22 thoughts on “9 Signs of Traumatic Bonding: “Bonded to the abuser”

  • September 13, 2015 at 3:20 am

    Hi, I have a question regarding #5. (I think.) I’m trying to understand if my action is considered traumatic bonding.

    After a days long “incident” (instigated by my son’s father, who we lived with) that involved extreme gaslighting, attempts at involving my family and friends, successfully involving one close friend in lies about me..My ex blocked my access to car, money, food, phone turned off, led me to believe everyone (my social circle) was involved in an “intervention” for me that I KNEW was him trying to discredit me, he forced me to chose immediately to a) leave my (our) son with him and go to another city to “recover” or “get help” (He told them I was bipolar. I’m not. Or b) Move out immediately and have my father come get me and my son, change his school, total chaos, etc.

    I chose option I knew ex was lying and his behavior was unbelievable. I chose option B, moved my son to different city, school, stayed with friends who had not fallen for his story. As for my family, I had no idea who believed me or who thought I was nuts. 🙁

    A few weeks later, I was in such shock I did not have resources to start over or care for my sweet son. I felt like death.

    My ex apologized, said he was wrong, came and begged me to go back promising to make it right and help with son.

    So, instead of accepting my parents and friends help financially, etc. I chose to go back. I remember distinctly, that I had no idea who really believed me about what happened (many other things over five years too) I felt they doubted me. I knew that my ex knew the truth because he’s the one who did it all. At that time I was too tired to be around people who loved me but doubted me, and it seemed easier to go with my ex because only he knew truth, and I’d only have to deal with him, instead of dealing with many who seemed to doubt me. I was too exhausted.

    So, is that considered trauma bonding? I was so tired my mind just needed to be with someone who believed me and knew truth and only he did.

    So, is that trauma bonding? Or just complete exhaustion. 🙁 Thank you.

    • September 13, 2015 at 5:52 pm

      Yes. This is traumatic bonding. The perpetrator (your ex) is emotionally and psychologically (and perhaps….physically?) abusive to you and your son. He is not healthy and cannot offer you anything other than trouble and instability. The feeling of “death” and only returning to your ex because “he knew the truth…” is traumatic bonding. You are too tired and “abused” to make the right decisions and perhaps you desire to love him, please him, or connect with him on some deeper level. Traumatic bonding occurs because you desire something emotional from the person who is abusing you. You explain away the behavior and allow it to continue because ultimately, you feel you need the person emotionally or desire them to acknowledge your hurt. You cannot move on because you are “stuck” with the abuser.

      Traumatic bonding is difficult and very complicated. Many of us are victims of similar situations in which it is difficult to “get out.” I encourage you to find support in a local therapist (www.psychologytoday.com). You can call one that interests you and ask for a free consultation. They can help you set up a payment plan or use your insurance.

      Please take care of yourself and your sweet son

      • September 18, 2015 at 6:29 am

        Hi, This is Erika. Thank you so very much for answering my question about trauma bonding! I had not considered it to be anything other than exhaustion and shock. Again, thank you so very much for your time and explanation.
        Best wishes to you!

  • September 13, 2015 at 9:08 pm

    It still surprises me that people are surprised at traumatic bonding when the abuser is the parent. The system never stepped in for me. I endured horrific abuse at the hands of my parents my entire childhood from birth until high school. The thing is this, if it’s all someone ever knows and their every need is in jeopardy if not completely compliant – and then often the needs still are neglected or crushed then… what choice is there? THEY WERE OUR PARENTS!!! WE ARE SUPPOSED TO LOVE OUR PARENTS!!!

    In a society that prizes “happy childhood memories” and shared experiences at holidays and such, we believe it is cruel to expect that kids like us could do anything else but try to make the best of what we got.

    I am an adult now. And have been in therapy for close to a decade trying to learn how it was supposed to be and what the real rules of society are. I am safe and am getting help. I just wish society would give the kids that hurt the most a break. Really, it is NOT that they are sub-standard for bonding to their folks – it’s just that there really are no other options for survival. Kids don’t have the luxury of just walking away.

    Thanks for listening.

    • September 18, 2015 at 6:55 am

      Dear Crushed,
      I just read your post and am very sorry that you experienced all of that, and that no one stepped in to help you. It has been my experience that a lack of action or defense can be just as painful.

