Trauma Bonding Addiction: Understanding the Cycle of Toxic Relationships

What is Trauma Bonding Addiction

A trauma bond refers to the strong emotional attachment and dependency that can form between an abused person and their abuser. Known as “Trauma Bonding” or “Trauma Stockholm Syndrome,” this counter intuitive dynamic leaves victims bonded to their abusers through cycles of abuse, reconciliations, and betrayal bonding. It is a form of addiction with similarities to substance dependence.

Trauma bonding addiction has become increasingly prevalent, with between 30-40% of abuse victims developing emotional bonds with their perpetrators.

The repetitive nature of abuse, power dynamics, intermittent reinforcement, and complex psychological responses contribute to traumatic bonding patterns that impact mental health and relationships.

Those trapped in trauma-bonded relationships often experience severe psychological distress, including PTSD, depression, anxiety disorders, suicidal ideation, and comorbid addictions.

The unhealthy attachment causes victims to both fear and feel dependent on their abusers, similar to how hostages can bond with terrorists or kidnappers. They may remain connected to their perpetrator for years or even decades, continuing contact and exposing themselves to further harm.

This complex topic encompasses psychological, neurological, and behavioral components. To understand trauma-bonded addiction, one must explore the types of trauma bonds and how they form, associated personality disorders, the addictive nature, overlapping substance dependence, impacts on mental health, and strategies for overcoming traumatic attachment. 

Essential, too, is a look at the brain chemistry and trauma responses underlying this counterintuitive reaction to abuse if we are to raise awareness and help free victims from violence.

Understanding the basic concept of Trauma Bonding

Trauma bonding addiction refers to the emotional dependency and attachment abuse victims can develop towards their abusers, leading them to form profound psychological ties that are difficult to break.

Also known as “traumatic bonding,” this counter intuitive reaction is not the victim’s fault but rather a complex, paradoxical psychological response to ongoing cycles of abuse within unequal power-dynamic relationships.

How Trauma Bonds Form

Trauma bonds often form in dangerous scenarios like hostage situations, human trafficking, domestic violence relationships, and child abuse, where repeated traumatic experiences combined with power imbalances result in behavioral, emotional, and biochemical conditioning.

The victims form powerful emotional bonds as a survival mechanism, becoming attached to their abusers on whom they depend for necessities, affection, or life itself.

Effects on the victim

This traumatic bonding creates a traumatized dependency, which causes victims to feel intensely loyal, grateful, or loving towards someone who is objectively hurting them and poses great danger. They may rationalize and deny the abuse, attributing positive intent behind harmful behaviors. 

Trauma-bonded victims often experience cognitive dissonance, knowing the relationship causes distress but feeling unable to leave out of fear, economic necessity, or perceived emotional connection.

The traumatic attachment that forms often leaves victims experiencing anxiety when separated from their abusers and willing to endure escalating abuse to maintain the relationship.

Victims become “addicted” to the abuser, craving affection in the honeymoon reconciliation phases while anxiously trying to avoid angering them, even if it means compromising their boundaries or well-being. 

This results in a warped, unhealthy bond and deeply ingrained psychological dependence that entraps victims in abusive relationships despite consciously desiring freedom.

A Girl Affected by Trauma Bonding Addiction

Trauma Bonds with Narcissists

Exploring the feelings that come after being in a relationship with a narcissist, this looks into the complicated emotions called trauma bonds. We’ll understand how these invisible ties connect people to narcissists, and see how it deeply affects their emotions.

What are Narcissistic Relationships?

Relationships involving narcissistic personality-disordered individuals often descend into traumatic bonding patterns. Narcissists feel entitled to unconditional privileging of their own needs and regularly devalue, belittle, and discard their partners in callous, selfish ways.

Their grandiose sense of self, lack of empathy, and hypersensitivity to criticism result in narcissistic abuse – an insidious pattern of subtle and overt behaviors that leaves victims feeling confused, worthless, and clinging onto crumbs of affection.

