Breaking Trauma Bonds

How to emotionally break free from an unhealthy abusive relationship?

When one is truly facing reality that a relationship is abusive and not merely trying to figure out how to get the abuser back, the action plan in this book can help to guide you through breaking “trauma bonds” which link you to your abuser.

Below is an excerpt from the book that discusses trauma bonds.

The Case for Traumatic Bonding: The Betrayal Bond

by Dr. Patrick Carnes

About Trauma Bonding:

These people are all struggling with traumatic bonds. Those standing outside see the obvious. All these relationships are about some insane loyalty or attachment. They share exploitation, fear, and danger. They also have elements of kindness, nobility and righteousness. These are all people who stay involved or wish to stay involved with people who betray them. Emotional pain, severe consequences and even the prospect of death do not stop their caring or commitment. Clinicians call this “traumatic bonding.” This means that the victims have a certain dysfunctional attachment that occurs in the presence of danger, shame, or exploitation. There often is seduction, deception or betrayal. There is always some form of danger or risk.

Some relationships are traumatic. Take, for example, the conflictual ties in movies like The War of the Roses or Fatal Attraction. What Lucy does to Charlie Brown (in the comic strip, Peanuts) every year when she holds the football for him to kick is a betrayal we have grown to expect. Abuse cycles such as those found in domestic violence are built around trauma bonds. So are the misplaced loyalties found in exploitive cults, incest families, or hostage and kidnapping situations. Codependents who live with alcoholics, compulsive gamblers, or sex addicts, and who will not leave no matter what their partners do, may have suffered enough to have a traumatic bond.

Here are the signs that trauma bonds exist in your life:

When you obsess about people who have hurt you though they are long gone from your life (To obsess means to be preoccupied, fantasize about, and wonder about something/someone even though you do not want to.)

When you continue to seek contact with people whom you know will cause you further pain.

When you go “overboard” to help people who have been destructive to you.

When you continue to be a “team” member when obviously things are becoming destructive.

When you continue attempts to get people who are clearly using you to like you.

When you again and again trust people who have proved to be unreliable.

When you are unable to distance yourself from unhealthy relationships.

When you want to be understood by those who clearly do not care.

When you choose to stay in conflict with others when it would cost you nothing to walk away.

When you persist in trying to convince people that there is a problem and they are not willing to listen.

When you are loyal to people who have betrayed you.

When you are attached to untrustworthy people.

When you keep damaging secrets about exploitation or abuse.

When you continue contact with an abuser who acknowledges no responsibility.

About co-dependency:

“Parallels do exist between trauma bonding and codependency because to live with an active addict is often traumatic. For the most part, the addiction field has not incorporated all the trauma research that documents how people grow closer to their abusers in the face of trauma. Yet it is clear that many codependents are also trauma-bonded. The converse is also true. The trauma field has not really addressed issues surrounding addiction, let alone codependency. Yet addiction in its many forms is one of the principal solutions used by survivors to cope with their lives. And most trauma-bonded persons, whether as children or adults, are involved with an abuser who has one or more addictions.”

About shame:

An injury to one’s sense of self forges some bonds. The self-injury becomes part of the fabric of the relationship and further disrupts the natural unfolding of the self. When this involves terror of any sort, an emptiness forms at the core of the person and the self becomes inconsolable. No addiction can fill in. No denial of self will restore it. No single gesture will be believable. Only a profound sense of the human community caring for the self can seal up this hole. We call this wound shame.


I hope that this information is as helpful to you as it has been to me.

Breaking a trauma bond is not “just getting over someone”. It takes work and unfortunately, it is the victim that must do all the work. “Trauma bonds can be disrupted when healthy bonds are available.”

“Finding supportive, healthy relationships is the foundation of recovery.”

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