      Trauma bonding in a child is understandable for so many reasons, just like you said. It makes much more sense than it happening to an adult, who it seems would be able to think and leave.

      I would never judge a child or an adult who experienced that as a child as any “less than” any other person and I think and hope that most others would not judge a child negatively either.

      I wish you well in your healing. ❤️

  • April 16, 2016 at 10:30 am


    I think I’m trauma bonded with my emotionally abusive ex. I experienced verbal abuse off and on for years coupled with nice periods. I remember feeling bewildered that I had no idea when the silent treatments would occur. That I had no way of knowing if something i did today would set him off tomorrow. I remember him telling me the only way out was in a body bag of if I died then saying only joking . I used to tell people he was hard on us but was blind to what was really going on. He controlled it all. Most people don’t have to ask permission to go on a trip but I did.

    When I started trying to ask him to get help it became worse the more I found my voice. He told me I could not leave. That if we just listened we wouldn’t have a problem. The moment I knew I had to get out was the night after that convo I asked to move into guest bedroom. He left to go downstairs and said you can’t leave. I was shaking and went to hide thinking if He came back for me it would slow him down and remind him I am human.

    My question is even though I left with my two kids and in middle of custody battlen where I had to describe incidents of threatening intimidation and verbal abuse. I’m afraid he will deny again and twist it as he has done before and two I still care for him. I experience moments of empathy where I remember where he was nice then memories of the threats and verbal abuse. I even had to ask a friend if I had really heard him describe how to get away with murder after saying I could not die to get away because I feel crazy at times.

    Is this trauma binding?

    • April 16, 2016 at 2:11 pm

      Hi Anonymous,
      I am sorry you are dealing with this. So many of us have dealt with this in one way or another and so many people will deal with it at one point in their lives. Based on what you have reported, I would say, yes, this is traumatic bonding because although you and your children are clearly the victim, you still love him. There may also be some element of hope that perhaps he will change and become the person he once was, the person you loved.
      Traumatic bonding is complicated because although you are the victim, you find some way to justify the behavior that keeps you trapped and you engage in ruminating (thinking over and over again) about who the abuser should be or once was. This keeps you in a cycle of confusion and heartbreak.

      Traumatic bonding can be frightening because many people try to “marry” the abuser/horrific person with perhaps the loving/engaging person they once knew. The cycle of abuse is traumatic bonding to say the least.

      I wish you all the best

      • April 16, 2016 at 10:15 pm

        Thank you for replying. I have been working with a therapist and doing reading to figure out Why.

  • June 3, 2016 at 6:46 am

    I think I was born in a trauma bond.

    I discovers this because I was completely stuck and my true self could not think of a reason.
    I browsed a lot and through many info circles I discovered learned helplessness, perceived entrapment, gaslighting and when I had the guts to Google spiritual abuse I came across emotional neglect, signs of borderline/narcissism in a mother and discovered I already was able to copy the behavior. One of the things I knew before the searching. I could force my will in a very unpleased, spiritual deadening way and decided to stay away.

    So what if your trauma bond is a mother (don’t like to call it my mother actually of I am honest).

    I read this:
    A traumatic bond is created when pain is inflicted into the attachment. This bond is stronger (just like epoxy glue is stronger than rubber cement) than a non-traumatic bond. The more traumatic the bond, the harder to get out.

    So what if there is no extremes. No shouting, obvious physical abuse or emotional abuse, just “things” that instill pain into the bond. Because the oxytocin is causing the mother to feel all her pain even more after real abuse (sexual).

    “whereas the huggable hormone was once looked at as a viable treatment for autism, some recent evidence has revealed more of dark side. Mice experiments has shown that, in cases of trauma, elevated levels of oxytocin may actually intensify painful memories, fears and pain.”

    This suggests that the hormone not only helps us remember negative social experiences, it intensifies anxiety in new stressful situations afterward.

    This is very real and very invisible.

    So in a situation where you NEED to bond (child), probably with oxytocin, but the oxytocin also makes one more anxious (mother),
    a unhealthy bond arises?

    The example of the “abused” ducklings following the mother duck closely as oposed to the older normal ducklings starting to wander more keeping more distance etc.