Victim’s Fault in Trauma Bond

When subjected to narcissistic abuse cycles involving devaluation, silent treatments, and intermittent hoovering, trauma bonds form as a coping mechanism. This traumatic attachment causes victims to become emotionally bonded to their narcissistic abusers. Understanding this is not the survivor’s deficiency or failure is imperative. 

Forming trauma bonds with emotionally abusive narcissists is an automatic, primal response. Those subjected to coercion and manipulation in unequal power relationships can develop the misplaced hope their love and dedication might “fix” or positively impact their partner.

The Mutual Trauma Bond Experience

While narcissist victims cling to reconciliation gestures, afraid of retribution, narcissists enjoy feelings of control, punishment abilities, and ego-stroking admiration (narcissistic supply).

However, narcissists often have unresolved trauma, attachment wounds, and emotion regulation difficulties manifesting in maladaptive behaviors. Exploring and healing these mutual traumas with professional support can positively impact both parties, potentially reforming relational dynamics.

Communication is Key

Though arduous, improving communication is essential to address the core insecurities perpetuating narcissistic relational trauma bonds on both sides.

Victims must feel safe speaking up about their wants, needs, and boundaries, while narcissists must develop accountability and emotional attunement and modify antagonistic behaviors that undermine their loved ones. This facilitates a deeper empathic understanding of each individual’s experiences in the traumatic attachment formed.

Scenarios and Examples of Addiction in Trauma Bonding 

Various dangerous scenarios can lead to the development of trauma bonds as victims psychologically attach to perpetrators on whom they rely for survival. Hostage situations involving long-term captivity or kidnapping often result in traumatic bonding between victim and terrorist, as evidenced in famous cases like Patty Hearst or Jaycee Dugard.

Prolonged isolation, complete dependency on their captor, and threats of violence can condition robust emotional and psychological ties as an automatic coping mechanism.

Similarly, victims of human trafficking frequently form trauma bonds with their traffickers, even defending or protecting them. The total power imbalance, dependency on food and shelter, and use of coercive control methods establish traumatic attachment whereby victims align with their abusers.

Unable to escape confined, threatening conditions with no alternatives, victims’ trauma bond as the dysfunctional relationship offered slight protection or hope of approval that became vital to them.

Abusive Family Dynamics

Indoctrination into abusive family dynamics from childhood also commonly causes children and adult children raised by selfish, authoritarian, or overtly abusive parents to develop traumatic bonding.

Parental child abuse utilizing coercive control tactics and cycles of abuse foster trauma bonds due to the complete dependency minor children have upon caregivers for all aspects of survival and normal development.

As vulnerable children endure parental betrayals of trust through negligence, violence, manipulations, or enforcing damaging double binds, they trauma bond to abusive caregivers.

Mistreatment is normalized, abusive behaviors rationalized, and victims self-blame as psychologically defending parents becomes necessary for preservation.

This early life trauma bonding creates lasting unhealthy attachments and beliefs about acceptable behaviors rooted in denial and survival instincts.

Emotional Control

Partners in domestically abusive relationships frequently develop trauma bonding towards dominating, threatening, or emotionally manipulative spouses.

Cycles of loving reconciliation and remorseful gifts following violent rage attacks, put-downs, intensely jealous interrogations, blaming arguments, and devaluation condition trauma bonding. The “heady cocktail” of affection, hope, fear, and intermittent reinforcement creates powerful addiction neurological pathways.

Unable to recognize escalating emotional control for abuse, victims become bonded to partners who deliberately prey on vulnerabilities and fragilities through gaslighting, constraint, enforced isolation, and conditional giving.

Often, couples counseling focusing on better communication simply further embeds trauma bonding without addressing underlying power dynamics and breakage of trust through entitlement, intimidation, and toxicity.

Signs of Trauma Bonding Addiction

Trauma bonds form insidious connections that feel impossible to sever. Some common signs that may indicate you are trauma-bonded to your abusive partner include:

Constant Preoccupation

One of the most common signs of trauma bonding addiction is a constant preoccupation with the person abusing them. Victims spend excessive time thinking about, talking to, or checking up on that individual, even when separated.

