10 Minutes

Imagine being in a relationship where your partner constantly hurts you but becomes a source of solace and comfort. This twisty relationship, a trauma bond, can easily be the messiest knot you will ever have to untangle. Comprising intense emotional experiences, trauma bonds often lead to toxic relationships, which leave you in a confusing yet strong attachment with the abuser.

Trauma bonds can easily trap you in a cycle of hope and despair, essentially making it difficult to break out. But remember: there is always a way out!

Breaking from a trauma bond doesn’t only include disconnecting from your partner. It involves rediscovering your inner strength and reclaiming your sense of self. The healing process is a journey of patience, resilience, and self-compassion.

This article will briefly discuss trauma bonds and how to identify them while focusing on professional treatments and practical strategies to overcome them. Whether you have just started noticing the signs or have already started the healing process, this guide can help you embark on the transformative journey of turning your pain into power.

A trauma bond is a term that describes an unhealthy connection between two people, one being the abuser and the other being the victim. [1] This bond can develop anywhere, such as in a family, workplace, or religious group. However, most people use this term to describe toxic romantic relationships.

Trauma bonds often result from a psychological response to abuse where the person who is facing abuse gradually develops affection and sympathy for the abuser. It is usually a consequence of an unhealthy attachment.

Humans are naturally hard-wired to establish relationships with people they deem protectors, caregivers, and defenders. For instance, children attach themselves to their parents or caregivers, and adults attach themselves to people who provide them security, comfort, and support. But when a person you look up to is a caregiver and abuser at the same time, it can turn the attachment into a trauma bond, making it hard for you to leave.

Recognizing a trauma bond is vital as it allows you to understand when to start seeking treatment. This recognition may be challenging as it includes a constant emotional exchange of positive and negative experiences. This constant juggling between the two emotions can sometimes mask the negative experiences, making you focus only on the positive ones. [2]

Following are some of the signs that you may be bonded in a traumatic, abusive relationship:

The relationship is suppressing your needs.

Whenever you try to assert a reasonable amount of independence in your relationship, your partner dismisses them by labeling them demanding or selfish. You may also feel the obligation to meet their needs more frequently.

You are always in a state of devaluation and ideation

Many abusers in a trauma bond have borderline personality disorder. What this means is you may experience strong emotional highs only to be followed by crushing lows when you fail to meet your abuser’s expectations.

You are always on your tiptoes.

 A healthy relationship thrives on mutual support, whereas a trauma bond can make you feel like you are constantly walking on eggshells. Because of this insecure attachment, you are always hypervigilant, trying your best not to offend your partner.

Healing from trauma is not as simple as ticking off the tasks on a to-do list. The process is gradual and requires great care and patience to conquer. If you are looking forward to breaking a trauma bond, you must go back to your traumatic past to the point where it all started.

Trauma-informed care can help you identify how the trauma bond started and overcome it with the help of a therapist specialized in dealing with the complexities of trauma responses. Such therapists can help you go through your experience while addressing your emotional attachment to the abuser without any judgment or shame.

When it comes to trauma bond healing, there is no single therapy that can help. Experts have proposed a variety of trauma-focused therapists to help you and other trauma survivors break the trauma bonds and begin healing. A clinician may also use a blend of these therapies mentioned below to help you achieve the best clinical outcome.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Also known as CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy helps you explore how your feelings and thoughts impact your behavior. It also helps you find easier ways to identify and change negative thought patterns and deal more effectively with day-to-day challenges.

Trauma-focused CBT is a branch of cognitive behavioral therapy that explicitly helps people with past traumas and can be particularly beneficial for breaking a trauma bond. [3]

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Also known as DBT, dialectical behavior therapy is a widely used strategy to manage trauma. It is similar to CBT but also helps people change their behavior patterns after identifying them. DBT uses strategies such as communication, mindfulness, emotional regulation, and distress tolerance to help you control how you respond to stressful situations. Consequently, it empowers you to make healthy decisions for yourself, such as breaking out of a trauma bond.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Also known as EMDR, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy is a unique model designed to manage stress due to traumatic memories. The treatment can be highly effective in helping people disengage themselves from traumatic events and the consequent painful emotions. [4]

Exposure Therapy

The goal of this therapy is to provide you with a safe, controlled environment where you can confront your traumas. This confrontation can reduce your anxiety and fear associated with traumatic memories while empowering you to break out of the negative cycle of abuse.

Group Therapy

Group therapy brings people with trauma bonds under one roof to help and support each other in safe and structured environments. Such therapy sessions can also help you find a support system in the community to rely on when things get tough. [5]

Letting go of someone you are trauma-bonded with can be difficult, but it is certainly possible with devotion and self-care. Following are some tips to make your journey easier:

Find the right resources.

