Trauma bonding

Continuing the discussion from “Another embarassing confession”

I felt like this was needed to be written. Maybe it will be eye opening for someone.

Traumatic bonding is “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other"(Dutton & Painter, 1981). Several conditions have been identified that must be present for a traumatic bond to occur.

–(1). There must be an imbalance of power, with one person more in control of key aspects of the relationship, such as setting themselves up as the “authority” through such things as controlling the finances, or making most of the relationship decisions, or using threats and intimidations, so the relationship has become lopsided.

–(2). The abusive behavior is sporadic in nature. It is characterized by intermittent reinforcement, which means there is the alternating of highly intense positives (such as intense kindness or affection) and the negatives of the abusive behavior.

–(3). The victim engages in denial of the abuse for emotional self- protection. In severe abuse (this can be psychological or physical), one form of psychological protection strategy is dissociation,where the victim experiences the abuse as if it is not happening to them, but as if they are outside their body watching the scene unfold (like watching a movie). Dissociative states allow the victim to compartmentalize the abusive aspects of the relationship in order to focus on the positive aspects.

Victims overwhelmed with terror suffer from an overload of their system, and to be able to function they must distort reality.

Bonding is a biological and emotional process that makes people more important to each other over time. Unlike love, trust, or attraction, bonding is not something that can be lost. It is cumulative and only gets greater, never smaller. Bonding grows with spending time together, living together, eating together, making love together, having children together, and being together during stress or difficulty. Bad times bond people as strongly as good times, perhaps more so.

Bonding is in part why it is harder to leave an abusive relationship the longer it continues. Bonding makes it hard to enforce boundaries, because it is much harder to keep away from people to whom we have bonded. In leaving a long relationship, it is not always useful to judge the correctness of the decision by how hard it is, because it will always be hard.

Moreover, experiencing together extreme situations and extreme feelings tends to bond people in a special way…Trauma bonding, a term developed by Patrick Carnes, is the misuse of fear, excitement, sexual feelings, and sexual physiology to entangle another person. Many primary aggressors tend toward extreme behavior and risk taking, and trauma bonding is a factor in their relationships.

Strangely, growing up in an unsafe home makes later unsafe situations have more holding power.
This has a biological basis beyond any cognitive learning. It is trauma in one’s history that makes for trauma bonding. Because trauma (and developmental trauma or early relational trauma is epidemic) cause numbing around many aspects of intimacy, ***traumatized people often respond positively to a dangerous person or situation because it makes them feel.***It is neither rational nor irrational. If survivors can come to see that part of the attraction is, while very unwanted, a natural process, they may be able to understand those feelings and manage the situation more intentionally.

Intense relationships also tend to hijack all of a survivor’s relating capacity. It is like a state of being burnt out. First, while it is very easy to become attached to a very chaotic and inconsistent person, it is simply not possible to form a consistent internal object representation (feeling memory) about them. When separated from the intense partner, the urge to make contact is usually intense because it is a stable feeling memory (or internal object) that makes separation from an important other person tolerable in any circumstance.

Second. the survivor can come to find that it can be almost impossible to relate to anyone, even family or old friends, except superficially. There is a biological craving for intensity that no normal relationship will satisfy.
This provides a feeling of being totally alone, and totally empty. At first, only going back to the primary aggressor can overcome it. It would be normal in this state to believe that something is horribly wrong with leaving (even if it seems equally true that something is horribly wrong with staying.) If it can be understood that abstinence from unnatural intensity will eventually restore normal relating capacity, the period of distress can be better endured.


Thank you @Sarad for supplying the clinical background for those of us to whom this type of relating is completely foreign.


Previously they called it “Stockholm syndrome” but the term just got overly misused and trivialized.
I didn’t know for the condition that almost describes my entire life until notmoses wrote something about it. So all the praise goes to him.

This is terrible. I can relate to it a bit, I went through a period of two abusive relationships, and the second one was mostly like this.

I agree that it’s fine to name what we have or had, it’s healthy in a way. But to break free from it, the idea of victim and abuser must disappear. To break free from it we cant see ourselves as helpless and weak. We have to assume the responsibility we have in the matter. It’s a very hard thing to do, because we find it better to assume we have none and are solely victims of bad choosing, but that’s often not the case.

When I was being beaten up and emotionely abused, I kept wanting for more. I eventually wanted for him to kill me, and when that didn’t happen I tried to commit suicide. There was my own ■■■■■■ up behaviour there to blame too, not just his psychopathical personality. It takes two to tango.

When the suicide attempt didn’t succeed, I had a major breakthrough, I saw for a day there that my life is my life and that I’m the only one in charge of it. I wasn’t not only a weak victim of others behaviours and myself but I was responsible for not letting that ■■■■ happen to me. We are responsible for our decisions.

Just wanted to share the lesson I’ve learned.
It’s been five years since I had that type of relationship and I’m learning each day how to love myself more. It’s not easy, it’s no ball in the park either. It sucks most days and we can’t trust our perceptions of what is right in the beggining but it’s completely possible to get out of that cycle.