Abusers train trauma-bonded victims to prioritize and anxiously worry about their unstable emotions, wants, and reactions – effectively controlling their psychological headspace.

Trauma-bonded victims become hypervigilant about saying, doing, or even thinking anything that might anger or upset their abusers. This fixation stems from the terror of violence, verbal attacks, or withdrawal of desperately needed affection.

It manifests in compulsive comforting and caretaking behaviors aimed at keeping the abuser happy, like a full-time job. They organize life around accommodating or avoiding their partner’s rages, fragility, or accusations.

Cognitive Dissonance

Trauma-bonded victims also commonly experience cognitive dissonance, meaning they simultaneously hold contradictory beliefs and attitudes toward their abusers.

They recognize on some level that the relationship is damaging yet feel positively attached and remain bonded. This leads to internal tension and turmoil manifesting outwardly as anxiety, depression, hesitation, or contradictory behaviors.

Despite fearing their partner, victims with trauma bonding addictions feel unable to leave the relationship due to psychological dependence, economic issues, isolation, or threats made.

They may protect, lie for, or rationalize apparent violence because the terror of leaving overrides concerns for safety. This “I hate you, don’t leave me” dichotomy stems from the traumatic attachment and belief that life without their abuser would be emotionally unendurable.

Poor Self-Image

Another insidious effect of trauma bonding is the obliteration of self-worth and personal identity as victims adopt helpless victim mentalities. Chronic emotional abuse, arbitrary inconsistent affection, and torrents of criticism break down nerves, causing a stress-induced “learned helplessness”. They believe the complaints, e.g., “You are worthless without me,” internalizing severe damage to self-esteem.

Victims are conditioned to ignore personal needs, walk on eggshells regulating their partner’s mercurial moods, and accept escalating mistreatment for tiny breadcrumbs of approval.

This manifests as poor self-care, acquiescence to unwanted sex, dismissing one’s own emotions, and giving up autonomy or personality aspects that trigger their abuser’s explosive rages, sulking, or disgust. Living solely for someone else, victims lose themselves.

Denial and Health Consequences of Trauma Bonds Addiction

Victims trapped in trauma-bonded relationships frequently struggle with recognizing the dysfunction, danger, and damage being perpetrated. This denial serves as a psychic defense mechanism because consciously acknowledging the severity of harm inflicted by someone so desperately relied upon would be emotionally overwhelming.

By denying, minimizing, or rationalizing abusive behaviors, victims preserve attachments to caregivers, partners, and family members upon whom they depend for financial support, home security, affection, or even life itself. Admitting the person on whom survival depends is severely mistreating them feels intolerable, so the mind distorts reality, and traumatic bonding intensifies.

Impacts on Mental Health

The denial or unawareness of trauma bonding pathology keeps victims trapped in escalating cycles of violence, degradation, and manipulation, which take immense psychological tolls.

Rates of PTSD, anxiety, clinical depression, addiction, and suicide ideation are incredibly high for those bonded to abusers compared to general populations.

The cognitive dissonance created through gaslighting also severely damages mental stability and causes erosion of self-concept through criticisms, volatile intermittent affection, and enforced compliance with unfair demands, contributing significantly to mental illness development. Essentially, having to defend abusers despite harm inflicted to preserve attachment psychologically creates dissociative, addictive traits.

Destruction of Self-Worth

When subjected to narcissistic abuse, victims who trauma bond experience utter destruction of independent self-worth as abusers condition, worshipping obedience through withdrawal of love and approval for non-compliance.

Trauma bonded victims of malignant narcissists, whether parents, toxic friends, or romantic partners, come to believe they must earn primary affection, respect, and validation by attending to the abuser’s needs, wants, and emotions ahead of their own.

Over years or decades, this manifests in a total loss of self characterized by a lack of hobbies, interests, goals, close friendships separate from the abuser, or the ability to self-validate without external positive regard.