    I cannot believe it but I am 30 years old and still feel pulled or pressure without pressure to feel like a 18 y old. As if I know I am not yet completely old enough to go my own way. Make my own decisions or plans – without any problems.
    The problems? After talking to my mother I always somehow feel guilty and moved to act differ r by than I intended. The more I object and go my own way the more visible it becomes. A premiere was the last birthday of my mother where I could not come because I have to learn for a certificate for my work ( yey I have a job) and then mentioning things like that only one or two times a year she would like everyone together in one place. If I let her talk it will be followed by that all she ever wanted was a big family and lots of kids making me feel I will have to go back to a 5 year old with rosey flowers to make her happy. It was not the premiere but it was the premiere of me anticipating her to say it and she did.
    So what is so wrong here?
    I have no clue and not sure how I am made to feel so stockholder and what the trauma was. I guess it was just eraric unexpected whizzes of strange comments about my shows, thighs, boyfriends emotions or wants and likes, over analysing my missery when heartbroken teenager oh no I mean 23-some.. And being reminded how heartbroken I was when I talked about an unrequited love at 25.
    Never mentioning oh don’t worry about it, you’ll be fine, but just telling me what is wrong followed by a horror story (adult emotions are horror when you are 30 years younger then the person you talk to)

    She said to me, as a topic of discission that my father never should have had children because he always wanted more time for himself and was so creative and smart. When I asked her what she meant she got into anxious mode and hardly could remember what she said.. My parents divorced 15 y ago, I have a good relationship with my dad

    So she never would say you are ugly or I wish you were never born but in the layers of conversation it was instilled.
    I am trying to uncover this since I was I guess 25.

    I think the trauma bond is from when I was little. Or is it possible it was created when I was 15 years old and my parents divorced. Somehow I was used as a therapist, not even a friend let alone child…
    Is it possible that before that it wasn’t that bad?

    I do remember though that I didn’t liked to be comforted anymore when I was like 6. I don’t know why that happened. So my emotions weren’t comforted and I sort of refused to talk, actually almost couldn’t talk anymore when I was 13. Hated to talk.

    I know this is not normal. I just cannot pinpoint what is the cause. I don’t want to think about it actually but at times when I talked to my mother on the phone I am almost like a magnet pulled into this old emotional habbit. It is so strong I might actually get sick and strange things happen (I do or feel them) and I sabotage myself.
    It’s like the cartoon where someone says the magic word and the person becomes hypnotized again..
    I am with a really good therapist (combined NLP) but I hope to find this “magic word” trigger.

    I have erased many (sick) thoughts like “I may not grow up” ” I need to do what my mother never could”. Completely uncounscious thoughts but very very powerfull. Makes you feel nuts for having them but its a great relief to be able to convert them to constructive and more “egocentric” thoughts. It works great. I am now able to function well at my job, wouldn’t be possible 2 years ago…
    Did I mention I am 30? (Yeah I know I did)

    Any thoughts on this?
    Would it make sense that it is from very early on since most of it is so deeply uncounscious?

    • June 3, 2016 at 6:56 am

      I feel compelled to add:
      She is not a bad mother, but she just hasn’t been able to give me the specific attention or love last 15 years.. Yeah so in my new life I started after 30 years old I decided I don’t think she is such a good mother. It So difficult to accept that. She’s not a bad or mean person just not as good in nurering as she wants me to believe. It defintly makes me really uncomfortable to put that in words.
      But I am glad I found a great boyfriend who does talk with me and we have so much fun I love it!

      • June 3, 2016 at 6:57 am

        ** Not as good in nurtering as I want to believe

    • February 6, 2020 at 7:41 am

      Trauma bonding will be part of it. You might want to consider what father/male role model/s influences were too. She will only be one half of it. The other half, the more transient, will be a result of her agency rather selection criteria as functional fulcrum leveraging your emotions and dopamine.
      Also consider looking up the ‘dopamine project’, as I think it is called.
      Learn about dopamine steering, also emotional literacy (however some that will help, also want their brands of socialised conditioning.. anyway).

