How to Break a Trauma Bond with a Narcissist

Welcome to our course, “How to Break a Trauma Bond with a Narcissist.”

In this course, Dr. Sara Spowart will cover the following:

  • What Is a Trauma Bond?
  • How Are Trauma Bonds Formed?
  • How to Break a Trauma Bond (11 Steps)

We strongly recommend you watch the entire interview (see below), then move on to the resources we’ve created to help you implement the eleven strategies Dr. Sara mentions.

This is our recommendation because watching the interview will give you a profound understanding of trauma bonds and the strategies you can use to break them.

Thank you so much for allowing us to support you. We hope this course helps you make progress in your healing journey.

  • What Is a Trauma Bond? (0:05)
  • How Are Trauma Bonds Formed? (3:20)
  • Start: How to Break a Trauma Bond (17:52)
  • Step 1: Increase Your Awareness of Your Situation (18:10)
  • Step 2: Maintain Awareness of Your Situation (24:37)
  • Step 3: Identify Your Core Wounds (35:28)
  • Step 4: Work on Healing Your Core Wounds (39:40)
  • Step 5: Identify Areas for Improvement in Your Life Separate from the Narcissist (46:40)
  • Step 6: Identify Baby Steps You Can Take To Improve Your Life (47:28)
  • Step 7: Implement the Identified Steps into Your Life (48:34)
  • Step 8: Identify the Hooks the Narcissist Uses to Pull You Back In (50:38)
  • Step 9: Commit to Being Aware of These Hooks and Track How the Narcissist Uses Them (59:16)
  • Step 10: Add More Positive Things to Your Life (01:03:35)
  • Step 11: Limit the Contact as Much as Possible (01:04:00)

How to Break a Trauma Bond (11 Steps)

Step 1: Increase Your Awareness of Your Situation

Skip to 18:10 to watch Step 1. Ready to watch? Click here to jump to the video.

Writing Activity: “Seeing the Cycle”

Welcome to this writing activity, “Seeing the Cycle.” 

This exercise aims to help you recognize, understand, and articulate the patterns in your relationship with the trauma-bonded individual. 

Exploring and identifying these patterns is the first step in increasing your awareness. 

1. Relationship Outline

  • Prompt: Describe your relationship with the individual you believe you’re trauma bonded to. How did it begin? How has it evolved over time?

2. Emotional Highs and Lows

  • Prompt: Describe moments of intense positive feelings (highs) and intense negative feelings (lows) in this relationship. What caused these feelings? How did you and the other person react?

3. Repeated Patterns

  • Prompt: Identify any recurring behaviors or situations in the relationship. Do you find yourself reacting similarly to specific actions or words? Do similar harmful behaviors follow the apologies of the person you believe you’re trauma-bonded to?

4. Power Dynamics

  • Prompt: Reflect on the balance of power in the relationship. Are there times you felt powerless or controlled? Describe instances where you thought you had to appease or cater to the person you believe you’re trauma bonded to avoid negative outcomes.

5. Moments of Realization

  • Prompt: Were there moments when you realized something wasn’t right in the relationship? What made you feel that way? Did anything change after these realizations?

6. Mindfulness Break

Instruction:

  • Take a deep breath.
  • Close your eyes and focus on your breathing for 2 minutes.
  • As you breathe, reflect on the patterns you’ve identified.

7. Acknowledging the Cycle

  • Prompt: Based on your reflections, describe the cycle in your relationship with the person you believe you’re trauma-bonded to. Identify its stages and how you feel during each one.

Narcissistic Abuse Cycle Tracker

Welcome to the “Narcissistic Abuse Cycle Tracker” tool. 

This tool is designed to assist you in visually documenting and identifying recurring behaviors within your relationship. 

Tracking these behaviors over time can shed light on patterns and cycles that might be difficult to see in day-to-day interactions. 

Use this tracker consistently, and over time, the patterns will become clearer.

You can download and print out this tracker by clicking here.

Identify Your Supporters Checklist

Welcome to this evaluation activity, “Identifying Your Supporters.”

This checklist aims to help you assess the level of support you receive from the individuals in your life. 

Understanding who truly supports you is essential, especially when navigating the challenges of a trauma bond. 

Through this activity, you will gain insight into the quality of the relationships around you, allowing you to surround yourself with positive reinforcement and understanding. 

Rate each item on a scale from 0 to 2, where:

  • 0 points: The statement doesn’t apply to the person (No)
  • 1 point: The statement sometimes applies to the person (Sometimes)
  • 2 points: The statement always applies to the person (Yes)

Questions:

  • Listen Actively: Do they attentively listen, making you feel understood and valued?
  • Validate Your Experiences: Do they acknowledge and accept your experiences as valid, helping you trust your feelings and perceptions?
  • Educate You About Narcissistic Abuse: Do they offer valuable information about narcissistic abuse patterns, helping you understand that you’re not to blame for the abuser’s actions?
  • Encourage Self-Care: Do they promote self-care and stress management, enabling you to regain control over your physical and emotional health?
  • Help Set Healthy Boundaries: Are they supportive in helping you establish personal boundaries, contributing to your autonomy and self-worth?
  • Offer Practical Support: Do they provide tangible assistance, offering you stability and showing that they’re willing to support you in real ways?
  • Provide a Safe Space: Do they create a non-judgmental environment where you can freely express your thoughts and feelings?
  • Help Rebuild Your Self-Esteem: Are they instrumental in helping you rebuild your self-esteem, enabling you to develop a healthy self-image?
  • Help Build a Support System: Do they encourage you to establish a wider network of support consisting of therapists, support groups, and trustworthy friends and family members?
  • Remind You of Your Value: Do they consistently affirm your worth, counteracting the negative messages from your abusive relationship and reinforcing your self-esteem?

After you’ve scored each item, add up your scores for a total of 20. A higher score suggests the individual is more supportive:

  • 16-20: This person is extremely supportive.
  • 11-15: This person is moderately supportive.
  • 6-10: This person is somewhat supportive, but there may be room for improvement.
  • 0-5: This person may need to be more supportive in your current situation.

Remember, this isn’t science. It’s just a checklist. So please take the scores you get with a grain of salt.

Step 2: Maintain Awareness of Your Situation

Skip to 24:37 to watch Step 2. Ready to watch? Click here to jump to the video.

Writing Activity: “Maintaining Awareness”

Welcome to this writing activity, “Maintaining Awareness.” 

Our mission in this exercise is straightforward: to help you consistently recognize and confront the reality of your situation, using guidance from Dr. Sara Spowart. Revisiting and reinforcing your awareness is crucial in navigating and breaking trauma bonds. 

1. Revisit and Reflect

  • Prompt: Open up your “Seeing the Cycle” activity and the “Narcissistic Abuse Cycle Tracker” again. Take a good look at the patterns and behaviors you’ve written down. 

    As you do, remember Dr. Sara’s words: you need to “accept reality as it is instead of how you want it to be.” 

    These patterns are the reality – let them be a strong reminder of what’s really happening in your relationship.

2. Daily Documenting

  • Prompt: Each day, spend some time adding to your “Narcissistic Abuse Cycle Tracker.” Think of it as your daily reality check. 

    By keeping up with this tracker, you’re reminding yourself daily of the actual patterns and behaviors rather than falling back into old hopes and beliefs.

3. Consistent Check-ins

  • Prompt: Decide on a regular time – maybe once a week or every two weeks – to revisit these exercises. 

    As Dr. Sara says, maintaining awareness can be tough, but it’s essential. 

    To help you remember, set a friendly alarm or notification on your phone. 

    Each time it goes off, take it as a nudge from Dr. Sara herself, reminding you to stick with your awareness journey.

Step 3: Identify Your Core Wounds

Skip to 35:28 to watch Step 3. Ready to watch? Click here to jump to the video.

Journaling Activity: “Identifying Your Core Wounds”

Welcome to this reflective journey, “Identifying Your Core Wounds.” 

This activity aims to illuminate and understand the deep-seated wounds and beliefs that might be holding you in the grip of a trauma bond. 

It’s about introspection, healing, and gaining clarity. 

As you navigate through each question, remember: this is a self-discovery process, and there’s no rush.

Before you start, please take a moment to remind yourself that this activity is about understanding your core wounds, not blaming yourself for having them.

1. Unfulfilled Needs

  • Prompt (paraphrasing Dr. Sara’s words): 

    “What need do you have that is unfulfilled that keeps you hooked?” 

    As you think about this question, be honest with yourself. 

    Reflect on moments in the relationship where you felt an overwhelming pull.

    Were there certain situations or words that tugged at a specific need or desire within you? 

    Write these down, and try to understand the root of these needs.

2. Toxic Beliefs

  • Prompt (paraphrasing Dr. Sara’s words):

    “What toxic belief do you have that keeps you trauma-bonded to the narcissist?” 

    Dive deep into your beliefs about relationships, self-worth, love, and connection. 

    Try to identify the toxic ones. 

    Dr. Sara mentioned that these beliefs are often tied to a core wound. 

    Therefore, by identifying these toxic beliefs, you can begin the process of understanding and, eventually, healing.

Final Thought: 

  • As you conclude this exercise, remind yourself of Dr. Sara’s insight (paraphrasing):

    “While it’s important to recognize how the narcissist takes and manipulates, it’s also essential to acknowledge your core wounds. By identifying these core wounds, you’re taking a significant step towards breaking free from the trauma bond and moving towards healing.”

Step 4: Work on Healing Your Core Wounds

Skip to 39:40 to watch Step 4. Ready to watch? Click here to jump to the video.

Writing Activity: “How Can You Build Yourself Up?”

Welcome to this writing activity, “How Can You Build Yourself Up?” 

The goal here is simple: to help you identify things you can do to feel stronger, happier, and more confident in yourself. Take your time with each question, and let’s get started!

1. What Makes You Feel Good About Yourself?

  • Prompt: Can you remember a specific time when you felt really good about who you are? What were you doing at that moment? Describe it in detail and consider how you can incorporate more of that into your daily life.

2. What Are You Curious About?

  • Prompt: Is there something you’ve always wanted to learn or try but never have? Write down what has been stopping you and think about the first step if you were to go for it.

3. How Do You Like to Move?

  • Prompt: What physical activity makes you feel alive or joyful? It doesn’t have to be a traditional exercise; it could be dancing, gardening, or even just walking. Please describe why you enjoy it.

4. What’s Your Hidden Dream?

  • Prompt: Is there a dream or goal you’ve tucked away because it seemed too big or far off? Put it down on paper. Be as specific as you can be.

5. What’s the Smallest Step You Can Take?

  • Prompt: Thinking of the interests, activities, or goals you’ve written about, what’s the smallest, most manageable step you could take toward one of them? Describe that step in detail.

6. What Words Lift You Up?

  • Prompt: Can you think of a phrase or sentence that gives you a little boost when you hear it? Please write it down and elaborate on why it resonates with you.

7. Who Are Your Supporters?

  • Prompt: Who in your life makes you feel strong and capable? List their names and think about a time each one has helped you feel more positive about yourself.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals Guide: Your Path to Healing

Welcome to this goal-setting activity. 

The objective is straightforward: to guide you in taking small, manageable steps toward breaking the trauma bond. 

We’ll follow the S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting framework, ensuring your goal is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Step 1: Specific (What’s the Goal?)

  • Your goal should be well-defined and specific. It should clearly state what is to be accomplished and answer the questions of who, what, where, when, why, and how.
  • Example: “I want to work on healing my fear of being unlovable and abandoned by practicing self-affirmations related to my worthiness.”

Step 2: Measurable (Can You Track It?)

  • Your goal should be something you can measure.
  • Example: “I will recite five self-affirmations about my worthiness every morning and keep a tally of the days I do it.”

Step 3: Achievable (Is It Realistic?)

  • Your goal should be something you can actually do.
  • Things to consider:

    Do you have a few minutes each morning for self-affirmations?
    Do you have a way to keep track, like a calendar or a journal?
    Is this a manageable commitment for you at this time?

Step 4: Relevant (Why Does It Matter?)

  • Your goal should be important to you and help you heal your core wound.
  • Example: “By affirming my worthiness, I am directly challenging my core wound of fearing that I’m unlovable and will be abandoned.”

Step 5: Time-bound (When Will You Get There?)

  • Your goal should have a time limit.
  • Example: “I aim to practice self-affirmations about my worthiness every morning for the next 30 days.”

Step 5: Identify Areas for Improvement in Your Life Separate from the Narcissist

Skip to 46:40 to watch Step 5. Ready to watch? Click here to jump to the video.

Writing Activity: “Improving Areas of Your Life Separate from the Narcissist”

Welcome to this writing activity, designed to help you identify areas in your life that you’d like to improve, entirely separate from the narcissist. 

The goal here is to shift the focus back onto you and your growth so that your life doesn’t revolve around the narcissist.

Prompt 1: What Areas Can You Improve?

  • Question from Dr. Sara (paraphrasing): “What are some things you can improve in your life separate from the narcissist?”

    To help answer this question, consider the following:

    Do you want to advance your career or perhaps find a new job?
    Are there educational goals you’ve set aside?
    Do you have fitness or health goals?
    What about personal hobbies or passions that you’ve neglected?
    Are there friendships or family relationships you’d like to strengthen?


  • Write down as many areas as possible where you want improvement, and be as specific as possible.

Prompt 2: Why These Areas?

  • After identifying the areas for improvement, jot down why each is important to you. This will help you stay motivated and focused.

Prompt 3: How Will You Make Time for These Areas?

  • Consider your current schedule. When can you realistically carve out time to focus on these areas? Even a small amount of time each week can make a difference.

Prompt 4: First Steps

  • For each area you’ve identified, what’s the smallest, most achievable step you can take to start making progress? This is about starting small and building momentum.

Prompt 5: Support System

  • Is there anyone in your life who can support you in these goals? Sometimes, a little encouragement can go a long way.

Step 6 & 7: Identify Baby Steps You Can Take To Improve Your Life & Implement the Identified Steps into Your Life

Skip to 47:28 to watch Step 6 & 7. Ready to watch? Click here to jump to the video.

Goal Setting Activity: Identifying and Implementing Baby Steps

Welcome to the first part of this goal-setting activity. 

The purpose of this exercise is to help you identify small, manageable steps you can take to improve your life. 

We’re focusing on baby steps because they are easier to manage, less likely to draw attention from the narcissist, and effective in gradually building you up. 

Part 1: Identifying

Step 1: Specific (What’s the Goal?)

  • Your goal should be clear and well-defined.

    Example: “I want to improve my fitness level to feel healthier and boost my self-esteem, separate from the narcissist’s influence. I will start by walking 10 minutes every day.”

Step 2: Measurable (Can You Track It?)

  • Your goal should be something you can measure.

    Example: “I will use a fitness tracker or a phone app to track my 10 minutes of walking daily.”

Step 3: Achievable (Is It Realistic?)

  • Your goal should be attainable and realistic for you at this time.

    Things to consider:

    Do you have comfortable shoes for walking?
    Can you set aside 10 minutes each day?
    If you are currently living with the narcissist, is this a small enough step to avoid drawing attention from the narcissist?

Step 4: Relevant (Why Does It Matter?)

  • Your goal should matter to you and fit into the larger picture of your life.

    Example: “By improving my fitness, I am taking a step to focus on my well-being and diverting my attention away from the narcissist.”

Step 5: Time-bound (When Will You Get There?)

  • Your goal should have a timeframe.

    Example: “I aim to walk 10 minutes daily for the next two weeks.”

Part 2: Implementing

Welcome to the second part of this goal-setting activity. Now that you’ve identified your baby steps in the previous exercise, the goal is to help you implement those steps. Remember, you want to try to implement these changes in a manageable, unnoticeable way to the narcissist and beneficial for your healing journey. 

Step 1: Set a Specific Time

  • Action: Choose a specific time each day for your 10-minute walk.
  • Example: “I will walk every day at 7:30 a.m., right before I start my workday.”

Step 2: Prepare Your Gear

  • Action: Make sure you have everything you need for your walk.
  • Example: “I’ll set aside comfortable shoes and workout clothes tonight so I’m ready to go in the morning”

Step 3: Tracking Your Progress

  • Action: Decide how you’ll track your daily walks.
  • Example: “I’ll use a phone app to track my walking time. After each walk, I’ll mark it on a physical calendar to see my progress.”

Step 4: Accountability

  • Action: Think about ways to keep yourself accountable.
  • Example: “I’ll text a supportive friend about my plan so they can check in with me.”

Step 5: Dealing with Obstacles

  • Action: Plan for obstacles that might get in your way.
  • Example: “If it rains, I’ll walk indoors. If I miss my 7:30 a.m. time, I’ll reschedule for the same day.”

Step 6: Time Review

  • Action: Set a date to review your progress and adjust as needed.
  • Example: “After two weeks, I’ll look back to see how many days I succeeded and consider extending my walking time.”

Step 7: Celebrate Small Wins

  • Action: Plan a small reward for yourself when you meet your goal.
  • Example: “If I complete two weeks of daily walks, I’ll treat myself to a new book.”

Step 8: Identify the Hooks the Narcissist Uses to Pull You Back In

Skip to 50:38 to watch Step. Ready to watch? Click here to jump to the video.

Writing Activity: “Identifying the Narcissist’s Hooks”

Welcome to “Identifying the Narcissist’s Hooks.” 

This activity aims to help you clearly identify the hooks that a narcissist uses to pull you back in and the tactics that have failed to work on you. 

By recognizing both, you can better understand the strategies and patterns the narcissist is employing. 

This level of awareness is crucial in mitigating their influence over you.

Instructions

  • Prepare Your Writing Space: Grab a piece of paper or open a new document on your computer. Draw a line down the middle to create two columns.
  • Label the Columns: Name the first column “Hooks That Work” and the second column “Tactics That Don’t Work.”
  • Reflect and List under ‘Hooks That Work’: Think about moments when you felt pulled back into the narcissist’s cycle. What did they say or do that compelled you to respond or comply? List these hooks in the first column.

    Side Note: If you’re having trouble identifying hooks, consider what value you offer to the narcissist (e.g., emotional support, financial resources, validation). Understanding your value often clarifies the types of hooks used.
  • Reflect and List under ‘Tactics That Don’t Work’: Now, think about instances where the narcissist tried to manipulate you but failed. What did they attempt to do? List these in the second column.

    Example: Trying to make me jealous by mentioning other people.
  • Analyze Your List: Look over your two lists. Do you notice any patterns? Write a few sentences about what stands out to you.

Step 9: Commit to Being Aware of These Hooks and Track How the Narcissist Uses Them

Skip to 59:16 to watch Step 9. Ready to watch? Click here to jump to the video.

Writing Activity: “Committing to Awareness and Tracking Hooks”

Welcome to “Committing to Awareness and Tracking Hooks.” 

The goal is simple: keep track of how the narcissist tries to pull you back every day. By doing this daily, you’ll start seeing their patterns, making it easier to protect yourself.

Instructions

  • Create a Hook Tracking Journal: Use a notebook or digital app to jot down observations daily. This will serve as your dedicated space for tracking.
  • Daily Tracking: Commit to writing in your Hook Tracking Journal every day. Whether the narcissist interacts with you or not, note it.

    Example: “September 1: Tried to make me feel guilty for not spending time with them.”
    Example: “September 2: Gave me the silent treatment all day.”
  • Set Daily Reminders: Put reminders on your phone or sticky notes around your living space to remind you to complete your daily tracking.
  • Identify the Hooks: When you record an interaction, note if it’s a hook you’ve identified before. This will help you see how often specific tactics are used.

    Example: “September 3: Created a crisis requiring my immediate attention. (Recognized Hook)”
  • Note the Absence of Hooks: On days when there’s no interaction or unsuccessful tactics are used, note that as well.

    Example: “September 4: Attempted to make me jealous, but it didn’t work. (Unsuccessful tactic)”
  • Weekly Review: Pick one day a week to review your journal. Look for patterns or shifts in tactics.
  • Affirm Your Awareness: Write a statement affirming your commitment to breaking the trauma bond at the end of each week.