The devastated self-image and perceptual bondage to the abuser keep victims sacrificing their well-being in fruitless efforts to prove the worthiness of merely decent treatment.

A Girl Consoling her relative who is affected by Trauma Bonding Addiction

Trauma Bonding Addiction vs. Domestic Violence and Power Dynamics 

Domestic violence describes an ongoing pattern of abusive, coercive behaviors used by a relationship partner to establish and enforce power differentials through physical violence, intimidation, emotional manipulation, or economic controls.

While individual acts of violence occur, domestic abuse involves repeated behaviors over time used intentionally to frighten, terrorize, degrade, isolate, or control intimate partners.

Domestic violence impacts millions yet remains poorly comprehended, with many holding misconceptions around reciprocity, substance abuse excuses, or victim-blaming attitudes.

In reality, domestic abuse describes the behaviors of one partner purposefully creating relationship dynamics built on systematic intimidation and associated trauma responses. The chosen actions advance only the controlling partner’s dominance.

Power and Control Dynamics

Battering partners utilize deliberate tactics to gain disproportionate control, such as economic restrictions, exploitation of immigration status dependencies, sowing distrust in external supports like friends or family, and fostering total financial or practical reliance. Victims become confined without resources or options through deliberate, financially controlling behaviors.

Seemingly loving acts like purchasing gifts or flowers contain implicit messages about debts owed or serve as superficial apologies, masking continuing abuse.

Domineering partners define parameters surrounding “acceptable” behaviors in ways granting them far greater freedoms than victims. This fundamentally distorts reciprocity and mutual care while ensuring dependence on the abuser.

Impacts on Victim Mental Health

The chronic stress of navigating coercive controlling relationship dynamics psychologically harms victims. Prolonged durations under authoritarian rule deprive victims of autonomy, destroy self-confidence through criticisms, and enforce compliance with unfair demands, causing trauma bonds to form. Victims manifest higher suicidality, self-harming, addiction, dissociation, PTSD, and clinical anxiety/depression than non-abused women.

The traumatic impact of domestic violence derives not just from violent acts but also the ambient atmosphere of danger, hypercriticism, pettiness, denial of privacy or independence, and the necessity to regulate all behaviors to avoid known explosions.

Partners may threaten children, pets, or relatives to compel submission from victims with little options to establish physical safety for themselves or loved ones without the abuser’s assistance. This grants coercive control.

The Connection Between Substance Addiction and Unhealthy Relationships

Substance addiction can lead to unhealthy relationships that make recovery more complex. The dysfunctional relationship causes the same addictive brain chemicals as drugs or alcohol. This makes it very challenging to quit either the substance or the unhealthy attachment.

How Addiction and Trauma Bonding Develop

The roots of co-occurring addiction and trauma bonding often begin in childhood. Traumatic experiences like abuse or neglect predispose someone to addictive behaviors and relationships later in life. Years of alcohol and drug abuse can pull someone into toxic relationships, like with other substance users. Breaking free of both becomes extremely difficult.

Overcoming Both Conditions

Recovering from simultaneous addiction and trauma bonding requires addressing both. Avoiding the substance is one step. Building healthy relationships is vital for retraining the brain’s attachment wiring. Healthy relationships have boundaries and support individual needs. They aid recovery rather than trigger relapse.

Learning New Relationship Skills

Developing healthy bonding capabilities takes work. It means transforming negative thought patterns around relationships. Coaching can guide this process of reinventing self-image and attachment style. A coach understands the importance of relationships in recovery.

The Need for a Dual Approach

When addiction and trauma bonding co-occur, relapse risk rises. The reason is that unhealthy attachments remain. For stable recovery, social health must be rebuilt alongside sobriety. Treating both conditions holistically is crucial.

Ways of Healing from Trauma Bonding Addiction

Breaking the traumatic attachment binding you to an abusive partner is challenging but possible. With determination and support, there are several effective ways to begin healing from trauma bonding addiction, including:

Seek Professional Support

The most vital step in healing trauma bonds is seeking specialized professional support from counselors or therapists conversant in intimate partner violence, complex PTSD, and attachment traumas.