      Also cptsd and various forms of conditioning (increase, decrease, new stimmulus), reflection and mirroring as tools of manipulation. The five trauma/crisis responses, fight, flight, fawn, freeze, flop(early childhood falling on stairs, less noted). Also bonding styles, and I’d suggest blend all the develpment charts together (Ericksonn, Piaget etc Myer Briggs personality one has 1/2 parts that slot neatly-ish into early child hood with the rest mostly over 5-11-22 years)

      Because you love, and you become happy = they become sad, you are therefore bad, justify snips at you until you .. guilt. Work it out for your self that you are guilty and bad, and now sad, maybe you now also do something ie fawn, maybe your self infliction of pain is enough ie freeze/anxious/become indecisive and dependent/flight/ worst to drugs collapse and become dependant, and they are happy. flop, ambivalent bonding/attachment, have no stratagems for meeting needs and connections to anything, not even maladaptive ones and become dependent.

      Early Childhood sets the attachment thing up, and it might be possible to treat through what seems to be a dopamine repriming effort that the no fap community dig into. That is set up around the period that one, ‘epigenetics’ are strongly being influenced around 0-2 years old, things like anxiety can be set up as a predisposition (possible treatable with regular meditation, to help gain influence over HPA axis, via breathing influence over vagus nerve), and when a persons sense of ‘hope’, ‘primal safety’, ‘primal trust’, ‘primal self esteem/value’ are created, these become background guides later in life, unconscious if you will. Around 14 months old, 1.1ish years old, core emotions start to form. So the ID (Freud) starts to gain a ‘spectrum of colour’ in internal expression, we start to get a sense of ‘what we are’ through that sense of emotion. As the Ego, sprouts and roots from here, it starts to use those to make sense of the world and to create stratagems to answer the ID/Body flow, sometimes that includes needing a nappy change. Its not surprising we don’t remember too much from this period.

      Anyway I think I’m rambling and that’s about the best I got so far.. hope that helps some.

  • July 26, 2017 at 2:48 am

    I recently ended a relationship with a beautiful soul. This man was all heart and made me feel like I found the last true love of my life. With that, he has a very violent traumatic past. He spent most of his adult life in prison for robbery and assault. He was kidnapped as a young boy and had problems with neglect and abandonment in his homelife. He never processed any of this trauma so he lives his life now 50 with high intensity, meth addiction, anger issues (hes never been abusive to me but he gets reactive for the slightest thing), risky behavior, shoplifting and drama. All that aside when I met him he was desperate to change his life. He was always amazing to me mainly because I showed him real love and we had a very special thing. With me he was great; proactive, sober, goal-oriented not using. The problem was his ex gf who did not want to leave the picture. Claiming she was the love of his life their history was domestically violent, meth addicted and toxic. They reunited last Fall and she betrayed him by cheating and it broke his heart and he left. Back in 2003, He had gone to prison for ten years because of his behavior stemming from that relationship. Once she found out about us, She began harrassing me, stalking me and verbally abusing me. He always had my back but he claimed to still have love for her he could not resolve. As time went on he started to change. He was no longer the man I loved. Her “involvement” began to ruin us. We had this future in front of us that was destroyed because of what I have learned was a trauma bond he had with her. He slowly succumed to the addiction of her–and he literally gave up all his freedom, self worth and progress to delve right back into a living hell. He dropped down to 155lbs and looks like a corpse. He walked away from the best thing that ever happened to him and it devestated me even though he kept telling me he will be back and still wants to fix his life. All the waiting and hoping have almost killed me. Because of this I began a journey of healing my own trauma and codependency. Ive learned that he has such numerous deep-rooted issues that it would take a miracle to fix in order for us to ever have a normal life. He may desire it but the trauma bonds have taught me he will constantly recreate them unless he truly deals with it which I am doing now. My heart is in pieces and I dont know if I will ever get over him. Letting go at this point is impossible. But I want to stress that we shared a beautiful relationship together which is why I cannot heal. I was very well aware of his issues but was assured he wanted a peaceful life now and his actions were always on par.
    At this point I just pray for his healing and recovery but I see him back in prison or dead within a few years. He came to my house saying he wanted to kill himself and that I will read about him in the paper. He also said Im sorry baby. He was in total despair mainly because he hasnt been able to find steady work which normally is not a problem. He feels like all his hopes are lost. I know he wanted to have a great life with me but it is something that is probably just a pipe dream. I cannot put aside the hurt anger and pain and am struggling with why God would send him to me just to take him away. I am aware of free will and I know he is a big boy who needs to make better decisions. He just doesnt have the tools. I wrote this poem among many:

    Her betrayal broke his spirit.
    The pain it numbed his core.
    But what he doesnt see here,
    Is the trauma bond’s reborn.