My 2 cents.


Totally agreed minnii. But it seems like those two articles missed to mention the factor of love/ attention/ acceptance/ security craving that most of us couldn’t find at home no matter how hard we tried.
I’m happy for you…that it all ended up without serious consequences.

That’s a very important point. This is a very sensitive and important issue for me. I’m shaking as I write.

There’s a movie, I can’t remember the title, that said that we get the love we think we deserve. And abusive relationships are not based on love but on power, they feel empowered and we feel helpless because that’s exactly what we want. To feel vulnerable and to be taken care of. Of course that’s where it stings, because the consequence of that vulnerability is emotional trauma. Very hard to get out of, I’m still on it, a therapist at the hospital said I have PTSD from it. We are fragile, very fragile.

There is no acceptance there either. We accept their behaviour, they will never accept our lives as important. Another lesson I’ve learned. My exboyfriend went to a period of guilt and wanted to make things right with me, doing the same with his girlfriend at the same time. He thought he could be forgiven from his mistakes with me and do it anyway. They’re just twisted, there’s no saving them.

As for attention and acceptance I can only say we can get that from other sources, I’m sure you’re well aware of that. But the craving is not healthy, we need (I still do…) to learn how to not need it.

It’s been five years for me and still hurts like it was yesterday. I still haven’t made my peace with it and am terrified of it happening again, so I stay out of relationships. I’m single by choice and by trauma. Don’t want any of that in my life as long as I don’t know how to make those decisions. I seem like I can’t read the person in the beggining, and they all end up being jerks.

I’m sorry if I opened something that was better to stay locked :disappointed:
Everything you write is just a pure gold of insight and understanding… for me, it is only a few months since I’m being aware of my issues…and I am still pretty directionless.
You know more than I write here…

You know, you were very lucky for having a place to escape…possibly a support too?

Also, and I know these are all just an excuses for keeping the status quo, but i have a numerous of “aggravating circumstances”… Better not start with that!

Nah, no support at the time, had to make it all on my own. I wasn’t talking to my mom at the time, and said nothing to my sister. My friends all got tired of telling me to leave him. I eventually kicked him out of the house, literally kicking him out, he almost fell of the stairs of the building. I felt like I could deal with anything at the time.

Thank you, means a lot that you think that. I was affraid of being innapropriate.

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Nah, it is actually very helpful, at least for me.
Do you think that our mental states, or if they were aware of our diagnosis, added something to situation?

Because, for instance, I’ve been told that I’m needed to be taken care of… And that im untrustworthy because my moods make me do unpredictable things…( too bad I myself believe it).

Uh…won’t torture you anymore for now minnii :blue_heart:

Well yeah, but don’t wait too long to make a decision. You can have the strenght to figure out a way to help yourself, I’m sure you can.

For me it meant giving up on a bunch of dreams at the time and work in restaurants for a while. I didn’t have a kid but I had two cats, needed to make sure they were taken care of well. I ended up full blown psychotic a few years after that, I was a bit psychotic at the time but nothing that disabiling. Just saw demons every once in a while in periods of great stress. I had no insight over my mental state, that is very recent of me.

I think so, my exboyfriend now sees me as a lost case of insanity. I don’t care anymore really, but still feel the need to prove him wrong.

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I don’t know how you act in real life, but you’re still young, I’m sure you will be able to find a way to deal with yourself and be able to live on your own. I have a feeling you’ll exceed your expectations of yourself.

Don’t let them sink you in learned helplessness.

It is not pure roughness…or dominance and such. He can be romantic and loving and caring, it is like you’be been hugged while at the same time he keeps a knife on your neck.
The reason I write this is really for any outsiders that will maybe recognize her/himself …pretty much I discussed all of this with Notmoses.

Before the advent of feminism this was probably the pattern for most relationships. Most of the power was by far in the hands of men. That said, I have a kind of different history - I’ve always had a cassus belli - a cause for war. I had one when I was growing up. I had one when I was in the army. I have one now. I’ve always felt like no matter how bad I was I was not as bad as the people abusing me. Thankfully, I have a passive nature, so I’m not likely to get violent, but I do have a lot of rage in me.

Yeah I don’t think it is gender related - women can be abusers too - although the concrete cultural circumstances probably give more objective power to men.

Yeah, my ex was like that too. That’s why I stayed with him for 3 years. Regret it now. A lot.

I understand, it’s good for me to talk about this, I never do. I’m starting therapy in January and will deal with this, took a real toll on my ability for having a relationship. After that I only had meaningless sex with people I knew it wouldn’t go further.

I have to make a lunch now .:unamused: …hope we’ll keep talking about this, if you’re OK with it.

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I am. If you feel more confortable we can talk about this in pm, I don’t mind

I was talking about the past. Men had so much power over women in the past. Of course, someone who is put down often developes her own coping mechanisms which can be destructive too, and I’m not talking about just staying in the relationship. A pattern of manipulation can develop as a victim gains power.

I need a Rick Astley in my life