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Understanding The Stages of Trauma Bonding: Breaking Free from Destructive Attachments

Updated: Mar 7

Understanding The Stages of Trauma Bonding: Breaking Free from Destructive Attachments

A trauma bond signifies an emotional connection between an abused individual and their abuser. Abusive behaviours are not always easily identified, especially when one has been in the relationship for some time. It often takes time to manifest. The abusive behaviours are generally aimed at asserting dominance and control within the relationship.

When can a trauma bond occur?

These damaging bonds can develop at any stage of dating or following a stressful event within the relationship such as a family tragedy.

The Cycle of Abuse, a heavily researched model, emphasizes that trauma bonding cycles through the destructive abusive behaviours, followed by a time of remorse whereby victims tend to minimise, excuse or forgive the abusive behaviours due to feelings of guilt, fear of being along, sympathy and empathy. While seemingly noble, excusing and forgiving abusive behaviours enable the ongoing perpetuation of the Cycle of Abuse.

Understanding the stages of trauma bonding is crucial for victims seeking to break free from these detrimental and toxic relationships.

1. Gaslighting: The term "gaslighting" comes from the 1938 play "Gas Light" where the protagonist's husband manipulates her into believing that she was losing her sanity. He does this by making minor changes in their environment, such as dimming the gaslights in their home, and then denying that these changes are occurring when she questions them. Therefore term ‘gaslighting’ refers to an insidious form of emotional abuse, whereby the abuser manipulates the victim into questioning their reality and sanity. Victims are urged to overlook the abuser’s harmful behaviour, (often by blaming the victim for provoking it, by self-victimization and through blame).

2. Love Bombing:

The term "love bombing" originated in the context of cults and manipulative relationships, namely psychological manipulation techniques, whereby the abuser or a cult leader pours and overwhelms another person or people with affection, attention, and admiration with the sole purpose of gaining control. Language is often intoxicating, words of sacrificial love would be offered, the showering of gifts, and much more. While seemingly magical, love bombing often results in dependency and feelings of indebtedness. This can easily confuse victims about the reality of their relationship, making it even hard to break free from the trauma bond.

3. Emotional Addiction: Victims become emotionally addicted to the highs and lows of the relationship, akin to drug addiction. This is because they crave validation and attention from their abuser. This cycle of dependency, characterized by cortisol-induced stress and dopamine-driven pleasure, reinforces the trauma bond. Think about how difficult it is to give up a substance which brings you so much pleasure, yet knowing how damaging it also is to you.

4. Criticism: The love bombing ends at some point. This is eventually replaced by criticism and blame, or in other words: emotional abuse. Victims are subjected to humiliating comments and acts, insults, dehumanizing words and belittling. This leaves them confused and questioning their self-worth.

5. Loss of Self: While some abusers often ‘claim’ their sacrifices for the relationship, the reality is that the victims are the true sacrifice themselves. They sacrifice their self-confidence and identity to maintain peace within the relationship, fearing further harm if they resist. Fearing isolation if they leave. Fearing judgment from friends and family if they speak. Fearing the loss of finances if they walk away. We can once again see the perpetuation of the trauma bond and how it is sustained. Victims often say, “I feel like I’ve lost myself.”

6. Trust and Dependency: Abusers manipulate victims into dependency by fostering trust through displays of affection and validation, reinforcing their power dynamic within the relationship. Abusers disable their victims’ sense of empowerment and ability by doing things ‘for them’ so as not to burden them. Abusers often ‘take care of’ certain household demands or caregiving duties to ‘relieve’ victims from the chores or challenges of daily life.

7. Resigning to Control: The frustrated victim then eventually placates after failed attempts to stand up to the abuser. Victims may feel ‘worn down’ and resign to the dominance and control. After all, the only way to achieve peace in the household would be to give in to their abuser's demands. The hope is that it would only be a temporary discomfort or altercation, but the reality is that the trauma bond is further sustained.

Understanding these stages is essential for victims to recognize their situation and empower themselves to break free from the destructive cycle of trauma bonding. A trauma informed practitioner such as myself can assist you in regaining your sense of self and process the trauma you have experienced.


Domestic and Family Violence Services:

Telephone: (07) 3392 0644 (Office only)


Legal Aid Domestic Violence Unit – Ph. (07) 3917 0590



DVAP provides court-based support to people (predominately women) within the community who experience domestic and family violence and appear in Beenleigh Magistrates Courts for Domestic and Family Violence Court Mentions.

Contact details: Ph:  (07) 3807 7622



This toolkit includes resource guides ranging from online privacy and safety tips to smartphone privacy and location safety information, and much more. For more information go to:


Sexual Assault Counselling Australia – This is an Australia-wide for those affected by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and looking for some phone counselling support.  Available 24 hours a day.  Ph – 1800 211 028


If your family is going through tough times, contact Family and Child Connect for free, unlimited and confidential advice. They can listen and connect you to practical support. They can help with a range of family and parenting challenges.

You can phone them on 13 32 64 or click HERE for more information.


Safer in the Home – Salvation Army & Protective Group

Safer in the Home has been a well-received free practical response utilised by specialist family violence providers that improve the safety of women and children who have experienced violence.

Phone 1300 743 000 or Click HERE for more information.


South-East Queensland Crisis Services:

Ph: (07) 3217 2544
Email (non-urgent)

The Brisbane Domestic Violence Service (BDVS) is a free and confidential service for people in the Brisbane Metropolitan area who are affected by domestic and family violence. Support is available 24 hours a day, seven days.


The Centre for Women & Co. is a specialist Domestic Violence & Women’s Wellbeing Services offering crisis, counselling and support services across Logan, Redlands and Beenleigh.


Kurbingui Youth and Family Development is a Not-For-Profit (NFP) Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisation providing Family, Community, Cultural, Education, Training and Social Wellbeing Services across the Greater Brisbane, Moreton Bay and Southeast Regions. The program is the only Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander program of this kind in the North Brisbane and Moreton Bay areas.


The Domestic Violence Action Centre provides free and confidential services for people experiencing domestic, family, and sexual violence.

Ipswich – (07) 3816 3000; Toowoomba – (07) 4642 1354


Caboolture Office:  Ph: (07) 5498 9533   or Email:

Pine Rivers Office:  Ph: (07) 3205 5457

Redcliffe Office:       Ph: (07) 3283 6930

The Women’s Well-being Hub – Ph: (07) 5407 0217 or Email:

Children, Young People and Families program Ph: (07) 5498 9533 or Email


IWSS offers free confidential, practical and emotional support to immigrant and refugee women from non-English speaking backgrounds and their children who have experienced domestic and/or sexual violence.


The Bangle Foundation is a domestic abuse support service primarily for women of South Asian heritage. They are unfunded and voluntary and rely on the support of our communities to continue this vital work in providing support to women in abusive situations.

Ph: 1800 Bangle or 1800 226 453


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