    It makes him desperate for her.
    It’s familiar to his soul.
    His past once more replaying,
    This abusive, tragic role.

    Forever will it stalk him.
    Its shadow always near.
    Betrayal bonds continue,
    ‘Til you heal away the fear.

    He’s fooled by thinking love is,
    Some violent, desperate acts.
    ‘Cause history’s only taught him,
    The illusions of those facts.

    And even tho’ he’s angry,
    He’s hurt and whithered down.
    He cannot walk away from her.
    In this bond, he’s forever bound.

    The effects they do not teach you,
    That you must open your eyes.
    They have you think the love is real.
    Masqueraded by the lies.

    In time the shell you live in,
    Is your slow and fateful end.
    Some meth some coke some incident
    You continue to pretend.

    But the girl who truly loves you,
    Stands waiting in the light.
    She prays she cries she worries
    Will you ever be alright?

    For the lesson she is learning
    Isn’t something new.
    Her trauma of abandonement,
    Relives itself through you.

  • May 16, 2018 at 4:01 am

    My dad passed away two years ago. I am in my late thirties. Dad was physically abusive when I was younger and Mom was emotionally neglectful/absent. She has narcissistic tendencies but I hesitate to label her without a professional opinion.
    Becoming an adult was very difficult. Throughout my life, my main motivation has been to please my father or gain his approval. This was complicated by the fact that in my twenties he started to seek help for himself. We eventually reconciled and by the time he died, I considered him my best friend. Throughout my adult life, mom and I have had little contact that isn’t superficial. Most family visits over the past 10 years have ended with my mom and I and an argument and not speaking for several months. Lots of unhealthy family dynamics going on here.
    So how do I separate the obvious trauma bonding I have with my dad from the deserved good sentiments? Have I given Dad too much credit, too much of a free pass? How do I explain to anybody how it feels to mourn for him everyday, to miss our daily talks and still feel angry for how he treated me as a kid? Why do I feel so guilty for feeling like I couldn’t come out from under his shadow until he was gone, but still love him and miss him at the same time? Everything is a blur…

    • May 20, 2018 at 3:20 pm

      Hi there,
      Thank you for your comment and great question.
      This is difficult for me to explain because I would have to have further information than what you provide here. But I can say that traumatic bonding can be confused with “good sentiments” for those who have had a traumatic childhood. It isn’t easy to separate the two unless you have a therapist who can walk you through your storyline one step at a time. But I often explain to my clients that traumatic bonding is often a negative experience characterized by increased anxiety, feeling manipulated, and emotional exhaustion. If you enjoy sharing things with your father and feel that you are building a relationship with him at this time in your life, that may be “good sentiments” and not “traumatic bonding.” I think it’s ok to miss him and mourn for him and yet, still struggle with the truama. That’s very normal. And yes, it can be blurry. It can be difficult to explain.

      I encourage you to consider reaching out to a therapist who may be able to help you not only understand your own behaviors but help you understand what your feelings mean. It can be very rewarding if you find a good therapist.
      Take good care

  • August 3, 2018 at 10:28 pm

    Hi, i am divorced as my ex wife had unusual behaviour like: getting anger rages for small things wheñ things do not go her way,verbal and physical abuse which she does not remember she did when in anger rage,manupulative,no empathy for whatever we do,over hygenic ,lying,flip flop ,feels like a sea saw with her mood once good the next moment angry,self centered ,insecure though she also has positives like mature person,strong in character and will power,takes care of my needs like when i am sick, Cooking and giving hygenic food,she is very controlling but does tell me good habits to follow and live in a better way,not too much money centered,not materialistic, does show concern for me.i am in contact with her as meet her after divorce also, she says her anger will stay ànd does not want to take any treatment as she says she is perfect.her parents also deny she has any problem,i have compassion for her still in my heart even after being divorced after 10 months,should i marry her again as i always think of herwellbeing and hope it will workout again as i have been educating myself about her unusual behaviour?i am posting here bcus as i have read about trauma bonding my relationship of married life lasted 3 months where all this behaviour was visible but it does not mean that i am addicted to her abuse as its not even on my mind,i do think abt the abuse she did and looking for ways how i can change my behaviour in this senario,these 3 months i was taken back with her behaviour my suprise and had no clue what to do or how to react,often i also reacted in anger and negative way ,untrustful and tit for tat behaviour,my ex is egoist and though she does say to get back but denies her wrong doings but says she will do councelling with me Please suggest….thanks?

