance between themselves and the trauma bond that has formed. Once you recognize these issues, you can begin to step away from all the self-doubt, making excuses for the abuser’s behavior and actions, and allowing the abuse to go unnoticed. These are powerful things that can bring you hope once again.

Shedding Light with Counseling


Sadly, all of those are often times not quite enough for everyone in those relationships. That is where counseling comes in to help. It can be hard to see the other side when you are in the midst of the storm. As counselors, we are here to listen and help you find your way through the storm and out the other side. We are able to help you see how the effects of the trauma has taken its toll on you and begin to process everything you have experienced. These experiences have such a negative impact on your mental health. We do not want to show you what is wrong with you or tell you what you should have done, but rather understand what you have experienced and use trauma therapy to help you heal from the trauma and remove yourself from the trauma bond.

Your Path to Healing


You deserve love and attention, but you should not have to pay a price to receive it. You deserve so much more, and we want to be there to help you come to that realization. No one should ever have to experience abuse, especially not on the journey to feel love and acceptance. Just because you are in a trauma bond does not mean that you choose to stay, but that the abuse is clouding your full view of the relationship and the trauma bond that is there. There is always a way out and we want to help you get there. Reach out for support, love yourself, and know that you deserve to be loved by someone who knows how to love you in a healthy way. You are worth it.


If you, or know of someone who could use some online counseling to feel heard and learn ways to cope, please connect with one of our therapists today for a free consultation.


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