Skilled dialectical behavior therapists (DBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) practitioners, and somatic therapy experience considerably facilitate processing cognitive dissonance and de-conditioning trauma responses.

Cut Contact with Abusers

Completely removing abusers’ ability to perpetrate further harm through any form of access cannot be bypassed and delays recovery. Block them everywhere, change phone numbers and email addresses, and secure social media.

Be prepared for hoovering or stalking behaviors requiring restraining orders. Eliminating access removes temptation, trauma, and addictive impulses.

Process Trauma Through Writing/Talking

Verbalizing frequently avoids specifics of events endured or documenting in writing for later processing with professionals counteracts suppressed emotional wounds, allowing perspective taking.

This helps victims depersonalize mistreatments to recognize patterning of abuse, free from cognitive bondage to the abuser’s defenses or distortions around harm inflicted.

Support Groups Reinforce Healthy Bonds Exist

Discussion-based in-person groups or specialized Facebook/online forums comprised of members with shared experiences provide opportunities to exchange insights, learn coping tools, set boundaries, and practice self-advocacy. They reinforce that victims deserve unconditionally respectful care without requiring perfection.

Practice Stress Reduction Through Mindfulness

Trauma bonds create chronic fight, flight, and freeze responses. Actively taking time to slow down, engage the senses, and redirect focus towards immediate sensory input versus ruminating can significantly lower anxiety and depressive mental looping.

This also strengthens self-trust and emotional self-regulation capacities eroded through prolonged behavioral conditioning ruled by fear responses.

Develop a Safety Plan

Creating a written document outlining ways to establish physical, legal, and economic protections supports mentally preparing to leave or limit interactions with abusers.

It includes emergency contact information, necessary legal/medical paperwork copies, spare cash, and a modality to leave shared homes quickly. Updates ensure its relevance.

Practice Setting Personal Boundaries

Victims require help relearning the ability to recognize, communicate, and enforce healthy boundaries eroded through compliance conditioning. Role-playing builds direct requesting skills for everything from friends borrowing items to paying bills on time, not fearing confrontation, or unconsciously expecting harm when asserting needs.

Allow Yourself to Feel anger

Suppressed rage towards abusers often manifests as depression or anxiety in victims forced to rely on them for survival. Letting righteous anger arise, be embodied, and finding safe outlets for it, like primal screaming, punching pillows, or wood chopping, reduces involuntary trauma responses long-term.

Work with Specialist Family Lawyers

Legal interventions like custody agreements, child support, or restraining orders require lawyers specialized in intimate partner abuse cases with psychological awareness that legal processes themselves enable further indirect power plays without proper trauma precautions. They help strategically protect rights.

Allow Yourself to Grieve

The dream of a loving, secure attachment shattered through cruelty and betrayals of trust must be grieved. Losses of personhood, autonomy, and plans – parts sacrificed or destroyed – require mourning. Journaling, crying with trusted supports, or creating closure rituals help process agonizing grief.

Challenge Internalized Criticisms

Trauma-bonded victims internalize abusers’ accusations, becoming inner voices attacking their worth and judgment. Meticulously stop negative self-talk with honest appraisals like “I do not deserve cruelty” and “I am trying my best in impossible conditions” to reclaim intuition and self-compassion erased through conditioning designed to undermine the sense of inner wisdom.

Attend Codependency Programs Like CoDA

Group sharing and twelve-step-styled frameworks reinforce victims’ innate lovability separate from caretaking behaviors. They provide tools to incrementally build healthy self-love, set reciprocal relational expectations, and establish boundaries around proper treatment with compassionate accountability.

Develop Communication Best Practices

Learn phrases for de-escalating confrontations like “This conversation feels unproductive, may we take a 20-minute break and come back willing to understand the others’ perspective?” plus requesting behaviors focusing on positive objectives rather than correcting the partner’s negatives. Apply them with safer individuals to embody the patterns.