If you have been in an abusive relationship and need help to break out, do not hesitate. Plenty of resources are available to help you break a trauma bond and move forward. Whether it is trusted friends, close family members, or a local therapist, there are different ways to get help. Make sure you research and reach out to the right person to help you escape the volatile relationship.

Be assertive & set boundaries.

If you are wondering how to break a trauma bond, the most important thing to focus on is setting boundaries. Ensure that you clearly communicate your needs in a relationship and practice assertiveness when doing so. The purpose of boundary setting is to keep people around you at a safe distance.

Boundaries can differ for different people, but they all focus on keeping you safe. If someone attempts to disrespect the boundaries you have set to protect yourself, it is a sign of a deeper problem. If you think that your partner can become violent when you start discussing your boundaries with him, make a safety plan to follow in the worst-case scenario.

Disengage from the situation

Disengaging from something seems counterintuitive, especially when trying to solve a problem. However, it is a wise step to take in circumstances where things can quickly become dangerous.

Disengaging yourself from a potentially dangerous situation can help you mitigate the elevated emotions related to a trauma bond.

Face and embrace your feelings

When you are in a trauma-bonded relationship, you may keep pushing negative emotions to one side with hopes of appeasing your partner and resolving conflicts. However, avoiding or crushing your feelings instead of identifying and acknowledging them as they surface can do more harm than good.

On the other hand, if you acknowledge them at the right time, it proves that you care about the dynamics of your trauma bond and how they impact your mood and emotions. From here, you can start working on yourself to become better.

Validate what you are feeling.

Identifying your feelings is essential, but validating them is even more necessary if you are looking forward to breaking a trauma bond. Validating your emotions can build your self-confidence and strengthen your reliance on them. So, how do you validate what you feel?

The simplest and best way to do so is to indulge in positive self-talk. Practice encouragement and love when you talk to yourself, just as you would speak to someone you love and care about. This strategy can work at the moment and be your go-to coping strategy in the long run. Some other ways to validate your feelings include finding a creative outlet, such as painting or singing, or forming a solid support system for yourself.

Consider talking to a professional.

Therapy is one of the most effective answers to how to break a trauma bond and move forward. It gives you a safe space to explore your trauma-bonded relationship, focus on the conflicts, and uncover the meanings behind them. Once you identify the root causes of these conflicts, you have already started taking steps toward recovery.

While you look for a therapist to support you, ensure that you choose the one specializing in trauma-bond relationships. Many online directories are available to help you understand who’s available online. Consider reading reviews and going through their bios to understand their scope of practice and whether they can help you. Many therapists provide free consultations over the phone to help you decide if you want to continue working with them.

Another way to find a therapist is to ask your primary doctor or a trusted person for a referral. The physician is normally well aware of the local network of other providers and can be the best person to connect you with a suitable therapist.

Write a journal.

Journalling gives you enough space to identify your emotions, express them, and process them without facing judgment. Use a pencil to pour out whatever you are feeling on a blank page and allow your anxiety, depression, and fear to unload.

Journaling is an excellent way to protect your mental health and can help you record your emotions and healing process. By going over your daily entries, you can also understand the stage of trauma bond you are in and let you focus on emotional growth.

Grieve on your losses.

Grief and loss generally have a negative connotation, but they form a part of the normal human experience as you let something go. Even if it is breaking a trauma bond, you are still losing something from your life, so take time to process your feelings as you allow them to be happy.

Processing the emotions you feel as you leave a trauma-bonded relationship can help you develop better perspectives, along with releasing negative feelings that may be holding you back.

Follow your passions.

Consider taking up a project or activity that you truly love and enjoy and using it to stimulate the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that triggers happy emotions, and engaging in activities that you enjoy is a good way to trigger it.

Once you start feeling positive emotions, breaking trauma bonds becomes easier. As a bonus, doing what you love also instills a stronger sense of identity, self-worth, and self-esteem in your mind.

Add yoga to your routine.

Yoga has been widely accepted as a relaxation technique for controlling anxiety. The process combines the power of guided meditation, mindfulness, and breathing practices to help you find external and internal balance. When you achieve this equilibrium, it automatically becomes easier to process negative emotions and focus on healing.

Quit blaming yourself.

Feeling your emotions is essential, but do not let them blame you for being in a trauma bond in the first place. Avoid negative self-talk and speak to yourself as you would to someone you love who has gone through the same abuse. Self-blame perpetuates shame and guilt, which can hinder your progress and lead to victim blaming.

Breaking trauma bonds is not an easy job, but remember that every step you take to distance yourself from this abuse is a victory in itself. The process is much more than trying to get away from a toxic relationship. It is about focusing on healing and growth to reclaim your life.

Remind yourself that you have the resilience and strength to overcome this trauma bond, no matter how tough things may get. Keep celebrating little victories and use them to push yourself forward. Set boundaries with toxic people and keep your loved ones close. Do not forget to practice self-compassion as you embark on the journey from pain to power.

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