  • August 16, 2018 at 12:13 pm

    In the last 6 months, I took in my 11 year old niece from my sister. Sister is seeking therapy as she admits to resenting this 1 of 3 children, all of whom are out of wedlock, and fit the risk factors above. My niece is good, but displays exactly the traumatic bond scenario by always being overly defensive of her mother when she is aware of her name being mentioned in conversation. Comments like,”you think you’re perfect,” or, “my mother is perfect” are regular. When my sister, the mother, visited us for 10 days with her youngest 8 year old, the daughter tried to get her mother’s attention often, but mostly it was negative in reply. We are working with both mother and child, separately, and as far as mother goes, with a professional. My question is this: how to give the child the ability to admit to herself that she’s protecting her mother—not to reject her mother—but to be able to be more clinical herself so she can “move on” with her life? Are there subtlety worded books for kids? Videos? Thank you

    • August 21, 2018 at 10:59 am

      Hi Ryan,
      Thanks for your comment and question.
      This is always a tough situation that will require therapy, maturity, and perspective. Your niece is still way too young to understand her own patterns of behavior in relation to her mother. She may get it logically, but not emotionally and psychologically. I’ve seen a lot of very, very mature 11-year-olds but we must keep in mind that their brains are still developing which means they lack the sophisticated reasoning skills of someone much older. As a result, her reasoning will be minimum at this time. That being said, I would try getting her a good therapist (possibly a younger therapist) who can help her reflect on her behaviors and reactions. This may also be someone who can help her see herself more clearly because they aren’t as “close” as you are to her. Sometimes kids will respond better to a trusting adult that isn’t a family member or friend.
      As far as resources, I don’t know of any at this time but I would do a Google search on this or try the resource page of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
      I wish you well

  • November 2, 2018 at 1:42 am

    Half of that list describes me, being aware is a 1/1,000,000th of the battle!! Once you are damaged as a child at the hands of toxic abusive care givers or parents, you are ruined for life!!! You end up living your life in a self contained bubble, its also very much that you are like bloody shark bait in the open sea of narcissists and other malignant people!!! Most of the time, you endure lots of abuse and BS from peole, by the time you realize what has happened, its too late, and you get down on yourself for not seeing it coming, then there is the problem of courage, most of the time, you are afraid to fight back, mainly due to extreme suicidal low self-confidence/esteem!! I tried suicide a few times, but I was too much of a coward to self terminate!! Most days since, I wish I had done it!!

  • December 9, 2018 at 11:03 am

    Good morning, This was a very good article. Yet, Every article I pick up concerning child abuse talks about the drug addicted, poverty stricken, rag tag child. Even though professionals write acknowledgeding that ‘ABUSE’ happens in EVERY social, economical & highly educated Family’s. Although your article is correct, it leaves out one very important factor. Rich kids aren’t always spoiled! they to are abused. It saddens me at the lack of insight towards ALL who have been abused.
    I NEVER read stories of any Wealthy child as an EXAMPE to abuse and it just perpetuates the notion that it doesn’t happen in families that are wealthy and in community standing. Infortunately, it’s the worst kind of abuse, it goes unchecked and unnoticed because money can hide problems.
    Thank you for your time,
    Nellie Quist

  • December 17, 2019 at 11:40 pm

    Having a relationship with an Indian male who’s expected to be the head of his extended family now his father has died although it seems he was supporting his parents prior to this, I see this unboundaried dependancy in him and wonder if ‘bonding to the abuser’ isn’t cultural insanity prevalent in this world which perhaps was once dominated by British values as in Britain the blurred boundaries and unease at being separate from others, feeling ill at ease about saying no or upsetting anyone is the norm.


Join the Conversation!

We invite you to share your thoughts and tell us what you think in this public forum. Before posting, please read our blog moderation guidelines. A first name or pseudonym is required and will be displayed with your comment. Your email address is also required, but will be kept private. (Please note that we use gravatars here, which are tied to your email address.) A website/blog/twitter address is optional.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *