A trauma bond is a psychological response that happens when an abused person develops an unhealthy attachment to their abuser.
To learn more about breaking a trauma bond with a narcissist, we conducted a survey among 431 survivors of narcissistic abuse who have successfully broken their trauma bond and found 11 tactics that you can start using today to work towards breaking your trauma bond!
The 11 Tactics to Break a Trauma Bond Created by 431 Survivors
- Learn Everything You Can About Narcissistic Abuse
- Make Sure That You’re Taking Care of Yourself
- Keep a Journal to Avoid Any Confusion
- Learn How to Set Boundaries With a Narcissist
- Make Sure You’re Living in the Present
- Use the Gray Rock Method
- Learn How to Use Radical Acceptance
- Find a Good Support Group
- Find a Qualified Therapist
- Go No Contact With the Narcissist in Your Life
- Know the Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships
We are going to guide you through each one of those tactics, but before we do that, we have a short video for you from our interview with Karina Ramdath, a registered social worker and therapist, about trauma bonding on our podcast!
In this video (see below), Karina gives four incredibly helpful answers to our community’s question,“Once you realize that you’re in a trauma bonded relationship, what are the first, and most important, steps that you should take to break the bond?”
A Short Video About 4 Things You Can Start Doing Today to Break Your Trauma Bond!
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11 Tactics to Break a Trauma Bond Created by 431 Survivors
It is the collective belief of the 431 survey participants who survived narcissistic abuse that the following 11 steps will put you in a position from which you can work towards breaking the trauma bond with the narcissist in your life.
However, it is important to note that the information in this article is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for medical or mental health advice.
We urge you to seek independent medical advice, counseling, and/or therapy from a health care professional with respect to any medical condition, mental health issue, or health inquiry, including matters discussed in this article.
1.) Learn Everything You Can About Narcissistic Abuse
When you are attempting to break a trauma bond with a narcissist, having a significant amount of knowledge about the abuse that you are experiencing is important.
When you understand the manipulation tactics that are being used against you, you are going to be able to grasp a comprehensive understanding of the reason that your trauma bond formed in the first place which would be a huge win for you!
Generally speaking, narcissists use manipulation tactics such as mirroring, future faking, the devaluation phase, and intermittent reinforcement to create a trauma bond.
Having a comprehensive understanding of these tactics puts you in a position from which you can process and overcome the painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that might be preventing you from breaking your trauma bond!
Our article Why Do Trauma Bonds Feel Like an Addiction has a ton of helpful information about mirroring, future faking, the devaluation phase, and intermittent reinforcement!
2.) Make Sure That You’re Taking Care of Yourself
The manipulation tactics that narcissists use often force you to neglect their own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs. When this happens, it is very common for their health to take a nose dive!
5 Common Health Related Topics That Can Get Neglected Because of Narcissistic Abuse:
1. Preventative Health Care1
Preventative health care includes things like cancer screenings, diabetes screenings, cholesterol tests, mental health screenings, blood pressure tests, well-child visits, STI screenings, and routine vaccinations.
2. Medication Adherence2
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states,
“Medication adherence, or taking medications correctly, is generally defined as the extent to which patients take medication as prescribed by their doctors. This involves factors such as getting prescriptions filled, remembering to take medication on time, and understanding the directions.”
3. Daily Preventative Behaviors3
Daily preventative behaviors are things that you should do on a daily basis such as washing your hands, brushing your teeth, taking a shower, using hand sanitizer, etc.
4. Daily Practices4
Daily practices are the little things you do every single day to acknowledge the important aspects of your life. This could be writing in a journal, going on a walk, yoga, reading, spending time with your kids, watching your favorite TV show/movie, avoiding alcohol and other substances, learning something new and so on.
5. Safe Sex5
Low conscience individuals, such as narcissists, are notorious for exposing their partners to high health risks via STIs. So, be sure to practice safe sex if you learn that your partner has been cheating.
The best way to ensure that you are taking care of your health is by being proactive. The narcissist in your life will not deviate from their self-centered agenda just to help you take care of yourself. You must be proactive about your health if you are to successfully break a trauma bond.
4 Ways You Can Start Being Proactive With Your Health
- If your destination is within a reasonable distance, walk there instead of relying on the narcissist for the car.
- Find ways to do daily practices and daily preventative behaviors around the narcissist’s schedule so they can’t disrupt you.
- Use journaling to help you process and overcome the painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that abuse creates.
- Use alarms to remind you to do what you need to do to take care of yourself.
3.) Keep a Journal to Avoid Any Confusion
There are many confusing manipulation tactics that narcissists use to prevent you from breaking your trauma bond such as gaslighting, intermittent reinforcement, baiting, and hoovering, and many others!
These tactics are all designed to prevent you from progressing down your healing journey.
But by keeping a detailed account of the abuse that you’ve experienced, you will put yourself in a position from which you can make conscious and well-informed decisions that protect your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and need from the abusive people in your life!