Allow Friends to Help You

Accepting sincere offers of assistance with practical matters like rides, meals, or financial contributions pays goodness forward later, plus builds confidence in asking for and receiving caring support versus traumatized tendencies to control everything rigidly. Choose reciprocal connections.

Get Addiction or Mental Health Assessments

Self-medicating pain through workaholism, substance abuse, or unsafe relationships requires evaluation by psychiatric and medical professionals. Medications, lifestyle changes, and therapeutic treatment cannot begin without such assessments determining specific diagnoses to receive appropriately tailored, specialized care.

Final Words on Trauma Bonding Addiction

Trauma bonding is a complex phenomenon that occurs when a solid emotional attachment develops between two people, with one person intermittently abusing or mistreating the other.

This abusive dynamic leads the mistreated person to make excuses for their partner’s behavior and remain bonded to them. The mistreated individual may even feel a strong urge to protect and care for their abusive partner. This article has explored several critical aspects of trauma bonding and trauma bonding addiction.

Firstly, we looked at the cycle of violence and reinforcement that occurs in abusive relationships with trauma bonding. There is often a period of tension building, followed by an explosive incident of abuse or mistreatment, then a honeymoon phase of apologies, kindness, and affection before the cycle repeats.

The honeymoon phase negatively reinforces the bond by relieving the mistreated person when their partner is kind again. Over time, this dysfunctional cycle creates a strong trauma bond that is difficult to break.

Next, we examined the psychological, emotional, and neurological factors that underpin trauma bonding. Feelings of dependency, shame, low self-worth, and the biochemical effects of oxytocin, dopamine, and cortisol keep the mistreated person bonded to their abuser. Trauma bonds cause the brain to become addicted to the rollercoaster of emotions, as if addicted to the abusive partner.

The profound effects of trauma bonding were also explored. Victims may suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD, emotional instability, dissociation, and even adopt their abuser’s worldview.

They tend to isolate themselves from friends and family, withdraw from hobbies and activities they once enjoyed, and feel unable to imagine life without their abusive partner. This damages their mental health and quality of life.

Tactics used by abusers were analyzed, including gaslighting, intermittent reinforcement, threats, control, and isolation. These insidious tactics make victims dependent, so they are less likely to leave. The article also covered common myths and misconceptions about trauma bonding.

Victims stay because they are traumatically bonded, not because they enjoy the abuse. And they cannot simply walk away from the relationship.

Thus, trauma bonding addiction is a severe condition that occurs due to the psychological effects of abuse in the context of an intimate relationship. It is maintained through cycles of abuse and reinforcement that cause the victim to feel dependent on their abuser.

The traumatic bond creates an addictive attachment that is difficult, but not impossible, to break. Overcoming trauma bonding addiction requires determination, courage, therapeutic support, and cutting contact with the abuser.

If you recognize aspects of trauma bonding in your relationship, please know that help and support are available. You deserve to have healthy, happy, and fulfilling relationships free from abuse.

You can reclaim your self-worth, independence, and freedom with professional assistance. You are not alone. Take the first step by confiding in a trusted friend or family member, calling a domestic violence hotline, or seeking an evaluation from a trauma specialist.

  • Feeling the need to protect or care for your abusive partner
  • Making excuses for their behavior
  • Having difficulty leaving the relationship
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Appetite changes
  • Mood swings
  • Obsessive thoughts about the abuser
  • Urges to contact the abuser

A trauma bond may develop between a woman and her abusive boyfriend. Even though he periodically mistreats her through emotional abuse, gaslighting, or physical violence, she feels drawn to him, makes excuses for his behavior, and finds it extremely difficult to break off the relationship.

  • Get support from friends, family, or a trauma-informed therapist
  • Make a firm commitment to ending all contact with the abuser
  • Allow yourself to process the pain of the breakup fully
  • Rediscover activities and passions that you enjoy
  • Boost self-esteem through positive affirmations
  • Learn to set boundaries in new relationships
  • Be patient with yourself through the recovery process
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