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Understanding Trauma Bonding: What It Is and How to Actually Overcome It

Updated: Mar 17



Understanding Trauma Bonding: What It Is and How to Actually Overcome It


Trauma bonding is quite the buzz phrase in the past few years. So, what IS trauma bonding exactly? Well, trauma bonding is a complex and intoxicating psychological phenomenon that occurs in abusive or toxic relationships. It is about an intense emotional connection between the two people, often a perpetrator and a victim, often resulting from shared experiences of trauma. Although the nature of the relationship is harmful, the bond formed can be incredibly sturdy and difficult to break. In this blog, we'll unpack the concept of trauma bonding, risk factors, explore its effects, and discuss strategies for overcoming it.


What is Trauma Bonding?


Interestingly, trauma bonding, is also known as Stockholm Syndrome. This is where victims develop a psychological response and a strong attachment to their abuser. This bond is a result of the survival mechanism. Victims in the relationship may perceive that  their abuser is their only source of comfort, safety, or validation, even in an unsafe environment. Trauma bonding are not limited to only romantic partnerships but can also manifest in familial relationships, or even in situations of imprisonment, torture, grooming or hostage-taking.


What are some of the risk factors for trauma bonding?


  • People with co-dependency or have dependent personalities

  • People who over-value ‘the good times’ and quickly forgives and diminishes ‘the bad times’

  • People with a history of being abused in childhood (learn about your Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) and take this quiz) or in past relationships

  • People who have an anxious, an avoidant or a disorganized attachment style (Attachment Style Quiz

  • People who are unsure of themselves and are prone to self-blame

  • People with mental health concerns, such as anxiety, depression, and Borderline Personality Disorder

  • People who are sensitive to rejection

  • People who rely more on external validation


Signs and Symptoms of Trauma Bonding:


So how do you recognize trauma bonding so that you can break free from it?


1. You might experience an intense emotional connection: A strong sense of attachment, loyalty, love, or co-dependency. 

 

2. You might find yourself rationalising or justifying the abuse: Minimising the effects of the abuse and resorting to self-blame due to a warped sense of reality and diminishing self-respect that developed over time. 


3. You might feel afraid of being alone: Fear of abandonment is common because it is difficult to envision what life would be like outside the abusive relationship. This leads to difficulty leaving the relationship due to feelings of isolation, insecurity, or the belief that they cannot survive without their abuser.


4. You struggle with boundaries: Establishing and maintaining healthy boundaries within the relationship is difficult, therefore the cycle of abuse to continues to perpetuate.


5. You feel isolated from society and from supporting services: Isolation from support systems is a typical mechanism to exert control and manipulate victims. Without support systems like friends, family, or healthcare, the toxic relationship gets reinforced. 


What are the effects of Trauma Bonding:


Trauma bonding can easily lead to complex PTSD or CPTSD (complex PTSD). This can have severe and long-lasting effects on your mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Some common effects include:


1. Low Self-Esteem & Sense of Self: You may internalize or absorb the negative messages and beliefs perpetuated by your abuser. This eventually leads to a ‘weakening of spirit’ as you second guess your strengths and abilities, you have a diminished sense of self-worth and poor confidence. Victims of use the phrase, “I feel like I have lost myself.” 


2. Emotional Instability & Mood swings: You may experience a rollercoaster of emotions which can result in mood swings, anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD or more aptly, CPTSD (relational PTSD).


3. Mistrust and Suspicion: Not only do you lose trust in yourself, but you also lose trust in others, and the world in general. You may experience bitterness and cynicism which in turn diminishes your ability to form healthy relationships in the future.


4. Cycle of Abuse: The cycle of abuse can perpetuate or continue unless you put a stop to it, and this requires intervention. 


How to Overcome Trauma Bonding:


Breaking free from trauma bonding requires a recipe of: 

Self-awareness

Courage

Spirit

Supportive Relationships and Services 


Here is what you can do to start on your road to recovery: 


1. Acknowledge the Abuse. Name it. Say it. Recognize and accept that the abusive nature of the relationship. Acknowledge and accept that the behaviour of the abuser is not acceptable.


2. Reconnect with People. Seek Support. Reach out to family and friends that you trust. Seek professional help, even if it is simply to raise the matter with your local GP. Educate yourself with resources online. Find a trauma therapist.


3. Set Boundaries. Make sure they are clear. Ensure you prioritise your safety and well-being. This includes physiological and psychological care. If young children are in the picture, ensure that you include their safety in your boundaries. 


4. Prioritize Self-Care. Sleep well or your judgment and emotional health will be poorer. Nourish your body well. Engage in activities that promote self-care and self-love, such as exercise, therapy, meditation, mindfulness, or creative expression like art, dance, or music. By doing these things, you are giving yourself a regular dose of oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. Avoid resorting to addictive habits like alcohol, substance abuse, emotionally eating, gaming, doom scrolling, or any other forms of escapism. This will lead to a more emotionally sound version of you. The likelihood of you feeling weak or broken spirited is lower. You can then make better decisions and equip yourself with the strength and courage to break the cycle of abuse.


5. Make a Safety Plan. Gather important phone numbers, daily supplies and a personal ‘rainy day’ fund. Make sure they are well prepared and accessible in an emergency. Liken it to a Hospital ‘Baby Bag’ in anticipation for labour. Include considerations for shelter, legal advice and counselling. Familiarise yourself with services like 1800RESPECT, Brisbane Domestic Violence Service, DV Connect. DV Connect have two hotlines: DV Connect Womensline: 1800 811 811 and DV Connect Mensline: 1800 600 636. You can find a range of resources at Queensland Domestic and Family Violence resources can be found at the Department of Justice and Attorney-General website. For a complete list of services, please refer to the end of this blog. 


6. Seek Professional Help. Consider trauma therapy or trauma counselling in order to develop better self-awareness and gain insight into your behavioural patterns, and learn healthy coping mechanisms.



In summary, recognizing that trauma bonding is complex and challenging also allows you to forgive yourself when you do not manage to break free instantly. Engage in self-compassion but do not be defeated. By being aware of the signs and seeking support, you will be able to eventually reclaim your autonomy, shrug off that co-dependency, rebuild your self-esteem and sense of self, find your voice again, and cultivate healthier relationships in the future. Remember, you are not alone, and there is hope for a brighter tomorrow.


Learn more about the Stages of Trauma Bonding for a more in-depth understanding of the trauma bonding process.


Domestic and Family Violence Services:


Telephone: (07) 3392 0644 (Office only)


Website: www.wlsq.org.au


Ph. 1300 65 11 88

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

Website:

 

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: https://techsafety.org.au/resources/resources-women/

 

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) bdvs@micahprojects.org.au

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.

Ph. (07) 3050 3060

 

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.

Ph: (07) 3156 4800; Email: reception@kurbingui.org.au Website: https://www.kurbingui.org.au/

 


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: info@cada.org.au

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: wellbeing@cada.org.au

Children, Young People and Families program Ph: (07) 5498 9533 or Email childyouth@cada.org.au

 


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.

Ph: (07) 3846 3490

 

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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