In our community we have a ton of different courses, educational videos, journaling exercises, etc., to help people break their trauma bond. Here is one of our community members’ favorite journaling exercises that has helped them process and overcome the guilt that narcissistic abuse creates!
4.) Learn How to Set Boundaries With a Narcissist
The term “boundaries” refers to limits that you can set on what you will accept of another person’s words or actions.
The APA Dictionary of Psychology6 describes boundaries as “a psychological demarcation that protects the integrity of an individual or group or that helps the person or group set realistic limits on participation in a relationship or activity.”
In their simplest forms, boundaries are supposed to be easy to set and maintain because they are a verbal set of rules that you can set with someone else (i.e. Please don’t call me after 7pm, I want to save that time to be with my children.”)
In abusive relationships, boundaries, both simple and complex, are extremely difficult to set and maintain. Abusers manipulate the people that they abuse into feeling obligated to not make such a “big deal” about their boundaries and associate setting boundaries with uncomfortable emotions and feelings such as guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, selfishness, toxicity, etc.
Abusers can also deflect the boundaries that you set by setting their own “boundaries” that are difficult for you to follow, which throws you off and makes it difficult to even set your own boundaries in the first place.
We’ve had the pleasure of having licensed psychotherapist Andre O’Donnell chime in about this on one of our courses over at the Narcissistic Abuse Support Platform. Here is an insightful example he provided of an abuser deflecting the boundaries you set by setting their own “boundaries” that are difficult to follow.
A Short Video About a Narcissist Deflecting Your Boundaries
Over time this will manipulate you into developing a belief that you don’t have a right to set boundaries with other people.
Experiencing this will leave you feeling helpless, hopeless, and powerless. Eventually, you’ll just give up on setting boundaries altogether and become trapped in the narcissistic abuse cycle for months, years, and even decades to come.
The most effective boundaries that you can set and maintain with your abuser to protect your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs from your abuser are ones that you set with yourself.
These boundaries need to originate from conscious and well-informed decision making. Doing this will put you in a position from which you can dismantle the trauma bond mush more quickly!
5.) Make Sure That You’re Living in the Present
Two manipulation tactics that narcissists use to keep you trapped within the narcissistic abuse cycle are mirroring and future faking.
These tactics are incredibly important to be aware of because they can prevent you from breaking your trauma bond by manipulating you into focusing on the false future that narcissists create instead of the abuse you are experiencing in the present.
The term “mirroring” refers to an abusers ability to absorb an extraordinary amount of information about you and use it to create a falsified identity that portrays them as the “perfect” person for you.
The term “future faking” refers to an abuser’s tendency to make false promises in the future to get exactly what they want in the present (e.g. “Hey don’t worry about your college tuition, if you stick around this summer instead of spending it with you mom, I will pay for your tuition”).
Ensuring that you are living in the present at all times is a crucial aspect of breaking a trauma bond.
Susanna, a survivor of narcissistic abuse who participated in our survey for this article, told us that one of the ways that she ensured that she was living in the present when times got hard was by writing the words “here and now” on a piece of paper and keeping it in her pocket.
When she was dealing with the mirroring and future faking from the narcissist in her life, she would reach into her pocket to touch the paper and remind herself to live in the here and now.
6.) Use the Gray Rock Method
The Gray Rock Method is a form of communication that you can use to protect your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs from the abusive people in your life. To use the Gray Rock Method you have to restrain yourself from engaging in meaningful interactions with all of the abusive people in your life.
When we use the term “meaningful interactions” we are referring to any interaction that gives them access to your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs.
What makes the Gray Rock Method such an effective technique is its ability to drastically reduce the amount of narcissistic supply that narcissists, flying monkeys, and narcissist enablers have access to.
The Gray Rock Method prevents this regulation from happening. This will force the narcissist to find a new source of supply and leave you alone! When using this technique, you should be prepared to experience many different manipulation tactics.
Don’t worry, they are just trying to get you to engage in a meaningful interaction with them! Stay strong and keep Gray Rocking! If you’d like to learn how you can Gray Rock Method, and many other defensive techniques, our courses at the Narcissistic Abuse Support Platform give you all of the information you need to protect yourself form narcissistic abuse!
7.) Learn How to Use Radical Acceptance
Radical acceptance is a distress tolerance skill that is designed to keep pain from turning into suffering. Radical acceptance builds on the skill of mindfulness because when using it you allow yourself to let go of the need to control situations and focus on your wise mind instead of catastrophic thinking.
Using radical acceptance to overcome emotional manipulation and abuse is very hard because it requires you:
- To let go of the wish for things to be different
- Accept that you’ll never get closure, justice, answers, or an apology from your abusers
- Stop expecting/hoping that your abusers will change
- Acknowledge that what you are experiencing is abuse.
Radical acceptance helped me stop feeling so helpless and powerless. I used to believe that I couldn’t do anything to escape the abuse but practicing radical acceptances helped me reclaim my strength and break the trauma bond. It took a long time to get to where I am today but I know that I couldn’t have done it without radical acceptance. – Ian, a member of the Narcissistic Abuse Support Platform
The goal of radical acceptance is indifference, a lack of interest, concern, or sympathy, towards your abuser.