    Example: “I am committed to recognizing these patterns and protecting my emotional well-being.”

Step 10: Add More Positive Things to Your Life

Skip to 01:03:35 to watch Step 10. Ready to watch? Click here to jump to the video.

Goal Setting Activity Identifying and Implementing Baby Steps to Add Positive Things to Your Life

Part 1:

Welcome to the first part of this goal-setting activity. 

The objective here is simple: identify small, manageable ways to add positive things into your life. Doing this will help counter the negative effects of the narcissistic relationship.

Instructions for Identifying Baby Steps

Step 1: Specific (What’s the Goal?)

  • Example: “I want to add more relaxation and mindfulness to my life by doing daily deep breathing exercises.”

Step 2: Measurable (Can You Track It?)

  • Example: “I will practice deep breathing exercises for 3 minutes every morning.”

Step 3: Achievable (Is It Realistic?)

  • Things to Consider: Do you have 3 minutes to spare every morning? Is this something you can realistically commit to?

Step 4: Relevant (Why Does It Matter?)

  • Example: “By practicing deep breathing, I can start my day feeling more relaxed and centered, which counters the stress from the narcissistic relationship.”

Step 5: Time-bound (When Will You Get There?)

  • Example: “I will begin this Monday and practice for two weeks.”

Part 2: 

Welcome to the second part of this goal-setting activity. 

You’ve figured out what positive things you want to add to your life. 

Now, it’s time to put those plans into action. This guide will help you make those positive additions a daily reality.

Implementation Guide

Step 1: What’s the Plan? (Specific)

  • What to do: Choose a time and place for your positive activity.
  • Example: “I’ll take deep breaths for 3 minutes every morning when I wake up.”

Step 2: How Will You Keep Track? (Measurable)

  • What to do: Find a way to keep track of every time you do your positive activity. This could be marking a calendar, jotting it down in a notebook, or using a phone app.
  • Example: “I’ll put a checkmark on my calendar each day I do my deep breathing.”

Step 3: Are You Ready? (Achievable)

  • What to do: Make sure you’re all set up to do your positive activity. If you think you might forget, set up reminders.
  • Example: “I’ll set an alarm on my phone to remind me to do my deep breathing in the morning.”

Step 4: Why Keep Going? (Relevant)

  • What to do: Take a minute to think about why this positive activity matters to you. This can help keep you motivated.
  • Example: “Doing deep breathing helps me feel calm, which is really important to me right now.”

Step 5: When Will You Check In? (Time-bound)

  • What to do: Pick a date to look back and see how you’re doing so you can make changes if necessary.
  • Example: “In two weeks, I’ll look back to see if my deep breathing makes me feel calmer.”

Step 11: Limit the Contact as Much as Possible

Skip to 01:04:00 to watch Step 11. Ready to watch? Click here to jump to the video.

The final step from our interview with Dr. Sara was to limit your contact with the narcissist as much as possible.

In a perfect world, this would mean using the No Contact Method. However, this strategy isn’t always an option for various reasons, such as:

  • You have a child with the narcissist.
  • You work with the narcissist.
  • You have to see the narcissist regularly (e.g., family reunions).
  • You can’t afford to live on your own yet. (e.g., financial abuse)

If the No Contact Method isn’t an option, your next best bet is the Low Contact Method.

Here is the timestamp for Dr. Sara’s explanation of this eleventh step:

Skip to 01:04:00 to watch Step 11. Click here to jump to the video.

We highly recommend you watch this part of the interview because it will help you understand why limiting contact with the narcissist as much as possible is so important.

In addition, here’s a list of resources we believe will help you through this eleventh step and answer any question you may have about limiting contact with the narcissist.

If You’re Going No Contact:

If You’re Going Low Contact:

“This journey of healing from narcissistic abuse is far from easy and filled with lengthy, challenging days. But every struggle faced is a brave step towards deepening our understanding and compassion for ourselves, and it’s crucial to honor every bit of progress made. Let’s keep nurturing the hope and strength we have within ourselves and moving towards healing and self-love.”Juliana Akin, Founder of Unfilteredd