A trauma bond, also known as a Stockholm syndrome, refers to the emotional attachment that can form between two people when one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other. Trauma bonds can occur in various relationships, including romantic relationships, friendships, parent-child relationships, and cults.
What causes a trauma bond?
Trauma bonding typically occurs under conditions of power imbalances in relationships, when the victim becomes reliant on the abuser for basic needs like food and shelter or emotional validation. The repeated cycle of abuse followed by affection or positive reinforcement creates powerful emotional bonds that are difficult to break.
Key factors involved in forming trauma bonds include:
- Isolation – The abuser separates the victim from other sources of support.
- Power imbalances – The abuser creates a dependent relationship.
- Intermittent reinforcement – The abuser alternates abuse and positive reinforcement.
- Secrecy – The abuser makes the victim feel complicit in the abuse.
- Intermittent abuse – The abuse occurs in an unpredictable cycle.
Can trauma bonds form without abuse?
While trauma bonds most commonly form under conditions of abuse and power imbalances, some experts believe they can develop in other relationship dynamics as well. Reasons trauma bonds may form without overt abuse include:
- After experiencing a shared trauma – Going through a traumatic event together, like a natural disaster, crisis, or loss, can create strong emotional bonds.
- Emotional dependency – If one person is much more emotionally dependent on the other, it can create relationship power imbalances.
- Poor boundaries – Relationships with enmeshment and poor boundaries can foster unhealthy bonds.
- Addictions – Addictions like gambling, drugs, or alcoholism can create trauma-like dynamics.
- Mental health issues – Certain mental health problems may contribute to traumatic attachment styles.
Signs of trauma bonding
Some signs that may indicate a trauma bond has formed include:
- Feeling like you “need” the other person
- Isolating yourself from friends and family
- Making excuses for the other person’s behavior
- Feeling unable to leave the relationship
- Feeling emotionally bonded despite being treated badly
- Having low self-worth or feeling “addicted” to the other person
- Expressing sympathy for the other person’s situation
- Hiding signs of abuse from others
Breaking trauma bonds
It takes time and effort to break trauma bonds, but it is possible. Some tips include:
- Seek support – Connect with friends, family, support groups to break isolation.
- Remove contact – End all contact with the abuser if possible.
- Allow yourself to feel anger – You have a right to feel anger about the abuse.
- Learn more – Read about trauma bonding to understand it.
- Be patient – Healing takes time, be gentle with yourself.
- Try therapy – An experienced trauma therapist can provide guidance.
- Practice self-care – Focus on your needs through relaxation, exercise, proper nutrition.
While trauma bonds usually form from abusive dynamics like domestic violence, some mental health experts believe they can also stem from other sources of emotional dependency and poor interpersonal boundaries. However, trauma bonds should not be confused with healthy emotional closeness in relationships. Creating awareness of trauma bonds can help people identify and end unhealthy relationships.