Personally, we believe that this definition is a bit misleading because it could cause you to fall under the impression that radical acceptance means the abuse that you experienced will no longer affect you.
But what radical acceptance really means that you completely disconnect your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs from the abusive people in your life.
- You don’t care what they are doing.
- You don’t care how they are doing.
- You don’t care when they are doing something.
- You don’t care why they are doing something.
- You don’t care who they are doing something with.
You are just completely focused on your own thoughts, feelings, emotions, needs, wishes, goals, and aspirations.
Radical acceptance doesn’t happen overnight. It takes months, years, and sometimes even decades to achieve. But breaking a trauma bond requires you to take steps towards radical acceptance every single day.
In an UT Health Houston McGovern Medical School article, Meaghan Warner, LCSW-S has a few tips about how you can practice radical acceptance:
1. Acknowledge that you may be fighting reality (ex: it shouldn’t be this way)
2. Remain mindful of physical sensations throughout your body (tension and stress)
3. Acknowledge that life is worth living, even if there is temporary pain right now
4. Repeating to yourself: “I accept this moment as it is” and “Although I and/or my emotions are uncomfortable, I will get through it”
5. Understand that the moment is precisely as it should be even though I may not like it
8.) Find a Good Support Group
The healing journey you must take to break your trauma bond is a tough one. There are so many painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions such as self-doubt, helplessness, powerlessness, fear, loneliness, indecisiveness, confusion, shame, etc., that you will have to process and overcome.
But you don’t have to do it alone.
In the Narcissistic Abuse Support Platform there is a community full of people supporting each other every day, a course that teaches you how to build a reliable support group, and support group sessions for those who need it! You can also find communities on social media platforms such at Facebook, Quora, Reddit, and so on.
Wherever you go, just make sure you are surrounding yourself with people who can protect your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs on the days that you need them to.
9.) Find a Qualified Therapist
Finding the right therapist, or another type of mental health professional, can be really difficult because not every mental health professional is qualified to help those who’ve suffered narcissistic abuse.
However, finding the right therapist will allow you to create a solid plan of action that they can use to break their trauma bond. If you are currently looking for professional help, you can check out the list of mental health professionals that we are associated with. They are all qualified to help those experiencing narcissistic abuse.
10.) Go No Contact With the Narcissist In Your Life
The No Contact Method is a strategy that you can use to break a trauma bond by creating space to heal from and process the emotional abuse and manipulative tactics used to keep you engaged in the narcissistic abuse cycle by the narcissist, their flying monkeys and enablers.
Going no contact with a narcissist is absolutely liberating. I have been using the No Contact Method for 13 months now and I have never felt more happy or healthy in my life! I can’t believe I got myself back! I thought I had lost myself forever. – Carol
The No Contact Method involves ending all physical and psychological forms of contact that you have with the abusive person in your life.
This may look like:
With that being said, not everyone can go No Contact with the narcissist in their life. They might share children with the narcissist, they could be trapped because of financial abuse, they could live with the narcissist (narcissistic parents), but that doesn’t mean that they can’t protect themselves and break the trauma bond.
Through techniques like the Gray/Yellow Rock Method, Firewall Method, and Low Contact Method, those who can’t go full No Contact with the narcissist can create space to heal from and process the emotional abuse and manipulative tactics used to keep them engaged in the narcissistic abuse cycle by the narcissist, their flying monkeys and enablers.
11.) Know the Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Relationships
One reason that those experiencing narcissistic abuse normalize, rationalize, and justify the abuse they are enduring so frequently is because narcissistic abuse is designed to corrupt one’s perception of a healthy relationship.
When you’re in a relationship with a narcissist, you are a repository for all of their suppressed negative emotions. They’ll project their shame, fears, doubts, insecurities, and inadequacies onto you on a daily basis.
If you were to leave the narcissistic relationship without having a clear understanding of what you experienced, you could very well find yourself gravitating towards another abusive relationship in the future, simply because it is familiar.
It is for this reason that learning the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships is so important.
Our articles How to Have a Healthy Relationship After Narcissistic Abuse or How Do You Know If a Bond Is Trauma or Love are really good resources where we incorporated the stories of 431 survivors of narcissistic abuse to create a really good source you can use to help yourself find a happy and healthy relationship.
What Should You Take Away From This Article?
Breaking a trauma bond is an incredibly long and difficult process that is going to take a lot of hard work to successfully complete. But if you stay committed to taking it one step at a time, you are going to be just fine.
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All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.
Reid JA, Haskell RA, Dillahunt-Aspillaga C, Thor JA. CONTEMPORARY REVIEW OF EMPIRICAL AND CLINICAL STUDIES OF TRAUMA BONDING IN VIOLENT OR EXPLOITATIVE RELATIONSHIPS. International Journal of Psychology Research. 2013;8(1):37-73.